How to pick up an instrument as a hobby

Levi Shields, Staff Reporter

In a time when many students are stuck in their house or dorms, left to do their schoolwork and then figure out what to do with their downtime, learning an instrument can be a valuable and perhaps even life-changing hobby to pick up. It may be intimidating at first, but it could lead to a life-long hobby.

Playing music is a stand-out hobby that, according to Music Professors Mark Samples and Bret Smith, has a multitude of benefits. Both professors said that playing an instrument is a hobby that can be practiced even as you get older. Unlike playing sports or other physical hobbies, music can continue to be played much later in life. Smith said it is never too late to start playing.

Additionally, both professors said that playing music exercises the mind. Samples said that playing music exercises both fine and gross motor skills by using both great and small movements.

Dr. Bret Smith

Playing music can help with emotional and social health by acting as a catharsis, helping the musician get out their emotions, according to Samples. It can also help the musician improve socially by playing music with others. He also said that playing music can provide a sense of accomplishment.

Smith said that music as a hobby can be relatively cheap, with starting requiring just the cost of the instrument. However, it could get expensive if the hobby becomes more serious, with new equipment and instruments creating additional costs.

The extensive selection of instruments to choose from when starting to play may be overwhelming. Samples and Smith took two different approaches to tackling this. 

Samples gave two recommendations: the voice and the piano. He recommended the voice for its obvious accessibility, as well as the fact that it can play along with many other instruments. He recommended that aspiring musicians simply sing along with the radio to exercise their voice. 

Dr. Mark Samples

He recommended the piano because it provides an easy way to visualize the music via the keyboard, but also because it is a “push-button instrument,” meaning that the musician only has to press the key to make sound, rather than having to work with other elements like breath or a bow. He also mentioned that the piano can be a gateway to other instruments, and those wishing to start on piano can buy a relatively inexpensive electronic keyboard for its wealth of features. 

On the other hand, Smith recommended a number of instruments based on type. He said to choose a family of instruments that you like the sound of, be it woodwind, brass, bowed string, plucked string, percussion, etc. 

For plucked string, he recommended the ukulele for its portability or the banjo for its popularity. For woodwind, he chose the recorder for its low price. For brass, he chose the trumpet, also for its low price. For bowed string, the violin, for its portability when compared to other bowed string instruments. For percussion, he chose the bongos for their simplicity and portability, but also mentioned that a simple pair of drumsticks and a practice pad would work to start off with as well. 

He also mentioned that a good all-around starting point would be the many electronic music programs available for free online, such as Garage Band.

Samples said that there are many challenges to playing music. One of these, he said, is that you have to be okay with the fact that you won’t sound good at first, as well as to get past the belief that some people have musical talent and some do not. 

“That’s the secret, is that effort actually is much more important than talent in the long run,” Samples said. “But for a lot of people who have just average aptitude for music, if they will commit to just working at it and growing at it, they will get better.”

Smith said that there is great potential for frustration when learning music. He said to celebrate the little victories and resist the temptation to give up. If you are frustrated, he said, get a pointer from a different angle. Google the problem, as there is sure to be plenty of information online. 

He also said that it can be beneficial to listen to different covers and versions of the music that is being learned to get a different angle or approach and to take breaks when needed. Samples said to work past the need for motivation and to set out a particular time of day to play music and stick to it every day, regardless of how motivated you are. 

Samples and Smith both gave some general tips for those wanting to begin playing music as a hobby. They both recommended experimenting with the instrument. Figure out what actions create what sounds, or come up with a sound that you want to make and then figure out how to make it. Samples urged potential musicians to have a sense of curiosity and to think of a song that they really want to play, and then find a tutorial on how to play it online. 

“Really, the instrument is the vehicle for your musical ideas,” Smith said.