Want college cash? Think bassoon

The less popular the instrument, the more likely a student will get a scholarship.
NEW YORK -- The right instrument can turn that C major scale into major cash in college.
Parents of children just beginning their musical careers can improve their child's chance of getting a scholarship by playing the supply and demand song.
While the best players on any instrument can score college funds, those proficient on the bassoon, oboe or tuba may give themselves a better chance than their counterparts on the violin, clarinet or flute.
"Generally, more obscure instruments give you a better shot at a scholarship than more common instruments, such as a violin," said Lawrence Ferrara, chairman of the department of music and performing arts professions at New York University.
Indeed, in Manhattan School of Music's entering class of 2005, for example, only 25 percent of the violinists got scholarships, while 63 percent of the oboists, 83 percent of the bassoonists, and 100 percent of the tuba players were able to hear the sweet sound of ka-ching with their school admission.
Bassoon player
Devin Cohen, a 15-year-old from Bolton, Conn., has been playing bassoon for five years, and has already made the two hours a day he practices pay off.
This past weekend, he won $200 for placing third in a music competition in Hartford, Conn.
He said the bassoon is "not that popular," and requires "perfection in different areas."
To be sure, admissions officers said the best students on any instrument have a good chance of either gaining admittance or receiving scholarships.
"If you are outstanding on any instrument" there's a likelihood of a scholarship, said Richard Adams, vice president and dean of faculty at Manhattan School of Music, which has some 800 conservatory and postgraduate students.
Still, the better players of the less popular instruments may find a more receptive audience.
At NYU, there is a "flood of violinists" and a "plenitude of flutes and clarinets," said NYU's Ferrara.
But, in order to enroll top-quality players of less popular instruments, also including English horns, French horns and tubas, "we set additional money aside," Ferrara said.
He declined to offer specifics about his school's scholarships.
Popular instruments
Violins and cellos, which come as small as 1/16 of their full size, are often children's musical instrument preferences, leading to later proficiency and advanced study.
In addition, "parents want kids to play more popular, conventional instruments," said Jeremy Conley, director of education at the Bloomingdale Music School on West 108th Street in Manhattan, which teaches toddlers through seniors.
Violin, piano and guitar make up the majority of demand at Bloomingdale, with some clarinets and flutes as well. "Percussion is very popular," Conley said. "Kids love to bang on things."
Yet there's nary a bassoon or oboe among them, Conley said. "They're very difficult."
Costly endeavor
As many parents can attest, the investment in music can be steep.
Even before a child enters the college sphere, parents can spend upwards of $15,000 on music lessons -- an average of $50 per 45-minute lesson -- from around age 7 or 8 until 18, Conley said.
Be aware: The less popular instruments are likely to cost more. One local retailer quoted a price of $3,000 for a low-end bassoon. Reeds, which experts say could last from five minutes to five days, cost around $15.
Don't let the financial upside get in the way of a specific musical passion, Ferrara of NYU said.
You want your child to "really love the instrument, be drawn to the sound," he said.
Cohen, whose favorite composer is Tchaikovsky, said he decided to play the bassoon because "he saw a picture of it and wanted to play it."
Cohen advises those who don't know what a bassoon sounds like to rent Disney's "Fantasia," because the sounds that accompany Mickey Mouse when he's a wizard come from a bassoon.

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