Growing up, one of our household commandments was "Thou shalt learn to play the piano." I started piano at age five, but my musical education didn't stop there. The summer before I turned ten, I also got to pick an instrument to play in school. I was excited by the chance to pick a hobby that was just for me. With my parent's support, I chose the violin, and that one decision changed my entire life. I minored in music in college, played in a symphony for seven years, and I continue to teach both violin and piano to others today.
While most children won't choose to make a career out of their music, playing a musical instrument can help all kids develop self-confidence and discipline. Music is a great way to introduce children to the arts and give them a skill that they can be proud of. However, it can be overwhelming to determine exactly what instrument your child should play. Here are some tips to make the choice a little easier for everyone:
Determine right away if any instruments are out of the question
If you can't stand the drums or your spouse thinks the trumpet is too noisy, don't offer these as options to your child. Also, if a certain instrument is out of your price range, make sure that instrument is off the list as well.
Familiarize your family with the different instruments
Go and see a live performance, even if it's just a high school group. You can also listen to Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolfto hear what each of the instruments sound like. There is nothing better to get your future musician excited than seeing and hearing music being performed.
Plan a trip to the music store
Let your budding musician hold and try out all of the instruments. See which ones your child gravitates toward and, if you haven't already, get a realistic idea of what the instruments cost to buy or rent.
Think about your child's strengths and weaknesses
If you have a very petite child, he or she may not be as successful with a very large instrument, such as the upright bass or the tuba. Also, string instruments (violin, viola, cello, and bass) and piano take a lot of fine motor control. Likewise, woodwinds (flute, clarinet, saxophone, oboe, and bassoon) and brass (trumpet, trombone, and tuba) require strong breathing, and they may be more difficult for a child with a respiratory disorder. Talk to your pediatrician for specific advice. Make sure your child has the skills necessary to be successful, or he or she may get frustrated and quit.
Follow Your Child's Lead
Just because you always dreamed of playing the flute does not mean your child will feel the same. As parents, it's easy to get caught up in what we want for our kids, but they will work harder and learn faster if they feel some ownership in their choice. Learning an instrument takes a ton of work, and your child will do their best if they love the instrument they are playing.
Picking an instrument should be fun! Talk with your child about the work required to learn to play an instrument and the patience that they will need. They need to have a realistic idea of what they're in for, but you should also help them feel excited about learning something new. Enthusiasm is the number one predictor of success when picking and starting a new instrument. Get your child excited about the process, and give them a say in the choice, and you'll be amazed at how fast their talent develops.