Updated: Aug 30
Over the years we've tried and tested a lot of instruments. These are some of the best we've found.
Having instruments around for your children to be able to grab and play is a great way to encourage music in your house. We hope the info below helps you choose a good quality instrument for your kids to play at home.
Categories of instruments
1. Strings: This category includes guitars, ukuleles, violins, cellos, harps, banjos and most other instruments with strings. The right string instrument can be a great starter for a young child. With these instruments they can sing and play at the same time. Another plus is the instant gratification that string instruments provide. This will keep your child interested and coming back for more.
2. Wind: These include all the instruments that you blow wind into to get a sound. These include trumpets, trombones, tubas, French horns (which are known as “brass” instruments) and others like flutes, saxophones, oboes, and clarinets (which are known as “woodwind” instruments because there is a thin piece of wood on the mouthpiece called a reed on all but the flute).
Wind instruments are beautiful, but in my opinion they are not the best to get young kids started on for a number of reasons. Most wind instruments require a certain amount of mouth technique to get sound (other than the recorder, or a few others that you can simply blow into to make a sound.) Also, you have to use your mouth to play them so there’ll be no singing at the same time. Last, my son has a little plastic flute that he likes to play when I’m working...let’s just say it’s not exactly music to my ears. Actual wind instruments require too much technique for the preschooler and can be frustrating to learn. These instruments are best to start in early elementary school.
3. Percussion: Percussion instruments are usually those that are struck by your hands or by a stick. Some are shaken like tambourines and maracas. Most percussion instruments do not play melodies or have access to the full sound of the musical scale but rather play rhythms only. The marimba and xylophone are exceptions to this rule as they are struck and do make a musical pitch or note.
Examples of percussion instruments include the drum set, bongos, congas, marimbas, maracas, African drums including the djembe; Latin percussion instruments like the clave... the list is nearly endless. These are good choices to start you kids on as they provide instant gratification and help with rhythm. Percussion instruments can release the music inside children in a way that can make them feel very excited. I mean what kids doesn’t want to hit a drum? Contrary to what many of us believe we all have rhythm inside of us.
When we talk we speak with rhythm, walking requires rhythm as do so many other activities. Many people think of drums as primitive noise makers but they were the first musical instruments and they evoke movement and feelings of connection to each other. As a drummer myself I can say that more than 20 years of playing only scratches the surface of what’s possible with drums. Although I get great enjoyment from playing I’m still interested and excited to learn more. I’ve seen many parents cringe when I tell them that their child’s favorite instrument is drums but they are a great way to build musical success that can lead to playing other instruments later on. All instruments require rhythm and drums are a great way for young children to get comfortable playing musical rhythms.
4. Piano and Keyboard: These don’t actually fit into any other category. As many of you may know a piano has strings inside of it and its keys are struck by the fingers similar to a percussion instrument. It’s part string, part percussion and part amazing! In my opinion this is one of the best instruments to learn at any age. It is easy to see how the musical scale is laid out on a piano and many children can play a simple song or two with just a little bit of practice (think “Mary Had a Little Lamb” or “Twinkle, Twinkle/ABC’s”).
After playing the piano for a while all ten fingers will be part of the experience and not many other instruments can make that claim. This makes the keyboard and piano a very immersive experience. These instruments are also great for more instant gratification for young children. They push the keys and the sound comes out. No mouth technique or violin bow technique is required just the child and the keys.
One thing to remember is that really inexpensive keyboards meant for small children may not make the sound of more than one key pressing at a time. I would call something like that a “toy” rather than an instrument and I’d stay away from these. When it comes to keyboards invest in something that is at least considered a musical instrument, even if it takes purchasing a second hand keyboard.
What we use in our classes
We focus on Guitar, Keyboard, Drums and Ukulele in our classes. We also use bongos, shakers and some others as well. Our goal is for our students to play instruments that are the right size for kids and are also playable, real instruments, not toys. Most of the instruments below can be purchased on Amazon and are great for home use.
Guitars: You want a guitar that’s playable, durable, tunable and won’t fall apart. There aren’t as many kids guitars that fit this criteria as you might think. One example is the “First Act Discovery 30” guitar.” It’s not perfect but it’s a good, playable instrument that will get you kids excited and starting to learn. The “KidKraft Lil’ Symphony” is a bit smaller and is decent, not perfect either. Another is the “Pyle 30” Classical Acoustic Guitar.” Type any of these names into Amazon or another online retailer to pick one up.
Keyboards: We've found the best, inexpensive small keyboards for children are the Casio SA-46 or Casio SA-76. The 46 has less keys and is slightly less expensive. You can purchase them from online music stores or on Amazon.
Drums: Oh the joys of bringing home a drum for your child. We all know that drums can be loud and can drive you a little crazy. But, if you can get over the hesitation drums can be a gateway into music because kids LOVE playing them. They teach rhythm, coordination and a lot more. When looking for a drum or drum set, you’ll want to look for a few things. One is that the drum “heads” are tunable. A tunable drum is more like the real thing. Any drum with a fixed head that can’t be taken off or tuned is just a toy and you shouldn’t bother with it in my opinion. There aren’t a ton of single drums out there that are good quality instruments but a few that I’ve found are the “First Act Discovery Fun in a Drum,” which is becoming harder to find. You may be able to find one on Ebay or Amazon and it should run no more that $30. The other option is to get a children’s drum set. It won’t be too bit but you’ll need some room in the house or garage for it. A full set will have two or three drums that kids will play with their sticks (snare drum, tom toms) a bass drum and a foot pedal to go with it, and seat, or throne as drummers like to call them. Two good products that I’ve found are the “First Act Discovery Drum Set” and the Kids Drum Set by “Mendini,” both are a good value and are playable, real instruments. Not perfect but good nonetheless.
Ukulele: Since a Ukulele is already a small instrument there are a lot of options that are good for kids. On the budget side is the “Martin Smith Soprano” Ukulele. Again it’s decent and will get your child started. The brand “Kala” makes some great Ukuleles at a good price. Just about anything will work if it’s a “Kala.” Choose your price range and pick your favorite.
Here is an Amazon list with links to all the instruments above! Click HERE.
How to help your kids play instruments
Jump on our homepage www.mymusicworkshop.com and sign up for a free trial to get some online instrument lessons and more.
We teach the basics of the guitar, keyboard, drums and ukulele in an easy to follow way for kids. This can be a good way to get them started if you don't have much experience with instruments. If you want your kids to build an interest in music and playing instruments we recommend having the instruments around so your kids can play them when they feel the inspiration. Teach them a few simple basics, like how to hold the instrument and let them play along to music that you put on for them. Do this often and encourage fun, not perfection. This should build an interest in music in your child and take them to the next step. Remember fun and encouragement is key!