Finding the right instrument for your child is a difficult but important factor in your child’s continued 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 younger than six, 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 help build a foundation for your child to choose a different instrument at a later age, should they want to do so.
The violin is a smart choice because the instrument can be manufactured in particularly small sizes, making it easier for younger children to handle. Although instruments like the guitar are also available in smaller sizes, the violin is advantageous in its lack of frets or keys, allowing your child to focus solely on the sounds produced. In addition, this helps kids learn to play in tune, and the bowing of the right hand teaches the concept of musical phrasing. Both of these skills are the foundation for playing most other instruments.
Although a child doesn’t control the tune or pitch of the keys on a piano and there is no “bowing” skill necessary, the piano has its own advantages. For example, playing the piano allows musicians to play both the melody and harmony simultaneously, thus teaching important perceptual and musical skills. The piano also provides a visual representation of music that is essential to understanding music theory. 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. For example, although there are exceptions, a child with small hands might have difficulty with the string bass or even the piano, which a child with large hands or awkward fine motor skills might have trouble with an instrument such as the mandolin or oboe. 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.