One of the most difficult and frustrating portions of getting your child involved in music lessons is deciding what instrument to go with. There are a lot of reasons that parents feel this way. Some parents don’t want to waste their time and money constantly switching instruments. Others want their children to learn the instrument with the greatest chance of future success associated with it. And then there are the parents that have zero clues about music in general and just need guidance in the initial steps. If you find yourself in any of these situations, hopefully this article will help. These are just suggestions and I would never imply that I know your child better than you do. Not every child fits into a cookie cutter formula.
Your child’s age is the first factor to take into account. For children six and under the most popular instruments are piano and violin because these instruments are great at demonstrating the rudiments of music. They are also instruments that you can purchase in smaller sizes. Violins can be purchased in 1/8, 1/4, 1/2, or 3/4 sizes to accommodate children. Keyboards and pianos come in 61 or 76 keys instead of the standard 88. Violins often teach children how to listen to the sounds they are producing a bit better than other instruments because of the lack of frets (markers for your fingers). This helps train your child to play in tune and by ear. Piano is great for others because everything is right in front of the child making it more accessible and comprehensible at an early age. This is not to say that other instruments like the guitar are a bad idea at the age of six. In fact, I began playing guitar at six and I love to see young children involved with it. I wanted to learn guitar initially because my favorite music at the time featured awesome guitarists, and I wanted to be just like them. Thankfully, my mom went with my already existent motivation and purchased a guitar for me. She got me a half sized guitar which was a bit easier for me to handle and made sure that I put in my practice after my lessons. Guitars can also come in other sizes like the guitalele (which is almost the size of a ukulele and has the playing style of a guitar), the 1/4 size guitar, the 1/2 size, the 3/4 size, and the full size. These three instruments would be my top recommendations for children six and under but that doesn’t mean your child has to learn one of these three initially.
I always like to remind parents that children can always start with one instrument and end on another. This process doesn’t have to be perfectly right for your child from the beginning. Children often switch interests, activities, sports, or friends. It would be crazy to think that their first instrument will be what they play for the rest of their lives 100 per cent of the time. That being said, you as the parent can do a lot to motivate your child towards these beginner instruments at that age. From my experience making a deal with children is a great tool. For example let them know that if they start with piano lessons and show progress then they can switch over to drums (which is what they wanted at first) after a year. If your child’s heart is absolutely dead set on drums and refuses to take any other type of lesson, go with it. There is a reason for that motivation, so try and figure out what it is, if you don’t already know, and encourage it.
As children get older, more possibilities open up because of increased size and physicality. Instruments like brass, larger orchestral instruments, and woodwinds that were once too large for your child may now be available to them. One important factor to keep in mind is that children are all different sizes. Just because your child is ten doesn’t mean that they are automatically ready to begin tuba lessons. Let your child try to hold the instrument. If they struggle or appear awkward holding it, maybe give it some more time. On the other side, some children are much larger than the average child. In these cases, mandolin or piccolo might be too small for a child with very large hands. These types of concerns can be addressed at any music store where you can try things out and allow your child to hold instruments. If you find yourself in a situation where your child is interested in learning an instrument that is too large or too small for them, it is best to encourage beginning with a more suitably sized instrument to start. Again, it can always be framed in such a way that doesn’t kill the motivation and encourages them to work toward working on their instrument of choice.
Keep an eye and an ear out for what your child likes to hear. If your child hates listening to the sound of the saxophone, chances are, saxophone is not the best instrument for them to choose. Also, the method of how the sound is made on the instrument is an important factor to pay attention to. Personally, I really don’t like playing instruments that I have to blow air through or into. They’ve always been difficult for me to grasp and they just were never really my thing, even at an early age. Alternatively, one of my best friends hates playing string instruments and opts for the trumpet instead. As the parent, you can really get an early start on these observations. Pay attention when or if things change as well because again, children aren’t static and neither are their interests.
Another factor to keep an eye on as a parent is what I call the “cool factor.” Some children want to learn a particular instrument because they have friends that play it, their favorite celebrity plays it, or they saw it on America’s Got Talent. These types of motivators are fantastic but it is a good rule of thumb to decipher what is genuine and what is not. Choosing a more appropriate instrument using the guidelines above is a better practice than just allowing your child to choose a less than ideal instrument because they think it is cooler. You can’t change what your child thinks is cool but it is important to weigh their desires with common sense.
Choosing the right instrument for your child is an important decision but again, don’t worry if you don’t get it right on the first try. The most important factor is that your child is interested in music which is one of the hardest parts for others. You are already halfway there, now you just have to allow your child to channel that energy in the best way possible. Be sure to have an open mind, constantly nurture their progress and have open and honest talks about their increasing or diminishing interest in their instrument.