How Did You Choose Your Instrument (or Did Your Instrument Choose You)?!?

The Face of a Child:

When I was ten years of age, the conductor and violin teacher of our school orchestra, Mr. Robert Martin, came to visit our elementary public school in Cincinnati. He demonstrated just about every instrument that could be played, but especially the array of classical orchestral instruments.

The face of a child is always very honest.  During the presentation that day, something on my face must have caught Mr. Martin's attention.  Afterwards, he approached me directly about playing a violin.  I'd already knew that I was in love with the instrument, because I had heard it played SO EXPRESSIVELY in my parent's American folk, bluegrass and country music, and in countless soundtracks. He prompted me to ask my parents about buying me a violin, but he also offered to lend me a violin if I wanted to play!!!

I asked my dad about buying a violin, but I didn't know if he could. He surprised me by purchasing a violin for my eleventh birthday present. It must have been a real hardship for our family.  Looking back on it, I estimate that my dad must have labored for about 200 or 300 hours to pay for it.  Oops, and I wanted to convert it into some fiddle playing right away!

Sadly, things got busy, and my fiddle sat lonely for many years as I became a busy teen and adult...

The fiddle found me again, so I got it back out of it's case about two years ago.  It's been helping me have the time of my life!  So, I like to think that my fiddle chose me!!!


We must have been attracted to play the instruments we love for a reason...

Maybe you found your instrument under a parent's guidance and tutelage?

Maybe the instrument "runs in your family"?

Maybe you witnessed an amazing performance?

Maybe you are influenced by a legendary musical icon or hero?

Maybe you don't have much recollection about the reason? 


It would be interesting to know YOUR musical instrument story.  Thanks in advance for sharing!!!

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A lovely story Connie, it certainaly does bring a lot of joy , i dont think people relialize how much untill they experience the great people u meet ect...

The bodhrán found me.. i was totally absorbed the first gig i saw live and heard and saw it being played. Ordered my own shortly thereafter : )

The tin whistle was perhaps more a case of wanting to play a "easy to play" (i still smile and shake my head at that misconception) melody instrument. The low whistle and flute was a natural extension to the whistle.

Hi Connie!

You asked about how I started to play my instrument... 

Well, as you may know (?) nyckelharpa is a traditional Swedish folk instrument that dates back to the 13th century and it was almost extinct in the mid 1900's, less than 20 players left! The instrument was saved by one man, the best player ever and also a very good nyckelharpa maker, Eric Sahlström (1912-1986). Today is Sweden we have some 10 000 players or so! And the instrument is all over the world, there's even an "American Nyckelharpa Association".

I grew up in the area nyckelharpa comes from, Uppland (just north of Stockholm, Sweden), and when I was about 13-14 years old I met Eric Sahlström at a fiddlers gathering. I was playing fiddle but when I heard Eric play I knew I just had to get a nyckelharpa myself! At that time there was almost no younger players, they were all old men playing this instrument so it was a little odd that a young guy like me wanted to play it... And this means that today I have played it longer than most people, the old guys aren't with us anymore, luckily with a few exceptions.

Anyway, I started practicing on my own, got a "lesson" now and then from Eric, and played with him on and off until he passed away in June -86. All by ear, I'm terrible with written music! Made my first TV-show 1973, my first LP 1974 and have done a few recordings since... ;-)

I used to be a construction site manager for years, but nowadays, since 15 years or so, I do this for a living, touring and teaching. I've been to Asia, all over Europe and I have toured the States 16-18-20 times (?), last time in July this year.

And that's how I met my Irish friends. They were touring in Sweden with a band, we had some mutual friends, I was invited to play some and we hooked up. This was about 20 years ago and I have been over to Ireland some 10-15 times since then and finally we got a CD recorded... A mix of Irish and Swedish tunes and it really works! There are some differences of course, but it really works!


There's a little more here, if you're interested...





I started on the whistle around aged 5, probably because my sister had started learning it too. I sort of lapsed until I was about 9 or 10 since there was nobody around to teach me for a good while. I went back to it once lessons were available again, and I have been playing ever since.

However, while the whistle would be my main instrument, I really wanted to learn the accordian, and my dad got me one when I was nearly 14. I started learning it and I can play a couple of tunes on it, so I'm happy, although I would like to be better.

I got a concertina and a flute about 3 years ago, and my flute playing is coming on in leaps and bounds. Its definately catching up with the whistle playing! The concertina is great too, although there is not a lot I can play on it at the moment since I mostly taught myself.

I have aquired a violin and a ukulele in the last year and am learning the classical violin in school. However, I must admit that my first love, as far as instruments go, is the Harp. I saw a performance when I was 8 and have been in love ever since. Naturally, then, I was thrilled when I got the opportunity to learn the Harp. I have been learning it at a steady pace for about a year now. I absolutely adore the sound of the Harp.

To return to the original question, I feel that perhaps Music has chosen me. I feel drawn to every kind of instrument. I want to learn as much as is humanly possible, however, I don't think I can be good at everything, so I must choose carefully when selecting my high standard Instruments.

While I do enjoy playing all my instruments, my voice has been a constant throughout my musical life, always developing and changing as I did. I have to say that I am most confident when I sing, which leads me to believe that my instrument did indeed choose me.


ps. I hope I didnt sound arrogant or self-important in any way. That is not the image of myself that I wish to portray. I would hate to offend anybody by sounding like I have a giant head or something. I do value modesty and humility, but also honesty. What is the point in lying about ones abilities? Besides, talent is a gift to be shared with people, not a tool to boost someones ego. I apologise if I have inadvertently offended anybody, that is just my opinion.  

Hi Roisin~

Multi-instrumentalists / singers are almost always entertaining. It's so much fun to support those artists who have such a desire to play, sing and learn about such a variety of expression!!! I hope you will keep working on all of your amazing abilities.  A person can never be "too old" to learn some new tricks and never be "too good" at mastering anything!!! Your honesty and style are refreshing.  I enjoyed reading your reply and am wishing you all the best :)!


I remember very well how I 'found' the banjo. When I was a kid, I listned to my big sisters records with New Orleans jazz (with banjo), and fell in love with the sound. I played the Trumpet from 7 - 14 y.o.a. in a boy scout band.

Next came the Dubliners, and when I heard Barney Mckenna play, I knew that was MY instrument. Bought a lot of their records and some years later, a banjo - then practise, practise............♪♫♫♪♪♫

Áine and her flute....

I started on the whistle too when I was about seven, my father (a showband and jazz pianist) had decided, upon settling the family in Co. Clare, to teach my brother and I along with local children. We were privaleged to attend some of the very first years of the Willy Clancy school in Miltown Malbay and I can still remember sitting in front of Micho Russell being taught some lovely simple tunes. His voice and whistle-playing is embedded in my head, I loved it.

As we improved, we raised money for some starter instruments by way of the Wrenboys at Christmas and managed to buy 2 concertinas, 2 accordians, 2 fiddles, 2 flutes and possibly a banjo. We all got turns at the instruments we liked and I chose the flute and was doing pretty well. My flute heros at this time were wonderful local players Peader Crotty and Marty Marrinan both having passed away these last couple of years, RIP. Another local flute player, Bill McNamara, also influenced my style.

By the time my tenth birthday came along my father decided to buy me a flute and I eagerly unwrapped what I thought was a wooden flute only to find a strange silver one! He had decided on the advice of musician friends to start me on the classical route. I did learn with the "A tune a day" book for about a year and struggled with traditional music. Was given a cassette of James Galway and loved playing with it. After that I moved to Limerick and my classical career began.

Won't go into all that but just to say that I had a wonderful time and got as far as being chosen to be a member of The Irish Youth Wind Band for two summers in succession. Achieved a Licentiate of Trinity College London and by then had had enough.

Decided that trying to compete with the very high standard required in order to have a job in the classical music scene was not going to work out with my ideals of family life and young children so I let it go.

In order to continue my love of playing I began playing traditional again but it took many years (and many patient fellow musicians in seisiúns) for me to lose the classical tone in favour of the more traditional tone. Finally, in 2003/2004 I achieved a degree in Irish Traditional Music Performance in University of Limerick under the mentoring of Niall Keegan.

Since then have played many pub gigs and in many varied seisiúns. I have been influenced over the years by Matt Molloy, Mike McGoldrick and numerous lovely flute players who tutored us during the course of the Degree. Played a lot over the years with a lovely box-player from Cree, MartinNoel Tubridy and took on a flavour of his style too. I play with many local musicians, one being Vanessa Millar (winner of this years' Senior All Ireland Champion on accordian!!) We share the love of music being played at a relaxed pace where you can really feel the rhythm of the music.

My silver flute IS my instrument and even though I have not ruled out learning a wooden one I am happy enough to continue as I am. I find it extremely useful for playing in all keys and have been blessed with near-perfect pitch so can tell quickly what key a tune or song is in and as singers are often asked to sing this can be helpful for accompanists.

Sorry, this turned out to be a lot longer than I first thought. As soon as I have a video or two I will upload them for you all to watch/hear.


Hello Áine,

Your journey with your flute playing in very insprirational! Flute playing must've been meant for you, so I'd say your flute has chosen you! The long post wasn't long and tedious at all... in fact, I'd enjoyed all of it!!!

Congratulations on your achievements within the Irish trad genre!  I believe that many people with young children, demanding musical expectations and demanding jobs may sacrifice their love of music for other duties.  There can never be enough hours in a day for everything!  I love it when music becomes part of a family, and when people come back to it regardless of everything that happens in their busy lives.  Irish trad music and sessioning is usually very lovely in it's accommodation of all players of different backgrounds!!!

I'm looking forward to watching some posts of your music whenever you are able to get to them!




My instrument. Well, currently I list 6 instruments - guitar, ukulele, plectrum banjo, Irish tenor banjo, mandolin, piano. I also sing and singing is what I do best. I have been singing my entire life. My mother started teaching me piano when I was 7. So, I did not really have a choice about those. My "go to" instrument is guitar and I didn't start playing that until I was 16 years old. The reason can be stated in one word:




My high school band was on a long bus trip to a festival and a guy had brought his guitar on the bus. All the girls were gathered around him singing. He was a real loser, but  all the girls were paying attention to him. I had to get a guitar. 


It doesn't really work this way - at least not for me.

Thanks Connie,

Yes, music always seems to come through doesn't it, even if life is busy. All our children are into music in their own way, each playing an instrument, and I don't think their interest is going to dissipate. How could it - once you are aware of it music (in some form or other) is like water - essential!


Hi Bruce,

So you chose the guitar... to get girls? Maybe a lot of men think the same thing?!  From a man's perspective, that would be a natural thing to do! From a woman's perspective, I think it is more about skill and personality conveyed in the music, than what instrument is being played.  I would rather see someone play a kazoo in a mesmerizing way, playing a simple tune in a complex an masterful way, than to barely be able to play a few bars on a guitar!!! I would also rather see a plain gal play a great fiddle tune in a sweet way, than to see a Barbie doll running across the stage with a fiddle wearing a prom dress and high heels!  That's my personal opinion, I'm a mechanical designer, not a psychologist.  Thanks for posting Bruce!


Connie, note the age at which I chose guitar to interest girls - 16. At age 16, everything a young boy (not a man) does is to interest girls - except maybe football. Your premise was why did you choose your instrument. "Girls" is the reason I chose the guitar. The reason I have stayed with the guitar is because it is a relatively inexpensive, portable instrument which is easy to play at a minimal level for accompanying singing while also capable of being played at a level as high as the player can take it. I was also playing trombone at the time. I haven't played that since college. 


"...a Barbie doll running across the stage with a fiddle wearing a prom dress and high heels."

I know what you mean, but Máiréad Nesbitt can actually play the snot out of her fiddle. She just does the pixie thing for Celtic Women. And I think running in high heels is a pretty good trick. 


Oh, and I am an electrical engineer - not a psychologist either.

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