Student vs Step-Up Instruments

The decision depends on your abilities, goals, and desires.

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Ellis Music sells both entry-level ("student") instruments and intermediate or professional model ("step-up") instruments made by respected manufacturers who have proven, over time, to build quality instruments..

A beginning musician needs an instrument that is durable, plays in tune, and is designed for ease of playing, and high quality entry-level instruments serve their purpose well. If you are renting an instrument, it is likely that you have a student model instrument.

A student model instrument may suit the needs of a hobby musician well into their adult life. However, some musicians (particularly those auditioning for music festivals and/or thinking of pursuing musical studies beyond high school) outgrow their student model instrument and can actually be held back by it. Upgrading to a more advanced model will ensure that you have the ability to develop your musicality without limitations.

How do you know when it’s time to upgrade? The “right” time will be different for each person, but usually someone who’s ready to upgrade has been playing for at least a year, has developed a good basic tone, and is committed to continuing on the same instrument.

The differences between entry-level and advanced models vary by instrument, but they can be significant. Intermediate and professional instruments are typically made from higher quality materials and produce a richer tone quality. They may also include extra keys that increase the range of notes playable on the instrument, or mechanisms that improve the intonation of specific notes or your ability to play fast passages of music. Student models are typically mass-produced, whereas intermediate and professional instruments receive more personalized attention from master instrument makers. The difference may not be seen but can be felt and heard when the instrument is played.

Below are a few tips to help in deciding what to buy. Your music teacher can be a good source of guidance, and of course the staff at Ellis Music is always available to answer questions.

Purchasing an ENTRY-LEVEL instrument makes sense for…

  • Individuals who have stopped playing the instrument but may wish to play again in the future.
  • Students who have no plans to study music after high school.
  • Amateur musicians who play only occasionally and informally.
  • Adults who are new to playing an instrument.

Purchasing an INTERMEDIATE or PROFESSIONAL instrument makes sense for…

  • Individuals who practice regularly and wish to continue improving.
  • Students who plan to study music (perhaps as a major or minor) at a college or university.
  • Amateur or professional musicians who play frequently and perform in public.
  • Students who plan to audition for competitive music ensembles (for example, district or All State festivals).

Ellis Music's rental program is designed to give musicians of any age access to a student model instrument and the ability to build equity toward ownership of whichever level instrument is appropriate for their unique situation. Rent credit accumulated from the rent-to-own program can be applied toward the purchase of an entry-level, intermediate, or professional model instrument. A payment plan may be available if desired; contact Ellis Music for more details.

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