What is the best initiation musical instrument for a child?

There are pros and cons to whatever is chosen, but the experience is unlikely to be spoiled. Many people start with one instrument and then move on to another, says Aura Stone, who believes that “when you’re exposed to the instrument that’s right for you, you’ll know it.”

Growing up in the UK decades ago, it was coincidentally a double bass teacher who had a place for her on a free music lesson program when she was nine and it’s an instrument she continues to play professionally to this day.

“My parents are not musicians. If I hadn’t had this opportunity, I don’t know when, or if, it would have happened again,” she says. Her own children, Jake (10) and Maya, seven, were brought up musically and play piano and violin respectively at their home in Blackrock, Co Dublin.

The most common starter instruments

piano/keyboard
Advantages:
You can see and touch the notes. There’s also an element of instant gratification because when you play a note, it will be in tune – unlike, say, a violin – so a child can reproduce a recognizable melody very quickly.

The inconvenients: It is less “social” than others; it’s less likely to be included in ensembles and if so there will usually be just one, says Newpark Music Center director Andrew Jordan, who encourages young musicians to join choirs, to counter the traditional solitary nature of classical piano lessons and practice. . A half-decent piano to practice at home is a big financial investment. However, a cheaper keyboard, with weighted notes, would be fine to go on.

Violin
Advantages:
A range of child-sized instruments are widely available for small hands, up to 1/16 scale for children aged three to five. As a beginner string instrument, it lends itself easily to collective teaching and can quickly become a passport for ensemble playing and orchestral groups.

The inconvenients: It will take longer to develop a sound that appeals to the child – not to mention the parents within earshot. It is also more physically demanding, involving standing and requiring dexterity between holding the violin and using the bow, which will take longer to master.

Recorder
Advantages:
Cheap and durable as a starter wind instrument. The finger pattern is similar to other wind instruments, making it easy to switch to clarinet or saxophone later. Progression to playing simple melodies will come quite early and it is usually taught in a group setting which appeals to children.

Recorder: Inexpensive and durable as a starter wind instrument, but struggles to rise above its association with less melodious recitals.  Photography: Getty

Recorder: Inexpensive and durable as a starter wind instrument, but struggles to rise above its association with less melodious recitals. Photography: Getty

The inconvenients: Although it has a rich heritage and professional recorders exist, it is unlikely to be anything more than a starter instrument. It struggles to rise above its association with less melodious recitals performed en masse by children of varying degrees of skill.

Ukulele
Advantages:
Small, easy to handle and relatively inexpensive. It’s easier to play than a guitar, so a child will be able to play tunes fairly quickly.

The inconvenients: There’s been more than a whiff of “hipster” in this instrument’s resurgence in popularity over the past few years, however, that just might make it all the more appealing.

The voice
Advantages:
It’s free, and it’s the one musical instrument that parents should encourage kids to use from an early age, every chance they get. Following this groundwork, participation in a choir – under the guidance of a qualified vocal tutor – is an excellent foundation for a musical education.

“It awakens the musical muse in them,” says Dr Ite O’Donovan, whose Dublin Choral Foundation is modeled on the tradition of cathedral choristers but adapted to the secular world. “They’re suddenly captured by the whole experience, and whatever they do from a vocal standpoint, it will pull them into instrumental music.”

The inconvenients: Formal, individual voice lessons are not recommended until considerably older – some say 12 to mid-teens. Solo singing lessons can be very off-putting for shy children or when they become self-conscious as teenagers – but there will always be a choir they can blend into.

What instruments are best left until a child is older?
From the age of nine, almost all instruments are accessible, as long as the child is physically able. For example, the saxophone may still be a bit too heavy.

Jordan doesn’t believe that whether or not kids have most of their permanent teeth is an issue before they start playing wind instruments. Braces can be a roadblock, he acknowledges, but the child will adapt and cope.

Wait a while with a guitar, he suggests, and maybe try that maligned ukulele instead.

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