Help your child choose the right musical instrument

Children seem to have an instinctive attraction to music. I’m sure many of us remember our child’s adorable first attempt at switching to their favorite song. Getting excited and dancing to the beat comes naturally, and it’s great to nurture that curiosity and appreciation for music if your child shows an interest.

Exposure to music is wonderful for your child’s development and can lead to many positive outcomes. If you and your child have decided that playing a musical instrument is something they would like to pursue, the next step is to figure out which instrument will be best for them. There are so many instruments to choose from, all with their own long list of pros and cons, that choosing the right one can seem quite daunting. Read on for tips on what to consider when helping your child choose the right instrument.

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Age is a factor when choosing an instrument

Age is an important factor when selecting an instrument, especially if your child is younger, as there are developmental and physical limitations to keep in mind. No matter how passionately your child begs to become a tuba player, it just won’t happen for a 6 year old who weighs less than the tuba itself. As they get older, this becomes less of a deciding factor and preferences may play a bigger role in instrument choice.

Credit: iStock / Елена Новикова

The consensus among sources seems to be that children 6 and under are quite limited in instrument options, and the recommendation is to consider piano or violin. The piano requires no physical strength to play, and violins come in many sizes, so you can find one that your young child can hold comfortably.

You may be wondering about other instruments that don’t seem too physically demanding for your child; the recorder is a lightweight instrument and guitars are also made in smaller sizes. Merriam Music cautions you to remember that while these instruments are certainly small and easy to handle, they are developmentally more difficult for a child to play.

Keep in mind that the instrument does not need to be frozen. If your child starts learning an instrument at a young age, they can always start with the piano or violin and then move on to new or additional instruments as they grow. Personal preferences play a much bigger role in instrument selection once your child has moved past physical and developmental limitations.

Physical Capacity – Strength and Size

As your child grows and is able to handle larger instruments, there are more options to consider. Of course, just because your child is gaining strength and stature doesn’t mean they should play a heavier instrument. If they started playing the piano at age five and they love it, there’s no need to move on. But, the option is there if they are interested in pursuing something new.

This category of consideration is less about restriction for developmental reasons and more about ensuring that your child does not select an instrument that might exceed their physical abilities. Your child will get more pleasure from an instrument they can play comfortably.

If your child is short, heavier instruments can be tiring and uncomfortable. A small size can also make some instruments, like the trombone, a challenge because it takes a long arm’s reach to hit all the notes, so you might suggest your child consider a trumpet instead. If the tuba is too heavy, a French horn might be an acceptable alternative. You don’t have to completely discourage the heavier brass section, just try to find a suitable exchange that you and your child are comfortable with.

Whether your child is interested in the woodwind, brass, or percussion section, it’s entirely possible to find something that suits their physical abilities. Instruments come in multiple sizes within each category, and instruments for even the smallest musician can be found. For example, look at the size ranges for different types of saxophones. You can search online or talk to their music teacher to learn more about the different options.

Person and place of performance

A boy with Down syndrome with school children and a teacher sitting on the floor in class, playing guitar.
Credit: iStock

Some instruments are highlighted and therefore your child may spend more or less time in the spotlight. According to Liberty Park Music, flutes, trumpets, violins and electric guitars are frequently featured. If your child is very reserved and wouldn’t relish the prospect of a solo or small group feature, you might encourage him to consider other instruments.

Of course, it also depends on the goal you and your child have for their musical experience. If they’re learning at home or one-on-one with an instructor, that won’t be a factor. This is more of a consideration for those who will be playing a piece of music as part of an ensemble, such as in the school march or wind band.

If your child is choosing an instrument for school, whether for a music lesson or to participate in a band, it’s a good idea to discuss your plans with the instructor before purchasing. Although all instruments have their merits and have a positive impact on your child’s development, they are not all used in the same contexts. A piccolo probably won’t be needed in the school jazz band, and the harp would be difficult to maneuver in the marching band field. Make sure the instrument fits the setting in which your child will play it.


Ultimately, your child will decide, within reason, which instrument they want to play. Of course, your budget and space limitations should be taken into consideration, but don’t worry if you’ve gone through all the checklists above and your child has decided to go rogue. If you suspect they are changing their minds, you can always rent the instrument for the first year and then give them a chance to reconsider before buying theirs from them.

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