Often, parents know they would like their child to learn an instrument, but they don’t know how to choose a suitable option. In this blog, we share our knowledge of beginner instrumental teaching, to help you make an informed choice.
By far the best place to start is with an instrument that your child has already expressed an interest in, so your first job should be to show your child lots of different instruments. If you’re able to, you could attend some concerts and performances to see different instruments in action, or you could watch some clips of instruments on YouTube or other internet sites. One thing to bear in mind is that private lessons can be tricky to fit into your family’s busy schedule. If these are concerns for you, then it might be a good idea to find out which instruments your child’s school offers lessons on during the school day.
If the lessons available at school only seem to represent a very limited instrument selection, don’t worry, you don’t necessarily need to be limited to the options that are already on offer. Most instrumental teachers are able to teach multiple instruments from the same family; if your school only appears to offer violin lessons, but your child wants to learn the viola or cello it’s worth checking whether this might be possible. This also applies to instruments from the woodwind family – if the school has a clarinet teacher, it’s likely that they could also offer saxophone, flute, recorder etc. There is a strong tradition of multi-instrument teaching in the brass family, and in fact many brass teachers start pupils with a range of different brass instruments until they find the one that suits them best.
Let’s say your child hasn’t expressed a particular preference for a musical instrument. As long as you have checked that they are not vehemently opposed to the idea of learning an instrument – which will make the process no fun for anyone – then you might need to make the choice yourself.
A lot of parents default to the piano as the first instrument for their child. Although this is common practice, and does have some advantages in terms of its versatility to play across different musical styles, the piano can be one of the harder instruments to get to grips with in some respects. It requires using both hands, limited use of your feet too, and (eventually) reading two different musical clefs at once. While you can play limited tunes with one hand quite quickly with the piano, giving an instant sense of achievement, it rapidly becomes very much more complicated, so you need to know that your child has the tenacity to continue with this instrument long term.
If your child shows an interest in pop music, then the guitar or drums could be a great choice for them, as these instruments will allow them to play the music that they most enjoy. Do be careful though that your guitar teacher is not exclusively teaching ‘classical guitar’ as this is a whole different system and technique, with its own distinct repertoire, and may not be at all what your child was envisaging! Opting for the drums can be particularly good for children with lots of energy to burn off, and can be a great way to improve your child’s coordination, as you have to use both hands and feet. If one of your aims is for your child to learn to read music, you should be aware that drum notation is slightly different from ‘normal’ staff notation, and does not transfer across to other instruments.
If you’re thinking of a classical instrument for your child, it might be worth considering one of the ‘endangered instruments’ – instruments which are falling in popularity. This is because there are potentially more opportunities for players of these instruments once they get past the beginner stage. If you choose a popular instrument like the violin or flute, you are always going to be battling to gain a place in the orchestra, or a solo slot in the school concert. If you play the bassoon or the double bass, orchestras and concert organisers will be queueing up to include you!
Whichever instrument your child starts to learn, it’s important to check in with them regularly to find out if they are enjoying it. Sometimes, through no fault of anyone’s, after several lessons it becomes apparent that the child is just on ‘the wrong’ instrument for them. In this scenario, your child’s teacher might be able to suggest an alternative instrument that might suit them better, or the child themselves might express a preference for a different instrument. The important thing is to find the right instrument that the child wants and enjoys to play, not to persevere with an instrument that they dislike just because they have started it!