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Four Tips for Choosing the Right Instrument for Your Child

When children start going through the Prodigies Music program for early learners, they begin using instruments they were born with, for example:

  • Their voice.
  • Their hands.
  • Their inner interpretation of sounds and vibrations.
  • Their imagination.

Parents are often amazed at how proficient their children become with just their hands and voices as instruments that put into practice what they have learned about music theory. Our curriculum designers know that children have natural powers of early cognition, and pedagogy researchers have determined that this is an excellent time for teaching abstract concepts. In order to teach music theory, it is crucial to engage the visual, listening, and tactile senses ; moreover, putting theory into practice is something that must be accomplished with instruments.

Once early learners make progress with the Prodigies Music program, we recommend a few instruments we believe are age-appropriate and suitable to continue with the curriculum lessons. These instruments include:

  • Chromanotes Desk Bells
  • The Prodigies Music Bells App
  • Soprano recorder
  • Ukulele
  • Glockenspiel
  • Boomwhackers
  • Beginner’s piano

Ultimately, the choice of a favorite instrument will fall upon your child, but it is not a bad idea to introduce early music learners to various instruments. There is no telling whether your child will move onto woodwinds after becoming acquainted with the recorders, and the ukulele may not automatically signal a progression towards guitars; the goal of our curriculum is for children to learn music theory and then advanced to express it. Will this make them better musicians? It is hard to tell because we know many inspiring musical artists who have eschewed music theory and decided to use their natural talents to play by ear and compose with their minds, but these musicians will tell you that they are in awe of performers and producers who have a mastery of music theory.

Mastery of musical instruments is sometimes secondary to what can actually be done when you have a solid musical theory background. There is a current YouTube trend called reaction videos, which consist of individuals who listen to suggested songs for the first time in their lives, and they film their reactions to share with followers. One particular video shows a hip-hop producer listening to the 1970s hit “Black Betty” by Ram Jam; given the producer’s knowledge of music theory, he immediately recognized the use of powerful chord progression plus mastery of the pentatonic scale. He was blown away by the song despite his limited familiarity with classic rock, and he admitted that the simple power chord structure played on the pentatonic scale was a recipe for music production success.

With all the above in mind, let’s consider a few aspects of music learning and instrumental performance when choosing instruments for your young music learners:

Size is More Important Than Complexity

The reason it is better to start off with “toy instruments” is not because they are simplified; it has more to do with the extent of hand and arm dexterity that children can accomplish at certain ages. A clarinet, for example, has holes to cover and buttons to push, and if they are not properly pressed and covered at the same time, you end up with squeaking reminiscent of John Coltrane experimenting with free-form jazz in his album “A Love Supreme.” The late Coltrane would have likely recommended an alto saxophone for young students because every hole is covered by buttons.

Needless to say, there needs to be a physical compatibility between instrument and performer. There is no way a six-year old could proficiently play the tuba because of its size, and the same goes for a classic-body Gibson guitar; better choices would be a cornet or an ukulele. You already have our recommendations of small instruments that can be played along with the Prodigies Music lessons, but you can get more input and opinions from music tutors as well as from shopkeepers at music stores. This cannot be understated because you do not want to end up with a music student becoming frustrated by the physical limitations of a large instrument.

Piano and Keyboards

Seasoned musicians will tell you that it is impossible to go wrong with keyboard instruments when children are learning to play, and we can definitely get behind this recommendation because of the visual, hearing, and tactile representation of music theory that these instruments promote. Even the Chromanotes Desk Bells are starting points that can naturally progress towards piano keys or a smaller keyboard. It is easy for all learners to associate their knowledge of music theory to the keys, and this will augment the principles of reading music, understanding intervals, playing scales, and progressing into harmonies, chords, and complex melodies.

The diversity of keyboard instruments is another point in favor of parents who wish to get their children started on musical performance. Let’s face it: Society has somehow taught us to think that the piano is a prestigious instrument for children to learn, but it would be unwise to push young learners into learning piano for this reason alone. The advantage of pianos and keyboards is that they are reasonably easy to learn; however, they are not easy to master. Skilled guitar players can sit down at the piano and play some melodies almost instinctively, but they will immediately know that they will not achieve mastery without weeks of learning and years of practice. With the guitar, on the other hand, learning is more difficult, but mastery is easier compared to the piano as long as you are not trying to outperform masters such as Dick Dale, Paco de Lucia, or Bonnie Raitt.

Synthesizers

In the 21st century, it is futile to engage in the old debate about synthesizers not being “real instruments.” Modern composers such as Brian Eno never had a problem with synth music because they accepted technology as part of the direction music is supposed to take within society. Thomas Dolby wrote an entire book about music and technology. Jazz master Herbie Hancock eased into synthesizers from piano and keyboards, and he was deeply interested in the music that early hip-hop producers were sampling in the 1980s, which was mostly backing beats from the legendary German band Kraftwerk.

One specific recommendation we can give you with regard to synths is that you should try to get your child interested in the ones incorporate with keyboards. Full software synths have pop-up keyboards that can be played on touchscreens, but they do not provide the rich experience of playing physical keys. Children would be better off with a real keyboard that connects to a computer or mobile device by means of a software app, USB connection, or Bluetooth. Finally, don’t believe for a second that the synth is easy to learn; this is an instrument that will thoroughly challenge your child’s intellect, and it may even spike his or her interest in composing.

The Voice as the Ultimate Instrument

We should not ignore the fact that many early music learners decide to stick with their voices as their favorite instruments. We think this is wonderful, and it may not even become their primary instrument. When we look at the careers of beloved artists such as Norah Jones and Alicia Keys, we can see that they love playing the piano as much as they do singing. These two acclaimed singers compose melodies on their pianos at the same time they put lyrics to music.

Let us not forget that the development of a vocal range can result in a multi-instrumental approach to musical performance. Artists such as Bobby McFerrin do not need instruments other than their voices to deliver a masterful performance. Some of the most memorable tracks of the Canadian band The Cowboy Junkies are sung a capella by the angelical-sounding Margo Timmins. Some opera singers do not need musical accompaniment in order to perform. Vocal groups such as New York Voices and The Manhattan Transfer take full advantage of the human voice, and many of their songs only feature light instrumentation.

At some point, your child will fall in love with one or more instruments. Your job as an enabler of musical education is to introduce students to instruments from an early age and let them decide. As long as early students are able to put music theory into practice, you really cannot go wrongs unless you deviate too much from the recommendations listed herein.

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