My Terrible Theory About Instruments.

This probably only holds for string instruments.

If you’re good, you can make any instrument sound a lot better just because you’ve got good technique. If you’re bad, there is no point in owning a decent instrument because you’ll still make it sound terrible. If you’re ‘somewhere in between’ then what you really mean is you’re bad but don’t like to admit it and you oughtn’t to be allowed to play a decent instrument.

I’m not saying everyone should play cheap instruments, I’m merely saying that people get all ridiculous and pretentious about these things. If you can afford a lovely instrument, go right ahead (alright, no, I do feel nazi enough to say that if you’re not a good musician you shouldn’t be allowed, but), everyone likes a nice instrument. But equally it’s not the be-all and end-all.

Oh and for goodness sake look after it.

This is by way of saying that if I come across a violin at Oxfam which I can afford (I might have done, actually, we’ll see), then I would like to own it, pleasethankyou, because I’ve wanted to play the violin for, well, ever, but it seemed greedy because I was already a cellist and anyway my sister never lets me lay a finger on her violin in case I drop it or something and it’s only recently come to my attention that she really will never trust me on this score. So I will own a violin that probably isn’t the bestest ever evar, but at first I’ll be too terrible for it to matter, and then gradually I’ll get a decent sound out of the thing anyway, you see if I don’t.



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6 responses to “My Terrible Theory About Instruments.

  1. Adam

    “This probably only holds for string instruments.”

    Would you count a guitar as a string instrument? Because I pretty much exclusively play crap guitars – they’re cheap and perhaps not the most well-made things – but I make them sound good. It’s definately a technique thing… Sure, give me a £1500 guitar and it’ll sound better than my one with cost a tenth of that – but it’s probably only guitarists or musicians who would notice – or care!!

    And yes – I too agree that you ought to earn the right to own a nice instrument…

  2. C R M

    of course I’ll never trust you – I shall never trust ANYONE with any of my instruments.

    That would include the piano if (a) it was mine and (b) you could pick it up without a removal squad in tow.


  3. Adam

    On the subject of violins – there’s a documentary on the BBC iPlayer about Paganini…

  4. Gordon

    I am not sure this is completely true – if you learn on an instrument that is responsive and the pegs don’t keep slipping etc. then you will enjoy yourself more rather than get discouraged.
    You should certainly nurture an instrument though – if music has a soul, then where does it start? I bet if challenged, CRM would admit that her violin had feelings. Try this one out – pretend you have watched someone drop a lighted match inside it/trodden on it/put it on the balcony in a snowstorm.* How do you feel? How much of your distress is for you losing the instrument (you’ll get it back on insurance, so no problems there) and how much is it to do with the pain being felt by the violin…
    *Jacqueline DP reputedly did this – why? Why not just close the case and say, I am not going to play this cello any more? Why try and kill it, if it isn’t alive?

    • Jenny

      I suppose there is a point there although I think I was thinking about reasonably inexpensive rather than so-cheap-it’s-just-annoying…!

      And yes – if music has a soul it does partly start with the instrument – I couldn’t bear to see someone damage my cello. And that anecdote about jacqueline du pre is very interesting – you’re right, she must have felt that she was punishing it therefore to her it must have some kind of a life.

      What about you, Gordon? You’re a musician- does your instrument have a ‘soul’, to you?

  5. Gordon

    Does my instrument have a soul? No, I don’t think so – I am a wind player and so it all seems a bit more mechanical. But I wouldn’t like to think of it languishing in the snow, nonetheless.

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