Which instrument you play (or even want to play) somehow becomes an indelible part of your identity. Even now when I talk about my musicianship with strangers, I often hear, “Oh, I played the cello growing up,” or “I’ve always wanted to learn the guitar.” To the former I say, “Do you still play?” to which they sometimes say no. So I respond saying, “Hey, it’s never too late to pick it up again!” To the latter, I say, “Hey, it’s never too late to learn!”
Either way, the fact that these individuals have, had, or want to play an instrument is a part of their identity which helps them both establish their background and relate to me as a fellow musician. It provides us with common ground and a shared interest.
But deeper than that, the instruments we identify with not only become associated with our identity, but even define our identity. Over time, as you play your instrument and spend time in your section, your orchestra, or your practice room, you may find that your specific instrument teaches you something or molds you in a specific way.
I’ve found, as a bass player, that most bass players have similar personalities: relaxed, a little rebellious (we run off and join punk bands in high school), perhaps more introvert, “chill.” We’re often the type of people who stand at the back of the orchestra making sarcastic comments about the “uptight” violinists who don’t know when to stop practicing and take a break. (Am I stereotyping here?) Bass players usually have less competition than violinists, so we are usually less competitive individuals. Not to say we aren’t driven or dedicated, but . . . there are just a different set of demands that shape a bassist player versus, say, a violinist. Make sense? Of course these stereotypes aren’t always accurate, but still, you’ve probably noticed a difference between choir buffs, band geeks, and orchestra nerds.
This poses the question, do you choose the instrument, or does the instrument choose you? From a Kennedy Violins standpoint, it’s fascinating to observe customers choosing a violin or viola for purchase. What causes one individual to choose the rich, dark sounding Gerard with the dramatically flamed back while another chooses the Antiqued Giuliani Violin with the lighter yellow, distressed finish and a different sound altogether? What draws one towards a reddish violin, like the Giuliani Etude, and another to a dark chocolate brown, like the Bunnel G1?
Beyond choosing a specific violin, choosing which instrument to play, especially as a child, is an important decision that can shape the rest of his or her life. Helping your child choose an instrument may come down to practical decisions such as already owning a specific instrument in the home for them to begin. Do you allow the child to choose the instrument, or do you choose it for them? It’s an important decision, one that requires a balance between the child’s interests, personality, and any other factors.
Switching Instruments: Identity Crises
While the instrument that you associate yourself with will always be an important part of your identity, I hope to discourage the tendency to feel trapped or stuck playing a certain instrument. For example, I’ve heard of many children who want to play the cello or bass, but begin on the violin because it’s smaller, easier to carry, more affordable, or more accessible. Some never switch over to the instrument they intended to play, while others do. I’ve know of concert violinists switching to play the viola in college and succeeding tremendously. I’ve known many bassists who started on the cello and switched over. And I know of many violinists who have made excellent guitar players later in their musical careers.
Is it preferable to start on the original instrument you intend to play? Not necessarily. However you choose to define your musical identity, don’t be afraid to try something new. Renting a different instrument than you currently play from Kennedy Violins may be just the change you’ve been looking for to refresh your interest and personal development as a musician.