9 Tips to Choose the Right Instrument for Your Child

Learning music is an excellent way to help your child have a holistic development. Aside from helping kids perform better in school, learning an instrument can help boost your child’s self-esteem. It also opens doors for more friendships and broadens horizons.

You probably want your child to experience the benefits of learning a musical instrument, but you would not want to pick the wrong instrument only to have it gather dust in a few months. Well, worry no more as here are some of the things you would want to consider when choosing the right instrument for your child.

Age

Many factors come with the age of the learner. With the exception of child proteges, the average child begins learning an instrument at around 8-9 years old. However, you can begin exposing your child to different kinds of music and musical toys at a really young age. If they are yet unable to pay attention to studying for a long time, you can start letting them play with percussion instruments to help them develop rhythm and coordination until they are ready for lessons. As they grow up, your child could advance to more difficult instruments.

Here are other factors that come with the age of the learner:

  • Attention span – A child’s attention span improves as he or she gets older. On average, 5- to 6-year-olds can pay attention to a single task for 10-15 minutes. This also depends on the difficulty and interest of the child on the activity.
  • Information retention – Consequently, a child can retain more information if he or she can pay attention more closely for a longer period of time.
  • Coordination – A child’s motor skill improves as he or she gets older. Learning some instruments require more coordination, like drums, compared to other instruments. Brass, woodwind, and some string instruments also require fine motor skills.
  • Intelligence – Some instruments require above average intelligence compared to other instruments. For example, oboes are said to be one of the most complicated instruments to play. It certainly requires long concentration and a more advanced intellect.

Still, there are exceptions. With a good teacher and a motivated learner, your kid can learn an instrument at a really young age.

For instrument recommendations according to age, you can find a chart at the end of this article.

Physical development

Aside from age, you would want to make sure your child is physically able to learn an instrument with ease. Different instruments suit some people better than others because of certain physical limitations. For example, bigger instruments generally suit taller kids. Here are some things you should consider:

  • Height – Big instruments like the double bass or bassoon would be better handled by taller kids. Playing the trombone also requires longer arms due to the motions. On the other hand, most instruments like the trombone are designed to be learned such that beginners do not need to do the harder positions. In a couple of years, your child may well have grown to play the instrument with ease.
  • Hand – If your child has small hands, he or she may have some difficulty playing the piano, which is played with more ease by children with bigger hands and long fingers. The clarinet also requires broader fingers to be able to cover the holes.
  • Mouth – Woodwind and brass instruments are particular about the lip size, lip width, and fleshiness of the lips. Brass instruments especially rely on the contractions of the lips to produce particular pitches. Kids with smaller lips would want to consider the trumpet or french horn, while kids with bigger lips might be a better match with the tuba.
  • Teeth – It is advisable for kids to have developed adult front teeth first before choosing to play brass or woodwind instruments. For example, it is preferred for trombone players to have a nice, even front teeth and a good bite. Having to wear braces might also prove to be a challenge when playing these instruments. In different circumstances, it’s not impossible for a determined player to adjust after some time of practice.

If you want to know which instrument best suits your child’s physique, check out the chart at the end of this article.

Personality

Your child’s personality also plays a part in choosing the instrument that best suits him or her. For a detailed recommendation of what kind of personality best suits specific instruments, see the chart at the end of this article.

  • Introversion – Quiet, reserved, and introverted children might prefer instruments that are usually played as a group, such as the violin. Studies also show that in general, musicians who play string instruments are usually introverted. They may be more anxious about playing instruments that stand out.
  • Extroversion – On the other hand, outgoing children who enjoy being the center of attention may want to play loud instruments like the saxophone or trumpet. Flutists are also usually positioned at the front of an orchestra.

Expert recommendation

It also helps to get the opinion of professional music teachers to help your child determine which instrument best suits him or her. On the other hand, this is also a good way of looking for a potential teacher whose teaching style is compatible with your child’s personality.

Preference

Your child’s preference should still be the final determiner in choosing a musical instrument. While the other factors are important, your child might end up feeling frustrated by playing an instrument he or she does not like in the first place. On the other hand, you should also help your child pick an instrument to make sure that it is the right fit. Here are some ways you can help:

  • Sound – Expose your child to various musical pieces featuring different instruments across different genres. Ask your child which sound stands out to him. Another good idea is to bring him to a music store to let him listen to the sounds of different instruments.
  • Feel – Go to trips to music stores and let your child try holding instruments. Ask him or her if he or she feels comfortable holding the instrument. Also, ask if they imagine themselves playing the instrument in front of many people. You would also find out whether your child has physical limitations in playing particular instruments this way.
  • Try different instruments – Before buying an instrument, you can consider renting different instruments for some time to let your child figure out which instrument he or she would look forward to learning for a long time.
  • Long-term options – Talk to your child about long-term options when choosing an instrument. Your child can become more determined to learn an instrument if there is a long-term goal in mind. For example, if your child chooses a brass instrument, ask her if she sees herself joining a marching band. The same goes for joining an orchestra or forming a band. It might also help when he or she understands that becoming good at an instrument might help him or her land a scholarship in the future.

Popularity of instrument

Nothing is wrong if your child prefers a popular instrument – it even has its perks. However, you have to make sure that your child is not choosing that instrument based on popularity alone. Here are some pros and cons of choosing common and uncommon instruments:

  • Common – It is easy to look for a music teacher if your child chooses a common instrument, so chances are slim that you would have to travel far to get music lessons. Moreover, it will be easier and cheaper to look for resources or music accessories. Your child might also easily find friends who play the same instrument. The downside of this is the tighter competition if your child would want to audition for an orchestra or band.
  • Uncommon – In contrast, it is harder to find teachers who teach uncommon instruments. You can then expect it to cost more. Music accessories for uncommon instruments are also likely to be harder to find and they tend to be more expensive. However, kids who play uncommon instruments are more in demand, making it easier for them to join and excel in an orchestra or band.

In choosing an instrument, you should also be wary of existing social pressures around your child. For example, she may want to play an instrument that her peers think is cool, but is not exactly a good fit for her.

Practicality

There are factors outside of your child’s compatibility with an instrument that you should keep in mind when choosing an instrument. These may be what other guardians might overlook but might actually determine if your child could continue learning how to play an instrument with ease.

  • Size – Do you have enough space in your home to accommodate a large instrument if ever your child chooses one? Some instruments that take up a big space are drums, cello, double bass, or harp.
  • Portability – Will it be easy to travel with the instrument? If your child will be practicing at school, will he be okay bringing the instrument on his own? For example, if your child has to bring a cello you may have to drive him to his practices.
  • Soundproofing – Are you in a relatively quiet neighborhood? If so, loud instruments such as the drums or saxophone might cause some concern. If your child’s room does not have soundproofing, are there other places where she should practice?
  • Availability of teacher – Before getting an instrument, you should check if there are available teachers near your area. Otherwise, you might have to travel farther for lessons.

Financial capability

Finally, it is important that the instrument you choose is within your financial capabilities. Do not just think about the cost of the instrument itself, but also the cost of accessories that have to come with it, its maintenance, and the cost of music lessons.

  • Do not spend too much right away – Since your child is just beginning to learn an instrument, do not invest in more expensive gear right away. It is completely acceptable and practical to get a cheaper instrument first. You can get a more expensive gear when your child has become better with it, knows how to care for it, and is showing dedication about really advancing with the instrument.
  • Get the bare necessities – Invest in the instrument and the case first before buying all the accessories. You will know what accessories your child might need when he or she starts learning more about it.
  • Maintenance cost – Some instruments require more expensive maintenance than others, like the piano which has to be tuned around twice a year.
  • Rent – You may want to consider renting an instrument for the first few lessons. This way, if your child does not show dedication or interest in learning it, you would not have wasted money on an instrument he will never pick up again.

Recommended Instruments for Each Child

If you still have questions about the criteria mentioned above, this summary chart might help you better decide which musical instrument is a good fit for your child. In here, you would find specific instruments, recommended starting age, the ideal physical characteristics that suit it, and the personality that fits with it.

The personality column is taken from the research of Zoran Mihajlovski of the University of Skopje, Anthony kelp of the University of Reading, and Louise Buttsworth and Glen Smith from the University of Queensland.

InstrumentIdeal AgeAdvantageous AttributesIdeal personality
Piano6-8
Can start as early as 4 years
Long fingers
Large hands
Self-disciplined
Originality
Sensitivity
Quiet
Classical guitar8-10Long fingers
Large hands
Independent
Introverted
Loner
Violin6-8
Can start as early as four
Long fingersIntroverted
Comfortable in a group
Cello6-7Large hands
Long arms
Shy
Introverted
Comfortable in a group
Viola7Long fingersIntroverted
Comfortable in a group
Double bassMinimum of 6, but advisable to start with celloTall
Finger strength
Large hands
Creative
Shy
Interested in jazz
Trumpet8-10Small lipsExtrovert
Bold
Competitive
Seeking new experiences
Trombone8-10Even front teeth
Nice bite
Long arms
Artistic
Extroverted
French horn7-8Small lipsGentle
Peaceful
Easy-going
EuphoniumAdvisable to start with baritone hornTallEasy-going
Responsible
Tuba8-9, but advisable to start with cornet/trumpet/euphoniumLarge lipsResponsible
Easy-going
Oboe10Large enough hands and fingersStubborn
Determined
Introverted
Clarinet8-10Wider fingersBright
Artistic
Calm
Flute8Even front teeth
Long, thin fingers
Thin to medium lips
Shy
Sociable
Saxophone10Large enough hands and fingersExtrovert
Competitive
Seeking new experiences
Bassoon12TallSociability
Sense of humor
Percussion10-12Coordinated motor skillsExtroverted
Hyperactive
Anxious

Take note that the recommended instruments for children are merely what is generally observed among musicians. Still, there are a lot of exceptions for these tips for choosing the right instrument for your child. With enough encouragement, determination, and discipline, most of what is considered as limitations can actually be overcome through time.

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