There are dozens of factors to consider when choosing an instrument for your child. The following questions can assist any parent who needs guidance with finding an appropriate instrument that a child will stay with, enjoy, and learn from.
How Big Is the Instrument?
When kids don’t express any preference toward a particular instrument, it’s okay to select one based on age. Many parents go this route with young children who often don’t even know what’s available in terms of selections. Here’s a short summary of age-appropriate guidelines that can work for most parents:
- For young learners, the violin can be a good choice but be careful with a few of the other members of the string family that are typically too large for little hands. They include the cello and the bass. However, if you think your child would enjoy the violin, you can start out with a child-size version.
- Kids in the 8 to 10 year age range take well to the guitar. Their hands are usually large enough and the instrument is quite popular among this particular age group. Another bonus: guitars come in all sizes and price ranges and the used market is literally flooded with high-quality items you can pick up at discount prices.
- For kids in the 7 to 11 year age range, the woodwinds to look for are the alto sax and the clarinet. Both are ideal for growing hands and lungs, come in a variety of sizes to fit small or larger players, and enjoy an active second-hand market where you can find great bargains.
- In the brass category, consider a trumpet if your little learner is 10 or older. Many youngsters fall in love with the trumpet or its cousin, the cornet due to the rich sounds and gorgeous melodies they soon learn to produce. Second-hand markets are active and sizes vary.
- It’s best to wait until kids are 11 or 12, at least, before choosing drums. Keep in mind that drums demand not only dexterity but use of the feet as well. Many children express an interest in drums when they’re very young, but you should guide them to another instrument if possible, until they are grown up enough to seriously handle lessons on this challenging, highly popular, instrument.
- If you can’t decide, opt for the piano, an instrument that comes in varying sizes, has a huge second-hand market and works for kids of all ages and sizes. In fact, the majority of child musicians learn basic piano at one time or another on their educational journey.
Why Is Music Education So Important?
Early childhood music education does a lot more than just help youngsters learn the basics of playing an instrument, reading notation or singing in tune. Music instruction helps children’s brains grow in numerous ways, fosters emotional development and leads to academic success in subjects unrelated to music. Whether a child has perfect pitch or not, learning to sing or play an instrument delivers multiple benefits to them for years to come.
The benefits of early childhood music education include better reading skills, more attentive listening capabilities, enhanced language acumen, advanced memory power and generally improved results in the full range of school subjects. Young learners discover how to hear minute sounds out of a huge background of auditory noise, how to identify patterns, how to interact with what their environment throws at them, and how to wait patiently for progress. Education specialists say these are the key skills for everyday classroom success. Most students who fall behind in schoolwork, for example, lack the right amount of attention and the applicable listening skills that typically result in high grades and emotional maturity. In fact, the human brain gets a lifetime of rewards from music lessons, even if kids only study an instrument for a year or two. The brain becomes “primed to learn” virtually any new kind of information and gets a significant boost from all forms of early childhood music education.
Does My Child’s Age Matter?
Some music education experts say that age six is a key turning point for children who are learning to play an instrument. Keep this number in mind as you consider various selections. Why is age six a crossover point for most kids? The human body begins to grow rapidly after that, especially the hands.
When young children choose an instrument, you need to be realistic and bring some knowledge to the table. Consider beginning with the piano. The violin is also an excellent first instrument. Both choices are good for youngsters under six, who typically have small hands and can benefit from a “general” instrument like the piano or the violin. They’ll learn the basics and will be able to “transfer” to another instrument when they are a couple years older.
For very young kids, under age four, think about getting a child-size drum kit so they can learn rhythm and coordination before moving on to another instrument. Kids under age four take to child-size drums like fish to water and can learn much with basic lessons and a good curriculum.
Age is an essential factor to consider when choosing a first instrument. Always consider both your child’s age and size. Some kids grow much faster than others, so one six-year-old might be much larger or smaller than another.
What’s the Child’s Role in Selecting the Instrument?
Don’t ever try to cajole a child into choosing a particular instrument just because you enjoy listening to its music, play it yourself or have an agenda of any kind. Do your best to let the child decide, even if that means watching as the youngster tries out different instruments in a music store. Take them to concerts where all kinds of instruments are featured and, if possible, show them videos where all sorts of instruments are played. That way, they’ll get a feel for what’s out there and will be better able to let their own inclinations shine through.
What About the Family Budget?
The old adage, “Money makes the world go ‘round” is applicable to the study of music, whether the learner is a child or an adult. As a parent, you are in the unique position of knowing in advance what you are able to spend on an instrument. In some cases, the total cost of a new instrument and accessories can dictate what will be available to your child.
However, with so many options available today, the vast majority of parents are able to work out an arrangement to afford whatever their youngster wishes to play. First, consider a few of the key factors that play a role in overall pricing, from a parent’s point of view:
- You don’t necessarily need a new instrument. Many children, especially younger ones, switch instruments after a year or two for all sorts of reasons. That is just one element that leads to a vibrant second-hand market in musical instruments of all types. So, if you can’t afford a brand new violin, piano or guitar, for example, consider purchasing a second-hand one from a reputable seller.
- Whether you choose to buy new or used, don’t worry about purchasing all the many accessories right away. Some of them won’t be needed until a few months into lessons. You can always buy the accessories as your child needs them. The point is, don’t feel obligated to “buy everything” on day one.
- If you purchase a used musical instrument, find a knowledgeable friend who can help you shop. A trained musician is an invaluable resource when you head to the music store and evaluate used instruments. They’ll know what to look for, what reasonable price ranges are and how to negotiate for extras like mouth-pieces and carrying cases.
- There are also instrument rental and “rent-to-own” programs at most of the better stores. These options are ideal for parents who are working with a tight budget or just don’t want to plunk down the full price for a new instrument. Renting for a few months is a low-cost, smart way to give your child a chance to check things out and experiment.
Of course, there are a few additional factors aside from the “buy or rent” question for parents of prospective musicians. You’ll need to look at a new instrument’s total price. Guitars, for instance, routinely cost much less than violins and pianos. There are definitive ranges of price for the entire spectrum of new and even used instruments.
There’s also the cost of lessons to consider, the child’s commitment to sticking with a program of study, the availability of low-cost or free instruction at community centers and elsewhere, and scheduling. Busy parents need to have some time to take kids to and from lessons or oversee in-home learning when necessary. Always look at the big picture when examining the expenses related to music education. With a little planning, most parents find a way to get their children into a program where they can learn to play the instrument of their choice.
How Can Music Style Play a Role?
Certain styles of music your child gravitates toward can be a good indicator for the right instrument to choose. For example, if the prospective pupil has fallen for jazz, rock, blues or pop music, consider the guitar. You can even start with a child’s electric guitar if it seems appropriate.
Generalists, or kids who just love “all music” can do well learning piano or keyboards. Either piano or electric keyboards can satisfy the selection depending on your child’s preference. Try to let the youngster play both kinds before opting for a particular “lesson instrument.” Kids who enjoy classical, folk, blues, or country music often take to the acoustic guitar as a natural choice to satisfy their tastes.
Pupils who can’t get enough soul, jazz, gospel and funk music are ideal candidates for any of the brass instruments, especially the trumpet. However, remember that it’s best for kids to be near or past the age of 10 in order to get the full benefits of trumpet lessons. Another choice for lovers of folk, gospel, classical, pop and blues is the wind category. The alto sax or clarinet are apt selections in this case.
What are All the Factors to Consider?
There’s obviously a lot to think about when it comes time for your child to select the right instrument. To keep things straight in your mind, categorize your decision-making information into the following categories:
- Body type: Not all instruments come in “child sizes,” so consider your youngster’s overall body size when selecting a first instrument. Kids with large, well-developed lungs will likely do well with most wind instruments, for example. Children who have small hands might do well with a child-size violin or guitar. Keep in mind that little ones grow rapidly and might need to upgrade to an adult-size instrument within a year or two. But be sure to take body type into account before the first set of lessons.
- Age: Children go through phases. Never try to push your son or daughter into a particular instrument choice. Let them work with what’s age appropriate. For example, preschool-age kids often find it difficult to control their breathing well enough to even produce sound on many wind instruments. Others, with small hands, might see huge challenges in a guitar but not with a piano. As body size, hand size and lung capacity changes, children of varying ages will gravitate toward some instruments more than others.
- Dedication to learning: If your child is still very young and seems likely to switch instruments or not stick with lessons for very long, consider a default instrument like the piano. That way, the little learner can acquire musical basics and you need not be concerned about a switch or changed mind. Carefully assess the level of dedication before opting for a specific instrument to use in early lessons.
- Teacher: Some parents with experience with little music learners say that finding the right instructor or online teaching platform is as important as choosing the right instrument. Remember, teachers often have profound, life-long influences on young minds. In music education, that fact is even more apparent. Making sure your youngster gets connected with an instructor that has experience with the instrument you choose and with young pupils.
- The child’s personality: Some kids are happier with loud instruments that call for large movement ranges, like drums. Others are among the personality types that seek out quieter, more subtle instruments that produce finer levels of sound and call for precise motions, like the violin. Think about your child’s personality when choosing a musical instrument and you’ll be more apt to find a good fit.
- Manual ability/dexterity; Does your child have large hands and keen manual dexterity? If so, this factor can play a major role in the types of instruments they might choose. These purely physical factors include not only dexterity of fingers but lung capacity and overall coordination. Watch your child as he or she experiments and tries out various instruments and you’ll get a feel for how well they move their fingers, demonstrate coordination during play and breathe.
- The musical style: It’s obvious that certain categories of instruments lend themselves to particular styles of music. That’s why it’s essential to consider a child’s music preferences when choosing an instrument. For example, for youngsters who seem drawn to classical pieces, a violin or cello could be an apt choice. On the other hand, if the pupil gravitates toward songs that feature banjos or guitars, then those stringed instruments might be wiser initial choices.
- Preference: Don’t neglect a child’s instrument choice if they express a desire for a particular one. It’s common for children to want to do what parents or older siblings do, so there might be some “copying” involved. However, if your little one shows a decided preference for a certain instrument, this can be a good sign that they will stick with it for a year or more.
Where To Go From Here
Knowing how to help a child select the right musical instrument is one of the best skills a parent can acquire. At Prodigies Music (ProdigiesMusic.com), the entire team of professionals can offer guidance about instrument choice, the best way to begin lessons, how often your child should practice and a wide range of related questions the most parents have. There’s no reason to leave anything to chance when something as essential and impactful as a child’s music education is at stake.
The experienced instructors at Prodigies) have worked with children of all ages, capabilities and levels of determination. We know that every single child is different and that’s why we strive to work alongside parents to make things right, from instrument selection to lesson frequency to everything else that will spell success for your daughter or son. The younger they begin, the better, but even older kids and teens secure plenty of benefits from music education. Regardless of a youngster’s age or ability, the time to start is now.