One of the most common questions I receive from parents is “what is the right instrument for my child to start lessons?” Although many opt for the piano, since one or both parents took piano lessons as a child, or perhaps there is already a piano at home or an easy to acquire keyboard they’ve been eyeing online--in a best case scenario, the child would explore a variety of age and size-appropriate instruments before settling on one particular instrument.
I believe there is a “right” instrument out there for all children. Some children display a very clear preference for a particular sound after hearing it just a few times. When children attend concerts, watch music videos with their parents, or listen to their favorite songs, parents can activate a deep curiosity and keen awareness of sound by asking their children questions like which sound they like best and what instrument makes that sound. After the instrument is identified, parents can help their children learn more about the instrument by doing a little research on its origins, materials used to make the instrument, and the musical traditions associated with the instrument. This helps ignite more excitement and lays a good foundation for the relationship the child will embark on with their soon-to-be instrument.
If the instrument selected happens to be something they can try out in person, then a visit to a local music store would be a good next step. Many music stores carry a variety of string, wind, brass and percussion instruments for children to test out. Some music schools even offer “instrument petting zoos” where children can try out a variety of instruments in a fun and family friendly environment.
While it can be tempting to choose any instrument, parents do have to consider age and size-appropriateness.
For children ages 5-10, string instruments are great choices. The violin, ukulele and child-sized guitar are wonderful instruments that are easy to carry and are for the most part, easily accessible. If your child is set on a larger string instrument such as the cello, you will be able to find these instruments for rent at a luthier’s shop, as they specialize in higher quality string instruments. Just do remind your child that carrying this bulkier instrument is a responsibility that will require a bigger commitment in the long run. Lastly, it is a very good idea to rent at this early stage, since stringed instruments need to fit the child’s arm length. Children size up anywhere from every 1-2 years until they reach the “full-sized (largest) version of the string instrument. Your child may also choose to switch to an entirely different instrument altogether--with renting, you have more flexibility to transition to another instrument.
Once children hit ages 11 and above, their bodies are developed enough to explore wind and brass instruments. Here as well, it is best to rent an instrument at the early stages of learning before making a longer term commitment.
Other instruments like the voice (our first instrument!) and percussion are also suitable for younger children. And of course the piano--the most popular instrument that children study--is always a great way to get started.
Lastly, do keep in mind that your child may change their preference early or later on in the course of their musical education. This is not unusual and it can actually lead to a firmer commitment and deeper relationship with the instrument (or two!) that your child eventually chooses. Sometimes, as children grow their musical affinities change and it is healthy to explore interest in different instruments. In the end, every instrument provides a child ample, unique learning opportunities. They will benefit as long as they do their best!