How to Choose an Instrument for Your Child

Merit students help younger kids discover musical instruments

Many of us have heard about the benefits our children reap when learning a musical instrument. 

But getting kids started and selecting an instrument can seem like a daunting task! There are so many questions. How do I know what to choose? Can my 5-year-old learn the tuba? What type of string instrument is the best fit for my 6th grader?

That’s why we’ve made things easy for you by breaking down the five basic principles to consider when choosing an instrument for your child.

1. Interest Level

Kids will want to spend more time practicing an instrument that excites them! Their excitement can be channeled into a passion that could last a lifetime. Brian Beach, Merit School of Music’s Strings and Orchestra Program  Director, explains, “If it’s something the child really responds to, the child will be more likely to be excited about it, stick with it, and be successful at it. By allowing children their choice of instrument, you are setting them up to understand the value of doing something well.”

Ask your child if they have learned about instruments in school. You can also sit with them and check out various YouTube videosthat introduce different instruments so they can listen and learn. Many of Merit’s free events throughout the Chicagoland area offer instrument “petting zoos” where kids can explore instruments for themselves to see what they like. Opportunities like this create an explorative environment that makes children more comfortable deciding what instrument musically and physically feels right for them.

2. Age & Physical Considerations

Although your child may be excited about an instrument, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the right one for them today. Considerations such as your child’s stature can limit or enhance their ability to comfortably and successfully start on certain instruments.

For example, string instruments like violin, viola, and cello come in various sizes to accommodate younger players with smaller bodies and increase in size as your child grows. On the other hand, wind instruments like saxophone, trombone, or bassoon lack similar size variations, so students need to be a little older. Typically, once a student is in 4th or 5th grade, they’re physically developed enough to manipulate these larger instruments.

In addition, considerations such as hand size, over/underbite, and more can help determine which instruments might be best for a student. Students can also start out on an instrument like piano at age 6 and then move to a wind or brass instrument later. View a detailed list of instruments by age.

3. Musical Background 

If your child has taken music classes in school, this can be excellent preparation for playing a musical instrument!

For example, students who learn to play the recorder as a part of an elementary music curriculum may be well suited to move to a woodwind or brass instrument. Likewise, students who play beginnerglockenspiel or bell kits can quickly move to more advanced percussion, including piano.

Early Childhood music classes are a great way to introduce children ages 0-8 to the building blocks of music which can prepare them to eventually move to a “big kid” instrument. However, keep in mind, that it’s not a requirement that students have prior experience in music before beginning an instrument. Children can begin their musical education at any age!

4. Initial Skills

Sometimes, kids just “get” how to play certain instruments more quickly than other instruments. They simply seem to fit!

Look for classes and camps that let your child explore multiple instruments. Merit’s Meet the Orchestra Early Childhood classMusic Discovery Camp, and Beginning Band classes are great examples. In Merit’s Beginning Band class, students are encouraged to try various instruments before making a final decision. Instructors often find a student is wildly more successful at creating an initial sound on one instrument, even if they were initially interested in another.

Our faculty and staff are always here to help to ensure your child is on the right instrument for their skills, no matter where they’re at in their musical journey.

5. Popularity

If your child is interested in joining the band or orchestra, the popularity of instruments is an important factor to take into consideration. Music students who begin playing the most common instruments and pursue academic and professional careers in the future will be competing for the same few seats in orchestras, bands, and solo opportunities.

Examples of less popular instruments include viola, bass, French horn, and oboe. These instruments are consistently in high demand even at collegiate levels and often offer potential advantages in securing scholarship awards regardless of whether your child is a music major or not. 

Choosing the right instrument is crucial to your child building a long-lasting relationship with music. It requires taking your child’s age, physical attributes, past musical experience, interests, and initial skills into account, in addition to instrument popularity. These five basic principles should help you get started and we’re always here to help.

As Merit’s Band Program Director explains, ”Instrument selection is a complex process that requires teacher, student, and parent to weigh many factors carefully to ensure the student has a positive experience. Our Merit faculty works closely with students and parents during the selection process, so the student is set up for success from the minute they make a decision.”

Merit is here to support each step of your child’s musical journey as you bring instruments home and invite music into your life. Our dedicated team of music education experts is ready to help you make this important decision. Reach out to our amazing Student Services team today to take the next step towards choosing an instrument for your child. Email to start exploring the possibilities for your child.

Read more advice from Merit’s music education experts on what age your child should start music lessons or classes. →

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