Average Cost of School Band Instruments (is renting cheaper?)

Let me guess, your kid just told you they want to join the school band, and you’re wondering how much it’s going to set you back? Don’t worry, I’ll walk you through the process without overspending.

School band instruments range in cost from $450 to $5,500 depending on which instrument is chosen. Instruments such as trumpet, clarinet, flute, and percussion can be purchased for less than $700; however, tubas, french horns, and bassoons can cost thousands. Many students rent instruments for about $28 to $100 per month.

Let’s take a look at each instrument and see what it costs to start learning one in a school band.

InstrumentAverage Cost to Buy (for a decent starter)Average Monthly Rental Cost (with insurance)
French Horn$2,500$77
Alto Saxophone$900$55
Tenor Saxophone$1,500$77
Percussion (Snare and Bells)$600$28

Renting Is Usually the Best Option

I spent a few years working at a musical instrument repair shop. I know just how expensive it can be when your student joins the marching band and turns his trombone the wrong direction and it collides with a bass drum.

Plus, instruments have periodic issues. Pads need to be replaced on wind instruments regularly. Brass instruments need to replace corks and take out dings that inevitably happen.

I think it’s best to rent for your first year, and then buy once you’re sure your child will stick with it and knows how to take care of the instrument. When you do buy, try to find a used instrument.

I generally don’t like paying for insurance because I know the company is pricing the insurance to make sure they are making a profit; however, school band instruments are generally rented from music stores that do their own repairs. Consequently, they can do the repair for cheaper than if they charged you a profit on that repair too.

Another benefit of renting is if your student decides to switch instruments in a year or two. You can simply take the instrument back to the shop and swap it out for another instrument in a few minutes.

Generally, an instrument rental is priced to cover the entire cost of the instrument after the second year of renting. However, remember there is a yearly cleaning cost of about $80 and repairs as well, so it’s not quite that bad.

If You Choose to Buy

Once your student has a year or two of experience with the instrument and it’s clear they’ll be sticking with it, buying can be a good option. Always try to find something used. Most school band programs have a bulletin board where students can list their used instruments for sale, and most local shops will have used instruments for sale as well.

Band instruments can last for hundreds of years. They don’t wear out quickly. Just about anything that goes wrong can be easily fixed. So you’re not really at any disadvantage when you buy a used instrument vs new.

But please! I beg of you! Don’t buy your school band instrument on Amazon. There are SO many knockoff band instruments that will cause constant frustration, unnecessary repairs, and will not sound good no matter who plays it. Please! Don’t do it! Most local shops will ensure you’re getting a quality instrument and generally aren’t much more. Besides, local shops usually discount repair and cleaning services if you buy the instrument from them.

Look for reputable brands like Yamaha, Bach, Holton, Jupiter, Selmer, King, and Pearl.

However, you don’t need to buy high-end either.


The first row of a school band is usually occupied by the flutist. The flute is an excellent instrument for young students to learn because of its iconic sound and its tendency to play the melody in many songs. The flute can also be a great instrument for solos and duets after a student has left a band.

One of the other great things about the flute is that it is one of the cheapest instruments for students that there is. While the highest quality of flutes can cost well over $1,000, flutes that are made for beginners and band students can cost as low as a few hundred.


Clarinets are another popular instrument in school bands. The clarinet is slightly easier than flute in the starting stages. Because the clarinet is such a common instrument, they can usually be found in the used market for very good prices.

Clarinets rent for about the same price as flutes (about 30 dollars per month) so once again it is probably smarter to buy one of these cheaper instruments than try to save money by renting one.


The oboe can be a beautiful and strong instrument in a band. Oboes are similar to clarinets in sound and appearance, though clarinets are able to play a wider range of notes than their double-reed counterparts. Oboes trade this range for a more commanding sound and some more principle roles in an ensemble of musicians.

Oboes are much more expensive than clarinets and other common instruments. Because they aren’t as popular for new students, there aren’t many places that make and sell them in large enough quantities for them to have a low price. If you are lucky, you may find a basic used oboe for around $800.

Generally, oboes are only recommended to new students if they already have a plan on how to obtain one. If a friend has one that you can borrow or if you know where you can get a used one for a good price, they become much better options.


The bassoon is another uncommon woodwinds instrument. While there are a few songs that feature the bassoon, most songs will leave the bassoon playing a supporting base note.

Their size alone makes them difficult to manufacture, and the low demand for bassoons means that you will probably have to pay well over $1,500 for an instrument. However, some school band programs lend out bassoons to players because otherwise, parents would rarely pick it.


The saxophone is a popular instrument in bands due to its iconic shape and sound. Students generally learn the saxophone on the alto sax rather than a tenor sax. The alto sax is a little easier to handle and learn, being a little smaller. Alto saxophones are also cheaper, with student versions costing about $600.

Though the saxophone does cost more than some of the other popular band instruments like the flute and clarinet, the saxophone gives a lot of freedom for a student to choose what they want to do with the talent they develop with the saxophone. Saxophones players can join jazz bands or other musical groups as they get better at the saxophone.

Because of the popularity of saxophones, you can probably find a used one for around 350 dollars.


When it comes to school bands, the trumpet is king. Overall, trumpets are cheap to buy, straightforward to learn, and extremely fun to play. Trumpets play many of the main melodies in songs and have freedom in what kinds of bands they want to play in.

New trumpets built for students cost about $600. Used trumpets are common enough in music stores and online shopping sites that you can find for about $400 for a student version.

You may also find a cornet for sale. This is a variation on the trumpet with a slightly duller sound. Ask your school band teacher if it’s okay for your child to use a cornet. In general, the instruments are so similar that you can pick one or the other and be fine.


Tubas are always joked about as being the “heavy metal” of the band. Tubas are large and weigh over 30 pounds, which factors into their cost. The large instrument costs as much as $5,000 for even a starter instrument.

Most parents aren’t asked to purchase a tuba for their child to play the instrument in the school band. Most schools have a couple tubas that they lend out to students to use.

One trouble with the tuba is its enormous size. Since it’s too large for students to easily bring home for practice, they usually just bring their mouthpiece home and practice “buzzing.”


Trombones for students and beginners are priced at around $650 dollars. However, trombones usually require more repairs because even a tiny ding in the slide will make the instrument not work properly.

French Horn

French horns are complicated instruments to manufacture because of their extensive piping. However, in my opinion, it’s one of the most beautiful-sounding brass instruments.

Many school bands have french horns available to lend out to students because of their high price to purchase.


Most students only buy drum sticks, a practice pad (rubber pad that bounces similar to a snare drum) and perhaps a bell set. Parents aren’t expected to purchase cymbals, a bass drum, etc. Those items are left at the school.

Your student may choose to specialize in different aspects of percussion. For example, they may later learn the drum set if they accompany a jazz band, or they may play the marimba or piano. However, at the start, most schools just ask for sticks and a practice pad. Percussion is the cheapest instrument to play in a school band.