How we make money playing musical instruments  

Thursday February 27 2020

Ivy Alexander, 25, guitarist. I started playing the guitar after I completed my secondary school education seven years ago. PHOTO | COURTESY


According to multiple researchers, there are many benefits that one can derive from playing musical instruments. They include better mental performance, better coordination, listening skills, and stress management.

We speak to four young people who, for the love of music, decided to learn how to play various musical instruments, and have since turned their hobbies into thriving businesses.

Ivy Alexander, 25, guitarist

I started playing the guitar after I completed my secondary school education seven years ago.

I grew up listening to my father play the guitar, and the sounds of good music coming from his bedroom are still vivid in my mind. He inspired me to become a guitarist.

To nurture my skills, my parents helped me enrol at the Kenya Conservatoire of Music where I trained for a year.


I enjoy playing the guitar. I feel so satisfied and contented whenever I play. I have also received a lot of positive feedback from my fans and from the different artists I work with.

I play the guitar part time, but I am planning to make it my full time hustle. I find it very rewarding because I get to earn an income by doing something I love. However, it takes practice sacrifice and consistency to become a good guitar player, and you also learn a lot.

I play with various Kenyan live bands in Nairobi. Just recently, I concluded Coke Studio Africa 2019 as the guitarist of the house band. I have also worked with Atemi Oyungu’s Born to Worship Movement, Noel Nderitu, Wambura Mitaru and an all-female ensemble called The Flower Project.

Besides that, I have been on several music tours around the world, the most recent being the OneBeat concert in September 2019 which was organised by the US government and brought together musicians from across the globe to collaborate and create original music.

By playing the guitar, I have discovered that I am patient, disciplined and always optimistic.

Stephen Njenga, 28, saxophonist


Stephen Njenga.

I am not a good singer, but playing the saxophone helps me express myself.

I love music and I grew up admiring Manu Dibango, the Cameroonian musician and songwriter. The way he holds the instrument and blows into it as if it is something so precious, made me want to learn how to play it.

In 2017 at the age of 25, I started taking music classes and researched a lot about saxophones by reading books and watching YouTube tutorials. It was like learning a new language. I had to practice a lot so that I could improve on my skills.

The saxophone is like a painting brush. The brush is only useful if it is held by a good artist. Therefore, the player must be familiar with the rhythm and timing of the music they are playing.

A saxophonist doubles up as the vocalist. You have to blow into the instrument, and then block or bend the holes on it to produce the sweet melody.

Every Sunday, I play with Allegro Band at the Sandalwood hotel in Kitengela. I have also worked with harmonica players from Korea. I prefer playing in private events because then I am able to connect better with my audience. I get clients through referrals from my friends, and from my social media platforms. Whenever I have an event, I share my contact details with the audience. 

The best part of what I do is the fulfilment I get when playing local songs fused with modern styles such as jazz and reggae. My listeners keep telling me that they like the sound. I like it too!

Also, I am an introvert. I grew up in a harsh environment and faced many challenges while growing up. The saxophone has helped me heal. I am even more productive now because I have released most of my pent up emotions through music.

When I started the music lessons, some of my friends said that it was too late for me to learn. However, after just one year of practice and rehearsals, I curtain raised an event for an international artist. Now, the friends who tried to dissuade me have nicknamed me “Stevesax”.

Before August last year, I used to play the saxophone on part-time basis as I worked as a Korean-English translator full time, but I have now become a full time saxophone player.

I make enough money to meet my basic expenses, but it hasn’t been a smooth ride. Like other artists, I have realised that not everyone appreciates art, and so they offer very poor pay. I wish people would know that this is a skill that takes time to learn and perfect, and that the instruments are quite pricey.

Dennis Murimi, 28, bass guitarist


Dennis Murimi.

I spend most of my free time listening to music, and I think that’s what prompted me to learn to play the guitar. I started with the piano and acoustic guitar and then in 2008, aged 20, I learnt how to play the bass guitar. Because I had already learnt how to play the piano and acoustic guitars, it was easy to learn the bass guitar.

I did not enroll for any formal training. I used to watch various guitarists play in my church and afterwards, I would go online, look for video tutorials and practice my skills.

To play the bass guitar, one must first ensure that the guitar is connected to the Bass Combo, and that it is in tune. Next, check the volume against the other instruments on set, and you’ll be ready to create some music.

I mostly play the guitar in church, and I work with various groups and bands with whom we entertain crowds in weddings, corporate events and other platforms where we get invited.

I am not a full time guitarist. I am a teacher and translator by profession. The guitar is only a side hustle that supplements my income. My best part about playing is seeing the listeners enjoy the song or melody, and being complemented for it.

However, I do not focus on the complements because lest I be tempted to feel as though I have accomplished everything, yet this is a continuous learning process.

Because I usually play as part of a band, I have learnt to be a good team player and to learn from others.

I find guitar playing to be therapeutic because it leaves me feeling at peace, and promotes my psychological well-being. On average, I make at least Sh20,000 every month.

Loice Ateka Maina, 25, violinist


Loice Ateka Maina.

I am a choral enthusiast with a Bachelor’s degree in music from Kenyatta University. During rehearsals with the KU Strings Ensemble, I used to admire the violinists, and I hoped to someday learn how to play it. However, I was just a student with no income, so that seemed like a dream at that time.

How I came to own my first violin is an interesting story. One of my cousins lives in the US so I sent him a message asking him how much it would cost to import one from there. He took three months to respond, and when he did, it was a call for me to receive a gift violin that he had sent through a relative!

By that time, I had already joined music school. It wasn’t easy to convince my parents that I wanted to become a musician. My mother saw a lawyer in me, and was sceptical about music.

My aunt intervened and an agreement was reached that my parents would pay my tuition fees in music school, as I concurrently studied for my college degree.

Now, I teach children to play the violin on full time basis at St Bakhita School and I get to perform during various concerts, sometimes with gospel musician Reuben Kigame. I also offer private lessons. Besides the skills I learnt in school, I have met friends who now mentor me.

To play, you place the violin firmly between your chin and the shoulder, and then hold the bow on your right hand, pinched between the fingers. The bow’s movement determines the length, volume and tone of a given note.

My left hand is usually on the violin, and I hold its neck tightly using my thumb and index finger, and use the other four fingers to press down the string.

Playing the violin has made me develop self-confidence and enhanced my communication skills. It also offers me opportunities to travel.

I still read books and conduct online research on how to make my practice sessions better.

Since I also play classical music. My sight-reading has grown immensely, and I can now guide beginners on the same. Most of my students are children whom I really enjoy working with.

Despite all this, I must acknowledge that the care and maintenance of the violin is not cheap. You will need to acquire high quality spare strings, bows and shoulder rests because not all brands will be compatible with your violin.