Somewhere in Siddika Jackson’s house, there are two of three trumpets once played by her son, Devin. The saxophone played by his twin brother Dominic in the middle school band is back at the music instrument store.
Both boys are now high school freshmen and neither has a burning interest in playing their instruments. Football and basketball games, for the moment at least, are more appealing.
And while Jackson would like to see her sons continue playing music, she’s glad that she never invested major money in purchasing instruments. At Garrett Middle School in Austell, Devin played a cousin’s used trumpet. Then he played one his mother bought online for $100. When that turned out to be a dud, he switched to a school-provided instrument. For Dominic, Jackson rented a saxophone for three years.
“I turned in the saxophone,” she said. “I refused to pay for something that would have ended up costing me $3,000. I spent a little over $1,000 to rent. Devin has both of those trumpets. He says he still might play, but I probably need to sell them because they won’t be any good to him. At the high school level, he’ll need a more advanced instrument.”
Jackson’s rent vs. buy dilemma is one faced by thousands of parents each year. A middle schooler’s interests are as stable as their shaky notes. But while instruments can be costly, there’s a chance a child will stick with it, making the decision to commit to a purchase or rent along the way tricky.
At Dodgen Middle School in East Cobb, 300 of the 400 sixth graders play an instrument, said band teacher, Charles Jackson. In one seventh grade class, there were as many rented as purchased instruments. Still others, playing French horns, bassoons and tubas, were using school instruments. Jackson acknowledged the crossroads parents come to.
“It’s a personal economic decision,” he said. “Ideally, you want the child to keep the instrument the whole year, not just during the school year. The hardest instrument to play is the one you don’t practice. If a child gets bored with one thing, they’ll get bored with anything. So, we try to encourage them to stick with one instrument. If you don’t, there’s no way you can come out of middle school proficient.”
It generally costs about $25-$35 a month to rent the most commonly played instruments. Paying that, over time, isn’t as smart as buying, said Aaron Rathbone, vice president and general manager of Dirt Cheap Music in Smyrna. Rathbone said you can sell the instrument if the child decides not to play any longer. In many cases, a purchase price is cheaper than a year-long rentals. But there’s another benefit, too, he said.
“They don’t feel like they can just quit and turn it back in,” he said. “There is an inherent sense of pride.”
Question: Do you think it’s wiser to rent, buy or rent-to-own a musical instrument? At what point do you commit to buying, if at all?