So your child is interested in learning a musical instrument? Fantastic! They are about to begin a lifelong journey of creativity and joy that research shows builds academic achievement in youth.
Choosing the right instrument can be a difficult task with countless options to consider. Here are three tips to help you decide what is right for your child.
- Physical Development and Recommended Starting Ages
It’s important to consider your child’s physical size and development to ensure they are ready to play their chosen instrument. Some instruments require ample lung capacity to be played properly, others need hand strength or flexibility, and yet others can be affected by body position and height. It is important that your child feels comfortable in their ability to generate the right sound which will keep them feeling excited about their experience!
Piano – Age 5
Piano is a very popular first instrument for many young learners. Starting at age 5 is generally recommended due to hand size, finger independence and strength and body position.
Violin/Strings – Age 5
Violin is another common starting instrument for children. Some children begin as young as 3, but 5 is usually the recommended age to begin due to finger dexterity and strength, as children will need to hold their violin up for a long time while they’re playing. Other string instruments to explore with your child are viola, cello, bass and harp.
Guitar/Bass – Age 6
The suggested starting age for guitar/bass guitar is around 6. Children that are younger than six may struggle to cope with the finger strength, flexibility and the hand-size required to ensure a firm pressing down on the strings and along the fretboard.
Woodwinds/Brass – Age 9
For woodwinds like the flute and clarinet, as well as brass instruments like the trumpet, the recommended minimum starting age is around 9 years old. These instruments require a certain level of lung capacity and power to reach the notes and play with proper technique. For those interested in saxophone, for example, one of the greatest considerations is on body size relative to the instrument, where 9 is also viewed as a good benchmark for physical size.
Voice – Age 10
Voice technique is a rather physically demanding learning process, requiring proper breathing technique, vocal cord development and lung power. To avoid damaging the voice, any young learner eager to use their voice as their instrument should be about 10 years old to start private voice lessons
If your child is younger than 5 and you would like to start them on an earlier journey in instrument learning, the Suzuki Method, which teaches music through a program modelled off of language immersion, may be just for you! You can learn about Suzuki at our MacPhail Suzuki Talent Education page, where children start learning piano, strings, harp and guitar as young as 3.
- Emotional and Mental Development.
Playing and learning an instrument is not just about the physical act of hitting the right notes, it is one of the only activities that engages both sides of your brain simultaneously! Think about your child’s level of emotional/mental development to ensure they are ready to learn their musical instrument. Attention span, focus, and information retention are three emotional/mental aspects to learning an instrument that can’t be understated. Ask yourself, “Is my child able/ready to sit still for 30 minutes and focus on one task?” If not, it might be best to wait a little longer for private lessons until they are more developed, as the success of your child’s music learning is dependent on their willingness and ability to stay focused and motivated. Early childhood music classes that explore movement, sound and a variety of instruments are a great way to involve a younger child before they start private lessons.
- Pick an instrument your child loves!
One of the most important things to consider for your child, is simply, “What do they want to play?” Being personally invested in their music instrument choice is crucial to any young learner wanting to stick with it. We see many children show an early affinity to specific instruments. At MacPhail, we offer instrument explorations and other music classes in our Sing Play Learn with MacPhail® early childhood music program, that can help children become familiar with musical concepts and introduce them to a variety of instruments. We recommend looking for a similar opportunity for your own child to see to what they may naturally be drawn.