How To Help Your Child
Choose A Musical Instrument

A Viola

Learning to play a musical instrument is one of the greatest gifts you can give your children.

Research has shown that children who study music show improvements in their mathematical skills. This is because it helps children think in terms of patterns and pictures and to consider a problem on a different level.

This is the basis of the so-called 'Mozart Effect'.

Most importantly they will have a skill which they can share with other musicians of all ages, and that will last them for the rest of their life, for like riding a bicycle you never forget how to play an instrument.

For a child to enjoy and want to continue playing a musical instrument they must choose one that suits them, and makes a sound that they enjoy making. In Jacqueline du Pre's biography 'A Genius in the Family', it tells how she heard a cello played on the radio and said that was the sound that she wanted to make.

A loud boisterous child is unlikely to enjoy playing the flute and may prefer the trumpet or saxophone. A child who is small and delicate may have to wait a few years before taking up the tuba. So what should you do, especially if there is only a narrow range of instrument lessons available in your local area? Well, most musical skills and knowledge gained on one instrument will be transferable to another, so if your child changes it's mind after a few years, their time will never have been wasted.

String Instruments

String Instruments can be learnt from the age of 2 or 3, as violins are made down to 1/16 size so that the tiniest fingers can play them. Cellos go down to ¼ size so can be played from the age of 3 or 4. Even Double Basses can be found in ½ size versions but even these will require a certain amount of physical strength just to carry so it's best to leave these until the age of about 11.

Woodwind Instruments

Most children will have a go at the Recorder at school and this is a good basis for learning to read music and will start development of breath control. Other woodwind instruments cannot be started until the child has all their adult teeth, so 7 or 8 is the earliest. Before they have their adult teeth they cannot correctly position their lips and teeth around the mouthpiece.

Clarinet and flute lessons are usually quite easy to find. If your child wants to play the saxophone, and lessons are unavailable, the clarinet is the best instrument to start on but flautists can also transfer easily to the saxophone. The oboe can be started at 7 or 8 as well.

The Bassoon, being larger and heavier is not suitable until 11 or 12 years old, however younger children may be able to learn on a Tenoroon, a smaller, lighter bassoon which allows them to begin learning at a younger age.

Brass Instruments

Brass instruments can be started at 7 or 8 like the woodwind family and playing the recorder before then will be beneficial. Trumpet, Trombone and Tuba are the easiest to find lessons for and budding tuba players can start on the euphonium if lifting the instrument is an issue. If you want to play the French Horn or the more obscure members of the brass family it is best to start on the trumpet then transfer if lessons are not available.


Drums could be started at any age, and lessons may be offered at school or through a local music centre. Orchestral percussionists who play tuned percussion such as the Xylophone will usually have started on the piano.


Piano lessons are still quite easy to find (but will get harder as fewer people are learning to play) and can be started at around 6, or younger if the hands are big enough.


Since teachers are hard to find, if your child is set on playing the harp then start them on the piano, as harp music also has two lines of music and this will develop the required skill. A small folk harp can be played at about the age of 8, but a child would need to be around 11 or 12 to play a full size harp due to its size and weight.


There are three types of guitar you child might want to learn, Classical or Spanish, Acoustic, or Electric. Classical or Spanish Guitars have gut strings and are played with the fingers. Acoustic Guitars have metal strings and are played with a plectrum. Electric Guitars need to be plugged in and also requires an amplifier. Check with the teacher that they teach the correct style and make sure your child has the right type - if you try to play a metal string guitar with your fingers it will hurt. Guitars come in ¼, ½ and 3/4 sizes and can be started from about the age of eight.

For more detailed information, visit Pay the Piper, an excellent website covering many aspects of learning musical instruments.

About the Author: Jacqui O'Brien is the Editor of eParenting.

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