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Music

Buying a Music Instrument

Hedgehog music shop at Nairobi’s Sarit Centre
Hedgehog music shop at Nairobi’s Sarit Centre. PHOTO | CPOURTESY 

How do you know that a music instrument is fake? As demand for music instruments soars, thanks to a younger generation that is keen on learning how to play a guitar, cello or piano, some parents are duped into buying counterfeits that make it hard for beginners to master the art of playing.

Dudu Peevers, a manager at Hedgehog Creative, a music shop in Nairobi’s Sarit Centre that has been in business for 10 years, says as the music industry picks up, guitar sales have shot up.

“We are getting a lot of people who want to learn how to play instruments; from four-year-olds to teenagers to retired parents,” says Ms Peevers, adding that most of her customers are children, teenagers, churches and bands.

According to Ms Peevers, more Kenyans are willing to have their children try out music instruments compared to years ago when it was hard to convince one to buy a violin for a child because he would ask, ‘but what if she loses interest and yet it is so expensive?’.

However, one of the factors that contributes to a child losing interest so fast is poor sound and wrong strings which is common in counterfeit music instruments.

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This means that the instrument hurts their fingers, has awkward proportions that is difficult to manipulate with their small hands and does not produce the correct sounds.

“If you are a beginner or a child this will definitely put you off playing such instruments. They don’t sound right and are not comfortable,” says Ms Peevers.

Serial numbers

All genuine instruments have serial numbers which shoppers should demand to see and then search online to confirm that they are real.

“Always get a genuine instrument, it will sound the way it was intended. Comfort and fit are also important. Consider your size. For instance, guitars have ½ size, ¾ size, and 4/4 full size. Get an instrument that sounds nice and is fun to play,” she says.

“Don’t buy an instrument just because it looks pretty and shiny. A musical instrument is not a fashion accessory. It’s something that is going be with you for a long time,” she adds.

Bernadette Muthoni, a violinist who teaches children aged five to 16 at school and for private lessons in their homes says she has found that often when children quit playing instruments it is due to external pressure rather than their own surrender.

“Some parents do not want children to play instruments because they feel they should concentrate on academics more. Now that is a parent who has not fully understood what music is about. In fact, when children are reading so much is when they need to pick up an instrument to relax,” says Ms Muthoni.

For many parents, seeing their children play musical instruments is fulfilling.

“Some of them are living out their dreams through their children. I know people who are like ‘I would have wanted to learn an instrument but then how would I have started?,” the violinist adds.

However, besides buying the right instrument, Ms Muthoni says, children have to practice almost daily to master the skill.

“Sometimes children quit because their parents are letting them have a free pass. They are not nudging them to practice then if a teacher pushes them the child thinks he’s too strict,” she says.

Yet music helps children with their academics because they master patience, accuracy and persistence.

“You are teaching them to build a habit so let them start with even just five minutes of practice daily but make sure they are consistent,” Ms Muthoni says, adding that with good practice a child will never forget playing an instrument even if he stops later on.

At Hedgehog Creative, where they sell from guitars, mandoline, violins, pianos to drumsets, there are also traditional instruments such as nyatiti, orutu, wandidi and the obokano.

However, an employee at Assanands, says they find it difficult to sell traditional instruments.

“Not many people are interested in traditional music. The traditional dances that used to happen are not as many today. Most people are interested in violins and guitars. You see, if you buy the marimba for example, even I don’t know how to play. So where do you learn?” he says. Further, many schools that offer music lessons are elite and use the British curriculum where students may not be aware of the traditional music options they could play.

“At Hedgehog, our most popular instrument is definitely guitars from acoustic, classical, electrics to bass guitars followed by keyboards then violins,” says Ms Peevers.

Ms Muthoni says violins, flutes and pianos to be popular.

“There are others who have starting to pick up a cello especially after watching the cellist at the royal wedding last year,” she says.

For beginners, Ms Peevers recommends starting with pianos and guitars. “Any instrument is a good start. If you want to start with something basic, learn to play guitar or piano. These instruments can help you learn to read music, which will aid you in playing more difficult instruments,” she says.

In Ms Muthoni’s experience, exposure to different music is important in selecting an instrument.

“There is a radio show I used to listen to Sunday evenings. I was exposed to a lot of classical music in that show. I remember a specific day they played the whole of the Mendelssohn violin concerto. When it was done, I just knew I have to play violin,” says Ms Muthoni.

who plays for the Nairobi Youth Orchestra, The Kenya Conservatoire of Music Orchestra, the National Youth Orchestra and is part of an all-girl string quartet called Amanirenas.

Her advice to parents?

“Expose children to as much music as you can because there is a lot of orchestral concerts nowadays, the Nairobi music scene is so alive from jazz, classical to African music,” says Ms Muthoni.

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