Grace Notes


What Musical Instrument Should My Child Start With?

There are a lot of great instruments out there. Which one is best for your child?

Have you ever wished you could play a musical instrument? I know so many adults who are kicking themselves because they didn't learn to play an instrument when they were young. They always say: "I wish I started learning to play an instrument when I was a kid." Then I hear how they still want to learn, but most never do...

These same people watch in awe when they see someone sit down at the piano and impress everyone at a party, or when someone picks up a guitar and plays their favorite songs with ease. We all want to be that person; we all want to be part of the music. There is great joy in playing an instrument. Music is one of the greatest creative expressions there is.

Whether we can play an instrument or not was usually not even our choice it was a decision made by our parents when we were children. I believe the best choice a parent can make, related to music for children, is to get them involved as early as possible. It doesn’t matter what age. Toddlers can start getting involved, so can a child in fifth grade or later if they haven’t started yet.

I’ve taught music to just about every age starting at toddlers all the way up to senior citizens. One thing I’ve learned is that most every child is musical! They either like to dance, sing, tap (or slam!) the drums, strum a guitar or sit at the piano and find joy in playing with the keys. At the very least they enjoy music! People have different tastes but, all kids enjoy some type of music. This will become the gateway to their music education!

All we have to do is nurture the interest they already have and we can give our kids a chance to be great, to LOVE the fact that they can play an instrument while most others can’t. They can be the musical life of the party, or simply enjoy the expression of sitting down and playing a perfect melody to suit the mood of their day. Being a pro or having a career in music is not the point of learning an instrument. Playing music is simply a wonderful human outlet that anyone realize if they spend the time to learn and practice.

You can give your child the opportunity to be filled with a sense of accomplishment and confidence. It is your decision now. Do you hear the call? Will you answer it and give your child a chance?

There is such a variety of wonderful instruments that kids can start learning to play, where do we begin? Keep reading and we’ll answer the following questions.

· What age should children start lessons?

· Should my children start playing instruments before taking lessons?

· What are the best instruments for children to learn?

· How can I help and support my child with those instruments if I’m not a musician?

In the beginning music should be fun, and if you start your child off the right way it will be.

As a parent you have the chance to start your child off on the right path and lay the foundation for a life of music. Isn’t it great, you can help your child become a musician with a few simple choices!

What age should a child begin taking lessons?

In most cases I recommend that you start instrument lessons for your child at about age 5 or 6 (Yes, there are cases where kids are in a musical family, or simple show high levels of interest and ability at a very young age. In these rare cases the child will begin studying and playing at an incredibly early age and will take to the instrument very quickly. These are rare cases and don’t typically represent the norm). You’ll know when it’s time to start lessons when your child is ready to spend at least a few minutes, a few days a week, practicing their instrument. When formal instrument lessons begin there will be an expectation to practice, improve, and stick with their instrument. Remember, your child can start learning music before taking instrument lessons. That's part of what we do here at My Music Workshop.

We don’t want to discourage our children from learning music, that’s why choosing the right time to begin lessons is important. Your child will help you decide when the time is right with their enthusiasm and desire to learn more. Your job is to encourage excitement about music and instruments, then watch this excitement blossom into a desire to start and continue taking lessons. Now is the time to build success and create that excitement. As parents, the best-case scenario is for your child to love music soooo much that they want to learn to play an instrument, enjoy playing and stick with it, ultimately, they’ll lead the way. A easy and convenient way to get your child excited about music is with My Music Workshop's online program (it includes learn at your own pace instrument lessons for piano, ukulele and drums, and other attention grabbing content that gets kids excited to learn music. Your children can start before they are 5/6 and ready for lessons or they can start lessons AND learn even more about music at the same time!). No matter what age your child is, from pre K to about fifth grade, there is something for them with My Music Workshop. You can give it a try at no cost by clicking here.

Can my child begin playing an instrument before taking lessons?

Yes! If your child is young (under 5 or 6) and not quite ready to take lessons, it’s still a great idea to expose them to a variety of instruments to let them discover the joy of making music. You would just want to do this in a no pressure, fun way, that allows your kids to choose when they want to play, what instrument to pick up and play and how long they want to play for.

Here what you do...purchase a few instruments made for kids and have them available at home for your kids to pick up and jam when they feel like it. They don’t need to be pros but simply strumming a ukulele, pressing the keys of a piano or keyboard or playing a small drum or bongos can be a magical experience (especially when they play along to music). Keep your child excited about music by having instruments around that they can play. We have a list of instruments that you can buy on Amazon below. We have used all of these ourselves in our music program for many years and recommend them (we've tried a lot of instruments for kids and most don't pass the test, these do)!

Encourage them to pick the instruments up as much as possible and start making music. Check out our recommendations for the best kids instruments of 2020, click here!

What are the best types of musical instruments for kids?

In teaching music to kids for almost two decades I have found some good, and not so good, types of instruments for young children. Keep in mind, instruments are a personal choice and each individual will gravitate to what they like. Ultimately, if your child really loves a particular kind of instrument (i.e. they just love the ukulele), that instrument is probably the way to go.

There are some considerations if your child is under five or six however. Children that age and younger typically don’t yet have the full motor development, fine movement skills, deep attention span, and ability to consistently practice as they will in the coming years. The good news is younger kids won’t start formally learning the instrument so they won’t need to be perfect with their fine motor skills to enjoy playing, or jamming on, their instruments.

If your child is 5 or older, they are likely starting to develop the basic coordination to start learning an instrument in a slightly more formal way (I mean formal only as in taking regular instrument lessons whether online or in person). If so, I have compiled a list of instruments that are great for kids of this age. You can check out that Amazon list here. Also, keep reading because we’ll discuss those types of instruments and what I recommend kids get started with.

Here is a summary of the instrument families or groups of instruments that are available

We cover a lot of the instruments below in our instrument exploration section of My Music Workshop. Inside kids will learn about those instruments, how they work, how they are played, and what they sound like.

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, a simple strum of the ukulele strings sound great to a child, they can feel like a real musician. 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 always the best to get younger 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. In my opinion these instruments are best to start in early elementary school, or if a child just absolutely loves a particular brass or wind instrument, and wants to start learning to play.

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 young 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. It’s rare that a child’s first instrument lesson are for the tambourine or shaker. The drum set is the go-to percussion instrument that I recommend for children start formal lessons on. The drum set does not have a melodic component but does require tons of coordination (so if your child is very coordinated this could be a good choice), and rhythm.

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 nearly 30 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 the best instrument to learn at any age. It is easy to see how musical scales are 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 good quality secondhand keyboard. If you’re going to go this route, be sure to check out our recommendations for good keyboards here.

How to Play the Instruments: Help your child with a few easy tips!

If your child is younger they are probably not ready for formal instrument lessons but, as we talked about, having some instruments at home is a great idea to get them started. If this is the case you’ll want to help them with some of the very basics, like how to hold a ukulele, how to hold drum sticks the right way or how to put their fingers on the keyboard. Let’s take a closer look now at a few simple things you can do to make sure your kids are doing this right.

If your child is a bit older, even if they take lessons, knowing a few basics about the instrument(s) they play won’t hurt. Read on for some tips.

Rule #1: Keep your child interested and feeling successful. They won’t be pros yet at this age but they certainly might think they are. Let’s encourage them during this time and let them think they are the next big musical thing! I mean isn’t that what being a kid is all about? Make them feel like they are doing great and they will keep coming back. By the time they take “formal” lessons they will have been “playing” for a few years and will feel confident and excited to learn.

Rule #2: Have Fun! There is no need to be too serious yet, especially with young ones. Music is beautiful, fun, contagious and exciting. Adding wonderful and pleasant emotions to the experience of music during these early years can set the tone for a musical future.

1. Playing the piano or keyboard

Let’s remember it’s about success and confidence. At the same time we want to get your child into good habits.

· Make sure your child uses the fingertips to play the piano keys (as opposed to the fists or a straightened out finger).

· The wrists should be in line with the forearms, not bent back or forward.

· The fingers should be curved down toward the keys.

· Gently play the keys using multiple fingers or one finger at a time.

· Remember success and fun are the most important for this age!

Grab a great keyboard or piano for kids here!

2. Playing the ukulele

- Hold the ukulele (sometimes called a uke) with the strings away from the body and the neck facing left (yes, even for left-handed students learning to play “right-handed is beneficial) I certainly realize that Jimi Hendrix played “leftie” and that he was fantastic!!! He used a right handed guitar though and had to put the strings in reverse order)

- The ukulele is often held up to the chest without a strap but it can be held in the lap as well.

- Guitar picks are not normally used on the ukulele, they are usually strummed with the fingers (they do make ukulele picks, which are just fine to use for kids. They just aren’t typically used for playing uke as much as they are for guitar)

· There are many different techniques for strumming the ukulele. A great way to start is this: Use the thumb to strum down the strings and the index finger to strum up the strings.

· Another technique is to use the index finger as a pick. Use it to strum up and down. This can be a little trickier for young children as it uses the finger nail to strum which can feel uncomfortable to little hands.

· If your child is younger, using the left hand to play notes and chords will come a little bit later. Let’s get strumming for now and build some success.

- If your child is younger, tuning the ukulele perfectly each time your child plays is not essential at this point. The reason is that this can be a real sticking point for parents with little experience in tuning, and prevent the child from getting a chance to simply strum and enjoy. It is important for children to build a sense of hearing correct pitches but for now, while they are young, let them strum and have a good time without worrying about being in perfect tune.

- Older children, and those who begin taking ukulele lessons, like those we offer at My Music Workshop (try them out here), should learn to tune a ukulele.

  • The two methods I recommend for tuning a ukulele are:

1. Use a ukulele tuner: Buy one on Amazon here or download an app on your phone. I recommend having a tuner rather than an app. These can be permanently clipped to the ukulele and don’t require being on a phone to tune your uke.

2. Use our tuning video in My Music Workshop (or one on YouTube) to tune your ukulele to. This requires a more refined ear to make sure the pitch of your ukulele’s strings are the same as the strings your hear.

3. Playing drums with sticks

- Holding the sticks the right way is important. Wrap the fingers around the sticks. Don’t let the pointer finger run parallel to the stick (kids have a tendency of doing this). Make sure the index finger wraps around the stick. The thumb however should point up the stick towards the end, it should not wrap around the stick like gripping a baseball bat.

- When you child strikes the drum have them aim for the very center of the drum head with the tip of the drum stick. Avoid hitting the outer rim of the drum.

- Have children strike the drum with one stick at a time.

- Have children strike the drum with both sticks together.

- Pick sayings, phrases or words that have rhythms and have the children play them. For example have them play: “criss, cross, applesauce,” “chocolate” “I love bananas” or something similar over and over.

- You can use many things as drums while children are young. An oatmeal tub, a pillow, a plastic trash can turned upside down, pots or pans (if you don’t mind them getting smacked by sticks), or even a rug or carpet can work to get things going. It’ll be best to get an actual instrument but to get things off the ground there are some other options.

A pro tip for making drums quieter: Most drums that are struck with sticks can be tuned. You need something called a drum key which is very cheap and can be purchased at a music store or on Amazon for less than $5 in most cases. Use the drum key to remove the top drum head and tape the underside of the drum head using duct tape. Put the head back on and get playing. For even more sound reduction tape some foam to the bottom of the drum head. Experiment with different dampening on the underside of the drum head to suit your needs.

4. Playing hand drums

There are many types of hand drums, we will focus on the bongos. The same will apply to many other hand drums as well. You can teach your child two different types of strokes

- Strike the edge of the drum [head] and release to make a long, ringing sound

- Strike the middle of the drum with a flat hand to make a deeper, shorter sound.

- With hand drums we don’t need to get too fancy. Make sure they don’t hit too hard and aren’t hurting their hands. Let them have fun with these as with the others instruments

- There are amazing hand drums players who can get hundreds of different sounds from one drum. At this point we should be focusing on getting our children to make a few sounds and have some fun.

- You can have you child play the patterns listed above on the hand drums.

At My Music Workshop, we offer virtual instrument lessons for piano, ukulele and drums. They can be a great way to get your child learning an instrument in a fun, easy and convenient way. We’d love for you to give it a shot. We hope more than anything that they are an inspiration for your children a great way for them to get involved in learning music. Try out the program at no cost by clicking here.

The instruments listed here are some of the best to get your young children started on. However, if you have any unique instruments in your home let you kids play these as well. A lot of parents will show me instruments that they’ve brought from other countries as well as unique instruments that have been passed down or acquired through the years. Let your child explore. Some kids will gravitate toward other instruments as well, e.g. the violin or saxophone or something else entirely. There is no need to hold back. If a child wants play a particular instrument use the same strategies to get them going.

Make them feel successful by encouraging and praising them. Consistently help them to remember the “right” way to hold, play, or strum.

Don’t put pressure on them at their young age, we want them coming back and sticking with their instrument (and music) for a lifetime.

Remember, music is fun, and kids more than anyone else will help remind us of this. I’ve seen children’s’ worlds change with a simple strum of the ukulele or pressing of the piano keys can be magic for children, help keep the magic and the music alive in your child and they will develop a lifetime love for music. If you follow these suggestions your children will be on the right path to sticking with music and enjoying the rewards of being able to play an instrument for life. Music is a gift and those who have spent the time required to get proficient on an instrument know this. Music doesn’t have to be a career, it can be a hobby a passion or something that allows the creativity inside us to come out in a special way. Having the skill required to play and understand music is very special and we should treat it as such. Encourage your children and they will understand this. They will thank when they realize that you started them on the path to playing music.

Here's a quick summary of what type of musical instruction is usually best for your child, depending on their age.

· Age 2-4: Stick with group music lessons, online music lessons, have some instruments at home for them to jam on, play lot’s of music for your kids to listen to and enjoy. My Music Workshop has tons of musical lessons that get young kids excited about music.

· Age 5-6: Gauge your child’s readiness for private lessons. If you think they can do a bit of practice a few times per week and are interested in learning an instrument try either virtual instrument lessons, live online instrument lessons, in-person private instrument lessons or in person group instrument lessons. Encourage your kids to play their instrument, practice and support them in their musical endeavors. Play lots of music around the house and in the car. Encourage them to try a wide variety of instruments and to learn other musical concepts and ideas, outside of just their instrument. They can do this at Mymusicworkshop.com

· Age 6-7-Children this age are usually ready to start learning an instrument. Have them try a few if they don’t have a favorite (piano is always a great instrument to start kids on). Start online instrument lessons like those on My Music Workshop or elsewhere, or start private in person or online instrument lessons. Play music at home a lot and keep your kids feeling encourage about music. It can be tricky to stick with things but the reward is great.

· Age 8-9-Most all 8-9 year old’s are ready to play an instrument. Kids this age have a bit more choice than those who are younger. For example, 8-9 year olds usually have the dexterity to play violin if they choose, or a wind instrument. Piano is still my favorite instrument to start kids on. Play lots of music at home and encourage your kids musical endeavors.

About the Author: Elias Berlinger is the co-founder of My Music Workshop, a music education company founded in 2009. Having taught music to hundreds of students ranging from toddlers to senior citizens Elias has an understanding of what it takes to start playing an instrument at any age. Many of his students include sports and music celebrities and their children. Elias, along with his musical wife, who is also a teacher, Lianna have created My Music Workshop. A world of learning music available conveniently online. Be sure to check it out here, if you haven’t already!

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