Of all the languages we’re trying to learn, music is definitely the favorite! Since music lessons for kids are an investment, parents often ask me for tips on choosing the first instrument and how to get started with practice.
During high school and college, I taught piano lessons to beginner kids, and this was how I grew to love teaching kids. Piano and drums were the first instruments for my daughter and son, respectively, and I’ll share how we made these choices. Many of you have also opened up about your family’s experiences, so I’ll also summarize common tips for starting lessons!
This post was original published in August 2020 and has been updated to reflect current information.
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What is the best age to start music lessons?
In reality, the optimal time depends on factors like the family’s budget and schedule plus the child’s maturity and development.
For some children, this might occur around age 3, while others may be closer to age 8. Furthermore, some teachers won’t take students under a certain age, so timing will also depend on the instructor.
Before sitting down for formal lessons, children can learn about music through singing and listening to CDs/MP3s. They are learning about rhythm while dancing and clapping to the beat!
In the early years, instruments can be introduced through picture books (eg, Zin! Zin! Zin! A Violin!) or group lessons (eg, Music Together). When we lived in Los Angeles a few years ago, my daughter had a blast at Toddle Tunes!
We also have these popular handbells (similar here). Although my kids rarely used them, many parents have shared that these bells helped their kids learn the basic C-scale and simple tunes. Some friends have recommended the Preschool Prodigies program.
Many of you shared that you knew your child was ready to learn simply by them asking and choosing their first instrument! Often, this was after watching a parent play, watching a performance, or reading books about music!
And don’t worry if your kids are older! Many people pick up lessons later in life! When I was a kid, my father learned piano with me during the first year. More recently, my auntie and mother-in-law started lessons in their 70s!
What to consider when choosing the first instrument?
Consider your budget, child and instrument size, and the popularity of the instrument.
Smaller instruments, such as violins and trumpets are often more budget friendly with rental options. If you decide to purchase, costs of up-sizing and replacing strings, reeds, and corks need to be considered.
Nature of the instrument
Many children start with piano, because a simple press of a key creates a pleasant sound instantly. Other than good posture and hand position, the instrument doesn’t have to be lifted or held in a certain way.
Due to the layout of a keyboard, the relationship between pitch is easier to understand. Therefore, the first songs can be very rewarding and motivating to learn!
Drums are also popular choices for first instruments, because the main focus is rhythm. However, the main downside is risk of hearing loss. Proper precautions, such as noise-reducing ear muffs (similar highly rated version here) and drum mutes are necessary.
String instruments are also common for kids, because they can be rented or purchased in various sizes. The main downside is enduring the squeaky off pitch sounds!
However, wind instruments are often not recommended until ages 7 or 8 years and up when the lungs are more developed.
Popular versus uncommon instruments
Instrument popularity is also important to consider, because common instruments like the piano, guitar, drums, and violin will likely have more resources like local teachers and replacement parts available.
Orchestra and band instruments may be more social and more enjoyable for certain kids.
On the other hand, less common instruments, such as the harp, can give your child a chance to stand out among the crowd!
How to encourage instrument practice?
Here are important factors for practicing success that many of you shared with me!
- Making practice a regular part of the daily routine (or a few set days per week)
- Increasing visibility / accessibility, such as displaying a violin on a violin hanger rather than stored in a case. Pianos and drums are already out in the open and ready to play!
- Brainstorming with child about practice duration: We’ve found that practicing a certain number of times or until a certain part of the song is improved is more effective than a strict duration.
- Letting child choose favorite songs to learn!
- Parental company and guidance during practice in the early years
- Positive feedback
- Opportunities to entertain family and friends!
One family shared that they’ve been doing performances on their lawn for neighbors during social distancing!
My daughter’s first piano recital was at a nursing home; seeing the elderly gather around was the sweetest experience!
Recently, she wanted to keep track of her practice with a sticker calendar. As you can see above, we are not strict about practice. Other than praise and attention, we don’t reward practices. The natural consequence is that she plays better when she practices, and she doesn’t when she hasn’t practiced.
When did your family start music lessons? How did your child choose his or her first instrument?
Ask anyone this question, and you’ll get a variety of answers!
I started piano lessons at age 5 years and played throughout my childhood. I also played the cello around ages 10 to 14.
On the other hand, my husband started piano lessons around age 7. In middle and high school, he preferred the clarinet and eventually taught himself the guitar (acoustic and electric).
My daughter started piano lessons around age 5.5 years and took a several month break due to over-scheduling and teacher mismatch.
As for my son, confidently chose the drum as his first instrument! After a brief stint of drum lessons at age 3, he’s currently just exploring the instrument on his own. You can here him jamming in this Instagram video!
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