What Instrument is Right for My Child?
There are so many instruments to choose from, and so many reasons to choose one or the other. Here are some things to consider:
• Age – Very young children have a more limited choice of instruments.
• Size – Larger people will find tuba easier to play than will smaller people; string bass requires quite a bit of hand strength. Also, consider the size of the instrument from a practical viewpoint. Is she going to have to walk to school with that big baritone sax case and a book bag, too? Are you going to be able to get the harp to wherever he needs to play it? Does your home have room for a piano?
• Personality – An outgoing child who is unhappy practicing piano by himself every day may love the camaraderie of band rehearsals. A shy child may be more comfortable playing cello than trumpet.
• Instrumental preferences – Many children do not have strong feelings about one instrument or another, but if your child insists she wants to learn guitar, it may be better to let her take guitar than to insist that she take up an orchestral instrument. A child who really wants to play a particular instrument is much more motivated to practice. If your child doesn’t know what he wants to play, but you think it might make a big difference, try to find events (like the local orchestra’s “young person’s concert” or “instrument petting zoo time”) where he can watch various instruments being played and hear the sounds they make.
• Musical preferences – If your child loves jazz, trumpet may be a better choice for her than flute. If he strongly resists being exposed to classical music, consider lessons in guitar, fiddle, or dulcimer. If your family is already involved in the local Renaissance festival, recorder may be a good place to start.
• Your expectations and goals – You and your child should make this decision together. Be honest with yourself, and forthright with your child, about what you want and expect. Is it very important to you that she learn classical music? Are you hoping the family can play string quartets together eventually? Can you not stand the sound of bagpipes? If you find yourself disagreeing strongly with your child, explain your reasons clearly and try to come up with a compromise if you can. For example, agree on a drum set in two years if he can learn piano well enough to convince you that he will be able to play the drums musically and not just make noise on them. (This is actually a very practical solution, since familiarity with a keyboard will help him play melody percussion.)
• Local availability and opportunity – Your community may or may not have an accordion teacher, steel drum ensemble, or Russian or Peruvian folk music club; but if it does, what a great opportunity! Or there may be more opportunities locally for a young string player, or your community may have a thriving band, jazz, or folk tradition. If the high school band program is bristling with clarinets and short on horns and the community youth orchestra has several star violin players but a weak viola section, your child may have a better chance to make the top band or the youth orchestra if she takes up horn or viola.
• Cost – A tight budget does not mean your child can’t take up an instrument, but it may affect your choices. If cost is an issue, look through the want ads for a used instrument that is within your budget (but make sure to have a teacher, ensemble director, or other knowledgeable musician check it out before you buy it), or check with family and friends to see if you can borrow an instrument that is not being used much. Even new, some instruments (trumpet and clarinet, for example) cost much less than others. Also, consider what instrument your child could get free or low-cost instruction in. For example, is there a band or strings program at your public school? Most of these programs include a year of “beginners” instruction. Probably all you’ll need to pay for are the instrument and an instruction book. If even that is a burden, talk to the band or strings director at the school; the school may have instruments available to borrow or rent for a very low fee. Some music clubs, charities, conservatories, or other organizations may also offer low-cost group lessons and/or free instrument rental to income-qualified students who participate in a certain ensemble. An amateur musician who is, say, dedicated to preserving a local folk tradition may also be willing to offer low-cost lessons to someone who is really interested.
• Piano – Probably more students take piano than any other instrument. There are a couple of reasons for this. A beginner can get a good tone and play in tune easily. (But be advised, it takes just as much work to become very accomplished on the piano as it does on French horn or oboe.) Piano is also a wonderful instrument to use to begin learning about music, because the basic theory and practice of music are so easy to see on a keyboard. The student can see very clearly that scales follow certain predictable patterns and that intervals have a certain size. They become familiar with chords and harmonic structure in a way that is not as easily available on other instruments. A competent piano player can also play more than one part simultaneously, so that composers find keyboard skills to be very useful. If you think music theory or composition may interest your child, or if you have no idea what instrument to start on (your child can always switch instruments later as she learns more about it), or if you want your child to have a few years of basic music instruction before he takes up his preferred instrument (some band directors reserve the most popular instruments for students who have already had some piano instruction), consider the piano.
Schmidt-Jones, Catherine. A Parents’ Guide to Music Lessons. Connexions. 4 Mar. 2008 .