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’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 videos that introduce different instruments so they can listen and learn. Many of Merit’s free events throughout the Chicagoland area offer “instrument petting zoos” where students 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 a student may be excited about an instrument, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the right one for them today. Considerations such as a child’s stature can limit or enhance their ability to comfortably start on certain instruments. For example, string instruments like violin, viola, and cello come in various sizes so that students can begin at a young age on a “mini” version of the instrument. On the other hand, wind instruments like saxophone, trombone, or bassoon generally don’t have “mini” versions, so students need to be a little older and taller. 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. To see a detailed list of instruments by age, visit our private lessons page.
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 beginner glockenspiel or bell kits can quickly move to more advanced percussion, including piano. Merit’s Early Childhood classes are a great way to introduce children ages 0-7 to the building blocks of music which can prepare them to eventually move to a “big kid” instrument. However, keep in mind, it’s definitely 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, students just “get” how to play certain instruments more quickly than other instruments. They simply seem to fit! 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.
If your child is interested in joining the band or orchestra, the popularity of instruments is an important factor to take into consideration. 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. Brian Beach advises: “Instrumentalists who play less popular instruments like viola, bass, French horn, and oboe are always in high demand.”