Many parents aren’t sure which instrument their child should play or when they should start learning. Fortunately, we can help advise you on these decisions and provide an opportunity for students to try different instruments. This guide will help explain some of the factors to consider when deciding which instrument to choose and when.
Factors To Consider
There are good reasons for introducing instruments at different age levels, including cognitive development, muscle development, dental (eg. Brass instruments), size (eg. Double Bass), coordination (eg. Percussion), and suitability for lessons and ensembles.
Here is a guide with approximate age groups and suitable instruments. In some cases children may be suitable for these instruments earlier or later, this is just a guide.
The size of the instrument is an important consideration for younger children. Some instruments come in smaller sizes (eg. guitar, violin, cello), some have modifications (eg. Flute with curved head piece for smaller children), some have a smaller instrument which may progress to a larger one (eg. Saxophones) and others are simply best to wait until the child is bigger. Check with a teacher before purchasing an instrument for a child under 12, particularly for string instruments which come in different sizes.
Some children will begin an additional, similar instrument or switch to a similar instrument (such as a Clarinet/Saxophone, Violin/Viola) based on personal interest or the instruments required to balance an ensemble! Others will switch to a completely different instrument (eg. Trumpet to Electric Guitar) based on similar reasons, particularly their own personal interests.
There are many transferable skills and many musically active young people find that they enjoy and are good at an instrument other than the one they started with.Many parents ask their child to commit to 2 years of learning one instrument before allowing a change of instrument. Between 12 and 24 months of learning one instrument, there is often a tricky lull of interest that needs to be navigated. Rewards charts, ensemble participation and playing CDs / YouTube clips of the instrument may help.If a child is really passionate about an instrument, it is a good indication that they want to learn it.
Generally children do not start on any particular instrument at such a young age, but may be involved in age-appropriate group music activities.
4-6 YEAR OLDS
Individual instruments: Violin ,Piano and DrumsSizes: check with Violin teacher re. size of violinGroups: Classroom/group singing and appropriate percussion
Individual Instruments: Violin, Cello, Piano, Flute, Clarinet, Recorder, Guitar, Ukulele
YEAR 3 – 4
Individual Instruments: Year 3 is a good starting age for ‘band instruments’, ie. Woodwind, Brass and band Percussion (drums). At this age, Flute, Clarinet, Alto Saxophone, Trumpet, Trombone, Euphonium, French Horn and Percussion can be taught. Violin, Cello and Piano, Ukulele are also appropriate, as above.
YEAR 5 – 6
At this age, some additional instruments become more suitable as children get bigger. For example, Tuba (larger than a Euphonium), Tenor and Baritone Saxophone (larger than an Alto Saxophone). All of the main instruments in the string family can played by children at this age, although Double Bass may only be suitable for taller children.
Instruments: Violin, Cello, Viola, Double Bass , Flute, Clarinet, Saxophone (Alto, Tenor, Baritone), Oboe, Bassoon, Trumpet, French Horn, Trombone, Euphonium, Tuba, Percussion, Guitar, Bass Guitar
Piano is a great first instrument, teaching a child to use their eyes and ears and recognise patters. After learning piano for 2 years, children often start a second instrument with a flying start. For 4-8 year olds, keyboard lessons are common. Some teachers find that technical progress is slower but motivation can be greater. Keyboard/Piano can be taught to any age group.
Violin is one of the classic instrument choices for young children, along with Piano. Other instruments become more suitable as children grow, partly due the size of the other instruments (Viola, Cello, Double Bass). These instruments are sometimes taught in groups to younger students but generally involve private tuition. It is possible for young school-aged children to learn guitar. Bass guitar is suitable for students from year 2 onwards. All of these instruments come in different sizes (1/2, 3/4, etc) appropriate to different children.
Guitar is used in guitar ensembles, jazz ensembles, rock bands and so on but generally isn’t found in a concert band or orchestra, and these ensembles are more common in High School.Bass guitar is used in the same ensembles as guitar, with the addition of concert band which is more common in Primary School.Bowed string instruments (Violin, Viola, Cello, Double Bass) are used in string ensembles and orchestras but not in concert bands.The Ukulele looks like a small guitar but is (traditionally) tuned differently and has only four strings. It is becoming more popular in schools and among adults because it is small, affordable and relatively easy to learn. Ukuleles can be played in groups but generally aren’t found in the school ensembles mentioned above.
The common instruments in the woodwind family are used in orchestras, concert bands, brass bands, jazz bands and other instrumental ensembles. In a primary school band program the most popular instruments are Flute, Clarinet, Alto and Tenor saxophones, followed by Baritone Saxophone, Oboe and Bassoon which are less common but also appropriate for older Primary School-aged students.There are four common instruments in the saxophone family (highest to lowest pitch): Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Baritone. Typically students will start on Alto or Tenor but may add another saxophone in secondary school. Baritone saxophones are bigger and more expensive.Recorders are still a popular classroom instrument and come in a range of sizes. Some students will continue to play recorder with individual lessons and/or play in a recorder ensemble.Many woodwind instruments share similar fingering and technique so it is possible to switch between instruments, for example from Clarinet to Saxophone.
Ensembles: All of the woodwind instruments listed above are used in concert bands and orchestras, other than saxophones not being standard orchestral instruments and recorders not being standard instruments in either. Some school groups will accommodate saxophones in an orchestra. There are a range of other ensemble options, such as flute groups, saxophone quartets and so on.
The common instruments in the brass family are used in orchestras, concert bands, brass bands, jazz bands and other instrumental ensembles. The main instruments in the brass family (Trumpet, Trombone, French Horn, Euphonium, Tuba) can be taught from year 3 onwards, other than Tuba being more suitable to older (year 5-6) students due to its size. Trombones have a physical limitation because some notes are difficult to reach for children with shorter arms, but teaching methods and repertoire are able to work around this.Trumpet and Trombone are standard in jazz ensembles; Trumpet, Trombone, French Horn and Tuba are standard in orchestras.There are a number of other brass instruments used in Brass Bands, such as cornet, tenor horn and baritone horn. These are not standard instruments in some other ensembles but they are very close to other instruments in the family (eg. Trumpet/Cornet) and musicians can often transition between them without much trouble.
DRUMS & PERCUSSION
Besides classroom percussion, the percussion family has a number of options for children. One is the Drum Kit, used in rock, jazz and other forms of popular music, sometimes in concert band. Another is ‘orchestral percussion’ (or ‘band percussion’) which may cross over with Drum Kit tuition but focuses on Snare Drum and Tuned Percussion (Glockenspiel, Xylophone, etc) and may include Timpani and Auxilliary Percussion (tambourine, triangle, cymbals etc) in the school band, orchestra or percussion ensemble. There are too many other options for culturally specific or ensemble specific percussion to mention but these two options are very common in Australian schools and well suited to individual tuition.Orchestral Percussion is suitable for children from year 3 onwards, at first this tends to focus on snare drum and glockenspiel. While a full set of orchestral percussion is quite expensive and elaborate, these instruments are affordable and quite manageable.