How to choose your child's first instrument

Finding the right instrument for your child to learn is difficult but an important factor in your child’s musical success. Forcing a child to play an instrument rarely leads to the love of music making we want. Here are some components to consider when helping your child choose the right instrument.

The first thing to consider is your child’s age. If your child is six or younger, make sure you understand the purpose behind playing an instrument at such a young age and acknowledge the physical limitations of a child that young.  Piano and violin are the most popular instruments for children under six because they are physically feasible for young children and can help build a foundation for your child.

Piano is the easiest to learn among all instruments for a young child. A child can easily learn all the basic musical knowledge on piano, such as rhythms and note reading, and apply the knowledge to other instruments when they’re older. It also allows a young child to quickly learn to play a simple melody, which can boost a child’s self-esteem.  The piano also provides a visual representation of music that is essential to understanding music theory. This would allow your child to build a very strong foundation, and makes learning any other instrument much easier in the future.

The violin is also a good choice for kids of age five and up, because the instrument is available in particularly small sizes which makes it easier for younger children to handle. Violin allows the student to work on their fine motor skills, as well as their hearing sensitivity for pitches.  In addition, playing violin helps kids to work on their physical coordination.   In summary, choosing either of these introductory instruments is a wise decision for young children.

As children get older, some will move on and experiment with other instruments. With age comes the physical strength required to play brass instruments, woodwinds, or larger string instruments. It’s important to make sure that your child and his instrument are physically similar in size.   One test of matching physicality should be whether your child enjoys holding the instrument or if it’s overpowering and limiting to him; while this seems like common sense, it is often ignored because children imagine themselves playing the instrument before they even hold one. Sometimes the desire to play a certain instrument can trump the limitations; however, it’s better to start with an instrument more compatible with your child’s body. 

Remember all the guidelines given here are meant to help you through a confusing process. However, I would like to re-emphasize that your child’s choice of instrument may need to override all other considerations. Discuss your child’s choice with her / him, and then come to an agreement. With a few careful considerations, playing a musical instrument can be a rewarding, life-enriching experience for your child!

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This article is written by Li-Ling Wang who is the director of Arete Music Academy.  She entered Juilliard Pre-college at age 16 and later on received her bachelor and master of music degrees from The Juilliard School.   She also held a full-time position at The Juillard school 6 years after graduation.