What instruments they can learn to play

Kwame Nsarkeh of Conservatoire of Music Nairobi
Kwame Nsarkeh of Conservatoire of Music Nairobi presents Violin solo performance during the second day of the Kenya Schools and Colleges National Music Festival on August 5, 2014. PHOTO | ANTHONY NJAGI | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

In the 1990s when every child wanted to rap, there was concern about an emerging generation of performers that wasn’t interested in learning any musical instrument. All that changed when youthful pop bands like Sauti Sol and Pentharmony led a movement of young musicians who didn’t just sing or rap, but also had a skill for instruments.

Today, playing instruments is in vogue and it is not uncommon to bump into students carrying guitar cases on the way to music lessons.

With the line between classical and pop music getting blurred, the playing of instruments is not just confined to orchestras. In fact, classical is increasingly mainstream as more musicians embrace a broader range of sounds to enrich their sounds.


While instruments like the piano and guitar are popular to study and play, there is a wide range of instruments still not widely played. Their limited availability means students have to buy their own instruments when enrolling for lessons.

Music instruments are categorised in families depending on the vibration they produce.

Strings are the largest family of the instruments with the smaller, high-pitched violin and viola, and the bigger, low-sounding cello and double bass. A rare instrument in this category is the harp, which may not be found at most schools, but the Kenya Conservatoire of Music can provide contacts of a qualified teacher.

The woodwind instruments are so called because in old times, these were all made of wood. But today the material of choice is metal and even plastic. What has not changed is the mode of playing such instruments by blowing air through a mouthpiece, hence the “wind.”

Trumpet popular

The flute, which is the oldest and commonest of these instruments, also has a shorter version called the piccolo.

The clarinet and oboe are very similar and are both played held upright except that the former uses a single reed, which is what the musician blows into while alternating the pitch by opening and closing the keys with the fingers.

The trumpet is perhaps the most popular of the brass instruments along with the trombone, the only one in this group that uses a slide instead of valves to change pitch. There is the fascinatingly shaped French horn, made of 18 feet of tubing rolled into a circular shape with a large bell at its end playing melody and harmony in an orchestra.

Another rare member of the brass family is the tuba, a giant instrument with a long metal tube curved into valves played in a similar way to the trumpet and producing a deep, low sound.

Many students pick instruments that are popular among their peers, but you may need to look harder and spend more money to find an instructor for some of the rarer instruments.