Note: This article was published, citation information below.


Ang, M. (2005). Choosing the right musical instrument for your child. In ParenThink. magazine, Chinese edition. August 2005 issue.

You’ve heard all the reasons why you should let your child learn music and you’re convinced. So… where do you start? There are three fundamental questions every parent needs to ask before enrolling your young budding musician for regular lessons: 1.What is the right age at which to start formal lessons? 2. What instrument is right for my child? and 3. How do I find the right teacher for my child?

Why ask these questions at all? I mean, isn’t it enough just to send my child for piano lessons with my neighbour / sister-in-law / music school down the street / (insert your typical music teacher here)?

The answer to this is in fact no. Actually, there are several factors to consider when deciding to send your child for music lessons. The average parent may not realize this, but the different musical instruments are best suited to quite different kinds of children – not everyone is cut out to play the piano. If you ask a random cross-section of adults how many of them started piano lessons as a child, you will find quite a reasonable proportion. Ask these same adults how many of them continued these lessons and still play the piano reasonably well today – chances are you will find that the majority were drop-outs. Research indicates that 90 percent of people have the potential to successfully learn to play a musical instrument to quite a high standard. Reality indicates that only a very few actually do so. Why?

The answer to this question lies in the nature of the instruments themselves, in addition to several additional factors. These include your child’s basic temperament, his or her physical characteristics, his or her interest in / attraction to the instrument to be learned, and a few miscellaneous considerations to be discussed in the following paragraphs.

When choosing the right musical instrument for your child, the nature of the instruments themselves are closely intertwined with your child’s basic temperament and physical characteristics. Taking the piano first, as the most common musical instrument to be found in the modern home, what kind of person is actually suited to play the piano? If you think about it, the piano is typically a solo instrument. It requires long hours of practise alone – just the musician and the instrument. It takes years to master, and the selection of pieces written for the piano run into the thousands. It needs excellent concentration and skilful coordination of two hands and ten fingers. The musician needs to carefully read complex pages of many notes at the same time. And this is just the beginning. Essentially, the person suited to play the piano needs patience, perseverance, and should be happy to play alone. Now, if your child is fun-loving, highly sociable and loves to run around doing things… can you blame him or her if he finds practising the piano deadly dull? Is it so surprising when he tells you he wants to stop piano lessons after some period of time? I could continue with an expose of each and every musical instrument, but there isn’t the space in such a short article. Just be aware that different instruments have different requirements and suit children of different temperaments. What about physical characteristics? By this I am referring to inborn physical traits, and matching your child with his instrument. For example, if you have a petite little girl, the tuba may prove too bulky and heavy for her to handle. A child with thick lips may not be able to handle the oboe. And so on. The parent who needs more information on the different instruments can look up the references that I list at the end of this article.

Before going on to interest, I would like to mention the other factors to take into consideration. These include noise level, space, portability, money and teacher availability. Parents should be aware that some instruments are noisier than others – is that ok in your context? For example, if you live in a flat, you may need to keep noise levels down, or perhaps you may lack space to set up some of the instruments that take up a lot of room. However, don’t rule out an instrument purely on the basis of noise – you can always find ways to soundproof if really necessary (in the case that a noisy instrument is perfectly suited to your little one!) Portability refers to how easy/hard it is to transport your instrument around, keeping in mind in most cases you will need to bring your child’s instrument along with him for lessons or when he later joins an orchestra or band. If you own an MPV or van, most instruments will be no problem, but if all you have is a Kancil, then you may have to consider the size of the instrument. Finally, are you willing to drive/accompany your child to his teacher’s premises for lessons? Good teachers for certain instruments are not so easy to find. You may need to consider if you have the time to do the necessary ferrying to classes if your child learns from someone other than a neighbourhood teacher.

Interest in an instrument is actually the easiest to handle. If you do a thorough evaluation of your child and find a particular instrument / few instruments suit him to the ground, it’s up to you to get him interested in that instrument (let’s say he’s never heard of it or heard it before). Take him to a concert and also buy him some DVDs featuring the chosen instruments, attend a workshop, meet up with a musician who plays this instrument. Use your imagination!

The question of the right age to start lessons depends also on the instrument. Most importantly, find the right teacher – he/she can advise you. The most important thing about the teacher is he or she must make your child feel excited about music and his instrument. Your child will love to go for lessons with the right teacher. He will dread lessons with the wrong one. It is as much a matter of teacher-student temperament compatibility as it is training, qualifications and experience. Always read your child’s cues. No matter how highly recommended a teacher may be, he is the wrong teacher if your child doesn’t look forward to attending his classes every week.

In closing, don’t take for granted that you can simply send your child for any music lessons with any teacher and things will work out for the best. The wrong teacher or the wrong instrument can actually kill a child’s inborn love of music and turn him off of music lessons for a long, long time, sometimes even for the rest of his life!

Further Reading
  • Atarah, Ben-Tovim & Boyd, Douglas. (1995). The Right Instrument for Your Child. Weidenfeld & Nicholson.
  • BBC Online, Learning to Sing or Play an Instrument: A Practical Guide for Parents.


    Copyright ©2005 Minni Ang