How Do I Choose the Right Instrument for My Child?

As a parent who wants to help foster a passion for music in your child, you’re probably concerned about helping your budding musician choose the right instrument from the start.

While of course the key to mastering any instrument is hours upon hours of practice, both you and your child will find the process much easier and more enjoyable with the right instrument. This week we’re going to share a few tips to help you choose the best instrument for your child by thinking about their age, physical features, personality, interest, the popularity of certain instruments, and your financial situation.

Let’s start with what is arguably the most important part of your consideration.

Age

Each year of your child’s life brings increased physical strength, and a few inches of height to go with it. Both of these are important things to consider when choosing an instrument for them. It’s true that it’s easier to learn music the younger they start, but there are some instruments that a young child just won’t have the strength to hold up, or the height to properly reach.

Strength

Some instruments, like the tuba or cello, are pretty big and bulky. A small child probably won’t have the strength to hold this sort of instrument, let alone transport it from point A to point B. Physical strength also comes into play when it comes to posture. Good core and back strength, to maintain good posture, is also important for many instruments; for example, if a drummer consistently plays with bad posture, they risk neck, shoulder, and even back injuries.

Height

Some instruments might just be too big for some younger musicians. The trombone, for example, requires a certain arm length to engage the full range of motion for the trombone’s slide to hit all the notes. Thankfully, this isn’t generally a huge problem because most instruments come in a variety of sizes so children can start early. On the other hand, this also means that, until they reach the full-sized instrument, you’ll need to invest in a new, larger version each time they outgrow one.

The Mouth

Beginner musicians in the brass or woodwind section usually take a little time to develop the proper embouchure technique (mouth placement) for their particular instrument. Most children get it right eventually, but some unique mouthpieces, like the narrow French horn, or double-reeded oboe, can take more time to master. Children with thin lips and even teeth usually have an easier time adapting to, and learning these instruments. On the other hand, if your child has or needs braces, it might be better to avoid wind instruments all together.

Hand Size

Children with larger-than-average hands with long fingers will have a much easier time learning to play the piano, especially when they get to higher levels of mastery, where chords often span more than one octave. But even if your child has more averaged sized hands, there are ways of getting around it, and still becoming a master. In any case, learning the piano as a first instrument can help children learn to read music faster, because the layout of the keyboard makes it very simple to see the relationships between the lines of melody.

Personality

This may be a little less obvious, but it’s also important to think about your child’s personality before sticking them with an instrument. Different instruments will give different learning and performing experiences. Kids who love being the center of attention might be more suited to things like the flute, trumpet, violin, or electric guitar. Not only are these instruments usually part of a larger group, they’re also usually heavily featured within those groups. On the other hand, a more reserved child might be better with an instrument that is often learned and performed solo or in small groups, like the piano.

Instrument Popularity

Another less obvious thing to consider is the popularity of the instrument you’re thinking about choosing. Generally speaking, the piano, flute, guitar, violin, and trumpet are the most popular instruments to learn. The oboe and viola, on the other hand, are much less popular. How popular the instrument you and your child select is can have a pretty big impact on their learning experience.

Popular Instruments

For many kids, one of the motivations to learn to play one of the more popular instruments is that they might be able to make some friends who also play the same instrument, or at least gain more recognition more easily for the progress they make.

The popular instruments also usually have more teachers and resources available at any given time or place. You’ll be much more likely to find a teacher nearby, but on the other hand, it may also be harder for your child to get a position in a musical group in school or the community, because of increased competition.

Uncommon Instruments

Some kids prefer to be more unique, and to be recognized for having a special skill all their own. Children like this might be better suited to a more uncommon instrument. This could lead to them being in high demand by groups and ensembles, but it also might mean that finding a teacher or other learning resources could be more difficult. You might even need to travel a bit further just to get to classes.

Interest

One of the most important factors to keep in mind is your child’s interest level. They’ll need to be at least a little interested in the instrument to get started. Most kids gain and lose interest in things pretty quickly and seemingly randomly, but it’s important that your child is at least a little enthusiastic about learning their instrument as a beginner. If they can appreciate the sounds they’re making, they will most likely enjoy the entire learning process a lot more. Think about letting them “try on” different instruments at the shop before you pick one. They may be indifferent to a number of different instruments, but they likely have a preference between melody, harmony, or rhythm, which can help influence your decision. For example, if they’re clearly more interested in rhythm, they’re probably much more suited to drums than the clarinet.

Cost

The financial toll is an important thing to keep in mind as you decide on an instrument for your child. It takes years of practice and performance to develop mastery of any instrument, so you’ll need to be prepared to make a long term investment. Here’s a few things to keep in mind:

The Instrument

  • Pianos are usually the most expensive, with a decent one priced around $2,000 USD
  • Violins, flutes, and trumpets are much more affordable, with beginner models starting around $150 USD. That said, you may have to invest in larger and better quality instruments as your child grows and progresses.
  • Rental instruments are a great compromise if you don’t want to commit to a large financial investment until you’re sure of your child’s interest.
  • For the beginner piano student, electronic keyboards can offer a much more budget friendly option.

Instrument Maintenance

  • Pianos need to be tuned about every 6 months, and can cost about $100 USD each time.
  • Stringed instruments will need their strings replaced often.
  • Woodwinds will need a lot of replacement reeds, as well as their cork replaced, and yearly professional adjustments.

Lessons

  • Fees vary by instrument and location, but usually increase with skill level.
  • Starting with online lessons can be beneficial. They are often a lot less expensive than hiring a private teacher.