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Survey: Instrument Rentals

Eliahu Sussman • Resources • January 21, 2014

Trends and Tips on Instrument Rental Programs

Musical instruments can be expensive, and this financial burden may be a significant hurdle for young would-be musicians. Fortunately, many relatively inexpensive alternatives have developed over the years, including “starter” models, as well as rental programs offered by brick-and-mortar music stores, their traveling reps, and several other types of organizations. Depending on age groups, ensemble types, and several other factors, rather than cheap “off-brand” instruments, renting is often the best choice – as indicated by the fact that more than half of the respondents to this reader survey say that “most” or “almost all” of their students are renters. This is particularly true for those beginning students who aren’t sure which instrument they would like to play, or whether they will even be sticking with music for more than a semester or two.

Of course, there are pros and cons to both owning and renting instruments, so understanding the benefits and downsides of each is critical to helping students get off on the right foot as they begin a musical career.

 

 

“There were three local music stores 18 years ago when I started here. Now there is only one. I encourage string instrument rental from the local store with our beginners and to avoid VSOs from the bargain sites online.”

Rodney Mueller

Champaign Community Unit 4 Schools

Champaign, Ill.

 

“We used to have reps come to our school, but it was difficult since they had to fly to us, as we are on an island. We are very happy with our arrangement as we still have a rep available by phone and email and everything runs smoothly and quickly.”

Dorothy Thompson

Nantucket Elementary School

Nantucket, Mass.

 

“There were three local music stores 18 years ago when I started here. Now there is only one. I encourage string instrument rental from the local store with our beginners and to avoid VSOs from the bargain sites online.”

Rodney Mueller

Champaign Community Unit 4 Schools

Champaign, Ill.

 

“We used to have reps come to our school, but it was difficult since they had to fly to us, as we are on an island. We are very happy with our arrangement as we still have a rep available by phone and email and everything runs smoothly and quickly.”

Dorothy Thompson

Nantucket Elementary School

Nantucket, Mass.

 

 

“We own about 200 instruments that we rent to students, and we facilitate purchasing of new instruments. About half of our students rent instruments. Maybe five or 10 purchase instruments through our program, and then 20 or so will purchase instruments on their own.”

Dorothy Burroughs

Lutheran High North

Houston, Texas

 

 

“As the orchestra teacher, my students are renting strings, but we also have lots of brass and woodwind rentals at my school.”

William Slechta

West Cary Middle School

Cary, N.C.

 

What should music students and their parents be careful of when it comes to renting instruments?

“You do not have to rent a brand new instrument right away. It is okay to rent a used instrument until you know that you are going to stick with it. Then upgrade to the next level. This will save money in the short and long term. Be sure that the rental agreement comes with a no cost repair contract and loaner instrument support when needed.”

Kevin Gabrielse

Lee Middle School

and High School

Wyoming, Mich.

 

“Always take the damage waiver. Companies who don’t offer it cause me concern because if the instrument is destroyed, the cost of replacement is far too high for many of our families to handle. Keep an eye out for good customer service. If they are jerks, it’s not worth dealing with them. Stick with those that are good to you and your students, and provide high-quality instruments. If they are renting out junk, find another company. And look at the interest rate. A 2/3rds program (2/3 of rental fee to paying off instrument, 1/3 to interest) is essentially a 33 percent APR – pay it off quickly!“

Jodi Sanders

Hardwick Elementary School

Hardwick, Vt.

 

“Read the small print in various rental agreements from the store they are renting from. I have picked up many a good instrument in garage sales because people have been unable to return their instruments because they did not read the fine print!”

Dennis Dellifield

Allen East High School

Harrod, Ohio

 

“It would be great if we could educate parents to avoid the off-brand instruments that are in constant need of repairs.”

Doug Bradley

Lake Middle School

Woodbury, Minn.

 

What would you recommend to other music educators looking for good rental options for their students?

“Make friends with your local music stores. Have your county music supervisor talk to them, too. Rental programs that are well run and understood by the teachers, store owners and staff, and county supervisors is essential. And if you don’t like the way your local store does something, kindly tell them. You provide the store with a lot of business. It is a give and take relationship. Both parties – teachers and stores – should be working together.”

Barbara Anastasion

Mechanicsville Elementary School

Sykesville, Md.

 

“Seek out a local store who is willing to give a break to your students. They can be the ‘official music store’ of your school. Mention them in your band handbook, at booster meetings and band camps, and so on.”

Megan Foley

La Salle High School

Pasadena, Calif.

 

“Reputation matters a lot. With the increasing availability of online sources, you need to be sure of what you are getting. A music store with a professional staff can guide purchases much better than someone who has no clue as to what they are selling.”

George Dragoo

Stevens High School

Rapid City, S.D.

 

Additional thoughts on instrument rental programs?

“All beginner model instruments that are used at the elementary level should be the same price. I encourage students to play the baritone instead of the trombone to start, but it becomes a hard sell when the parents see the price of the baritone is triple the price of a trombone. There are typically 3 tiers of instruments: Tier 1 is Flute, Clarinet, Trumpet, Trombone, Violin, and Viola for about $100 to rent; Tier 2 is Alto Saxophones, Oboe, Single French Horn, Cello for about $150-200; and Tier 3 is Tenor Saxophone, Baritone, Double French Horn, and Bass for $300. I would much rather see all the instruments fall in the $150 range than have such a large discrepancy between Tier 1 and Tier 3. The money that companies would “lose” on lowering the Tier 3 pricing they would gain back by raising the Tier 1 prices. Lastly, I firmly believe that all students should rent first. There is no reason for first-year students to own their own instruments. What if it doesn’t work out? What if they hate it? What if there is overcrowding on one instrument? The students are stuck if they own. Rent first!”

Brian Ennis

Parsons Memorial School

Harrison, N.Y.

 

“A quality instrument, that works, with a quality local repair service is invaluable. It can save hours of rehearsal time and headaches for the teacher, parents, and especially the student. A director also has to budget time right when the students start playing (this is for middle school and elementary programs, not so much for high school) to check the playability of each instrument. This can be done either by the director or someone else who is qualified. It can be very disheartening to find out after three weeks that the reason a kid can’t play is because his or her instrument does not work.”

Adam Payne

Redwood Middle School

Thousand Oaks, Calif.

 

“Most music stores do an excellent job of customer care and work well with schools and individual school needs. Not all schools are the same, but we all want good instruments in our bands. The music stores can help!”

Barbara Wells

Storm Lake Middle School

Storm Lake, Iowa

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