Choosing an instrument:

There are many factors which go into choosing an instrument for your child to learn. Different instruments are more relevant and realistic at certain stages of a child's development, leading to different oppotunities down the road, including the ensembles you can join and with whom and how you can play. Remember, the goal of learning an instrument is to have fun and play together, so the first step is to choose the right (first?!) instrument for your child:

Making a start:

Before we get down to the practicalities, there are some important things to remember:-

  • Few children will have had exposure to a wide variety of musical types and genres. (Most of them will have heard mainly “pop” music.) It is essential to teach them in such a way that it broadens their horizons and encourages them to explore new and less familiar types of music, especially those that are more intellectually and artistically challenging.
  • Learning to read music is an essential component of music education! It isn’t at all difficult if it is introduced right from the start and developed gradually throughout the learning process. (N.B. – This applies to singing too!)
  • Playing an instrument (or singing) involves time and commitment! It takes time to practise, musical activities take time and they often involve travel, which also takes time! It is also essential to make the commitment – if your child is involved in a choir, orchestra or ensemble, then they must attend regularly and not miss rehearsals – if they do, they will be letting down not only themselves but all the other members of the group.

Things to consider:

Below you can find information on all the types of instruments that could be played, and advice on when is right to choose the instrument for your child.

There are many factors that might affect your decision about which instrument to choose – here are just a few of the more important ones:-

  • Young children will not have set musical tastes. Learning an instrument that can play many different kinds of music keeps options open for the future.
  • Does your child like the sound the instrument makes? Bear in mind that many children will never have heard a viola, bassoon, horn or harp played live, at close quarters! Try to give them a chance to hear a wide range of instruments before choosing.
  • Remember that you are choosing for your child not for yourself, so don’t necessarily go for the instrument you always wished you had played, or that you happen to have in the loft, or which you learnt when you were young.
  • Once they have chosen an instrument it is, of course, possible to change – and some will lead very naturally onto others. There will be some instruments that are physically too large for small children (see below for age guide)
  • Think to the future and of the opportunities that will be available to play in orchestras and other ensembles. (e.g. there will always be a much greater demand for strings, oboes, bassoons, horns and harps than for most other instruments – and flutes, clarinets, saxophones and guitars are so popular that playing opportunities will be relatively limited.)
  • Remember, you're never too old to start. The minimum ages below are just that - minimums - and music truly is for everyone
  • Think about how big an instrument is, how loud it is and how expensive it is to buy! Larger instruments are often very much in demand in bands and orchestras, so if you can accommodate them and transport them then they can be a good option. However it is often possible to start on a smaller ‘cousin’ and see how your child gets on before investing in expensive instruments and a larger car.

Guide to choosing an instrument

Singing

Recommended minimum age: 2-3

Instruments included: Voice!

Groups you can sing in: All kinds of choirs and vocal ensembles, church music, oratorio, opera, musicals, folk, jazz, barbershop and countless other contexts.

Details: All children should be encouraged to sing, as often as possible, throughout their lives!

Practicalities: Free! Try to learn to read music along the way!

Keyboard

Recommended minimum age: 4

Instruments included: Piano, Electric Piano, Organ

Groups you can play in: Accompanying, chamber music, various groups and ensembles, jazz, theatre, church etc.

Details: Piano is the perfect starter instrument for a youngster. Skills transfer easily to all other keyboard instruments!

Practicalities:Learn to read music and try to develop sight-reading skills as much as possible. Electronic pianos are cheaper, take up less space and do not require tuning.

Strings

Recommended minimum age: 4-5

Instruments included: Violin, Viola, Cello, Double Bass

Groups you can play in:All kinds of orchestras, ensembles, chamber music, opera, oratorio, musicals, folk, jazz and countless other contexts.

Details: Ideal for a musical child. Best to start young! Usual to start on Violin or Cello and transfer to Viola or Double Bass later if you like. Skills are easily transferable.

Practicalities: Transport issues for large Cellos and Basses can be a problem, requiring fold-down seats in cars!

Wind

Recommended minimum age: 6-10

Instruments included: Flute, Oboe, Clarinet, Bassoon, Recorder, Saxophone, various others

Groups you can play in: Orchestras, chamber ensembles, various groups and bands, folk, jazz etc..

Details: The recorder is a great place to start when young. Skills transfer easily to the other wind instruments but, later, each instrument requires different skills and techniques so specialisation becomes the key!

Practicalities: Reeds are required regularly, and there can be strong competition for places in ensembles on Flute, Clarinet and Saxophone.

Brass

Recommended minimum age: 7-10

Instruments included: Horn, Trumpet, Cornet, Trombone, Tuba

Groups you can play in: Orchestras, chamber ensembles, various bands,, jazz etc..

Details: Starting with trumpet provides good transferrable skills to the heavier instruments. Horn and Tuba are highly in demand for orchestras and other bands!

Practicalities: Loud! The larger instruments are heavy and harder to transport

Percussion

Recommended minimum age: 8

Instruments included: Timpani, Various tuned and untuned percussion, Drum kit

Groups you can play in: Orchestras, various ensembles, bands, folk, jazz etc..

Details: We strongly recommend that children do not learn only drum kit! Percussion involves a vast range of skills and techniques and good players are in great demand! Must also learn to read music!

Practicalities: Access to and transport of orchestral and other instruments can be a problem.

Please click here to download a full table containing more specific advice for all of the most common instruments listed above