All musicians get to points in their musical journeys where they find themselves in a bit of analysis paralysis over the great debate to buy versus rent an instrument. Why? Pursuing the study of a musical instrument is an investment in your time and your talent. You want to be sure your rental or your purchase decision matches the size of this investment.

To demystify your decision-making, ask yourself the three questions below to get clear on what you stand to gain and what you stand to lose from buying or renting an instrument.

1. Where are you at right now in your musical journey?

When considering whether to buy or rent an instrument, think about the here and now. Maybe you find yourself in an exploratory phase—you’re pursuing musical study or private lessons for the first time. You’re figuring out whether the sound of your instrument appeals to your ear. You’re discovering whether the performance process is a source of energy or a source of nerves.

If you find yourself in this exploration stage, a rental instrument could be a stellar option. A rental requires a short-term commitment of funds and time, offering the flexibility and the mental space to decide whether a particular instrument is right for you.

On the other hand, you might find yourself in an intermediate or advanced stage where you’re quickly building skills or honing your craft as a musician. Many students in this stage are pursuing serious musical study in either a secondary school or collegiate setting. More often than not, students at this stage are involved in professional performances.

If these descriptors fit into where you’re at right now in your musical journey, the time could be ripe to buy an instrument. Keep in mind that buying an instrument is a long-term commitment.

2. How will music fit into your future plans?

Another piece of the buying versus renting puzzle includes whether music factors into your personal and professional goals for the coming years. When you think about what your life is going to look like two, five, and 10 years down the line, is music a part of your vision?

If you see music as a hobby—as a way to unwind from school or work and as a way to be in community with like-minded music makers—buying is usually your best bet. If you see music as a professional endeavor—as either full-time employment or a side hustle—buying most often wins out over renting. Buying an instrument could be appropriate for both of these cases because you’re not only pursuing music education at present, but you also can’t imagine your future without playing your instrument.

3. What’s your budget for buying and maintaining your instrument?

Let’s talk money. In the beginning, renting costs less than buying an instrument. At the start of your musical study, you may want to rent to save some money in case you decide a few months down the line that you don’t want to play anymore or you want to change instruments. Also, if your child is a string player, remember that children can quickly outgrow string instruments, making a rental a cost-effective option.

If you decide a rental is right for you or your family, ask an associate or a retailer about the store’s rent-to-own policy. If you’re undecided about whether you’ll continue to pursue your instrument in the months and years to come, but you have an inkling that you’re passionate about making music, this policy will allow you to put your rental payments toward the future purchase of an instrument.

If you’re pursuing musical study in the future and your budget allows, seriously consider investing in an instrument of your own. Keep in mind that depending on what instrument you play, the cost of renting can quickly exceed the cost of buying. The market price to buy a guitar in particular can sometimes be more budget-friendly than the market price to rent a guitar.

Understand your instrument purchase for what it is—an investment in yourself and in your love of music. As time goes on, the majority of instruments appreciate in value. Take advantage of in-store opportunities to play a particular instrument before you make the purchase to determine whether it’s the right fit for you.

Be selective, and do some comparison shopping to make sure you’re getting the best quality you can afford. If online shopping is more of your thing, go for it, but be sure your purchase includes a reasonable return policy.

Also, instruments can be purchased either new or used. If you’re thinking about buying a used instrument, ask the seller whether the instrument is in good playing condition. If the instrument is not in good playing condition, then it could be a red flag. Repair costs can add up quickly.

Be aware of the hidden costs that can coincide with the purchase of an instrument. Most retailers charge a fee between $30 and $50 to configure a guitar when this particular instrument is bought new. At times, additional items must be purchased so you can actually play your instrument. For example, bows, cases, rosins, and shoulder rests all must be bought alongside of violins and violas.

As you think about the three questions outlined in this blog post, please feel free to reach out to your NEMPAC administrator or instructor for a conversation tailored to your specific budget and future plans.

Where’s your head at when it comes to buying versus renting an instrument? What factors did you or your family consider when making this decision?