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shilolo's avatar

What are the best ways to introduce musical instruments to children?

Asked by shilolo (17993points) July 11th, 2009

My 3 year old son seems to really like singing and music. He air guitars all the time and sings to himself constantly. Does it matter what instrument we introduce and when? Should he start with a classic instrument like piano? Is he too young for formal lessons?

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40 Answers

DeanV's avatar

Get a little guitar or a ukelele for cheap off ebay or at a music store and have him play with it a little, see what he likes. I would say he is a little young to start with piano or formal lessons, but if you get him a little guitar, or even a little drum set, he may have fun playing around on them and getting the feel for the instrument.

casheroo's avatar

I’ve been asking this to parents of older children, and they all seem to say to wait until the child is at least 6.
I intend to have my son play the piano, because I believe it is the basis to music and will help open him up to all music. I want him to have structured lessons, but I think 2 and 3 are much too young.
It’s not too early to buy a little piano and practice though. We have a piano similar to the red one but a little bigger. My son loves it. He also plays on a real piano at his grandmother’s house.
We get him all sorts of instruments, so he is exposed to it all. I think it’s just fun for them at this age, but can become more as they get older.

Darwin's avatar

Look in to a Suzuki program if you want formal training. It’s expensive but designed for introducing music gently to children. Typically it will be violin, but I believe the Suzuki methods are now being applied to other instruments.

Otherwise, just get him an instrument and let him noodle. My brother started on a piano and a plastic ukelele, and has now been a professional musician for 30 years.

SirBailey's avatar

Go to Toy’s-R-Us and buy every toy instrument you can get your hands on, then watch what he plays with. Make sure they’re age appropriate or he will get frustrated and NEVER want to learn. Praise him for his efforts.

If you or your wife play an instrument, DO play it around him. A lot.

Judi's avatar

Piano lessons are good (when he’s old enough) so he can learn to read music as he is learning to read words.

DominicX's avatar

lol…when I was 3, I was still in diapers…not sure if that would have been the best time for lessons for me. I do know that I started piano lessons when I was around 6–7. Can’t remember the exact year or anything, although I’m sure my parents know.

But anyway, I did have a small battery-operated keyboard when I was pretty young, before piano lessons and everything. Something like that couldn’t hurt. Piano just seems to be a good instrument to start on so a person can learn the notes and keys and how to read music on a pretty basic and easy instrument. My parents got me interested in classical music from the time I was 3, though. And I’m glad for that, because without that, I don’t think my current interest in classical music would exist.

Also, I wasn’t pressured into taking piano lessons. My sister was already taking them and I always wanted to do everything she was doing. In some cases, I ended up liking what she was doing more than she did, like gymnastics and piano.

(Not to discourage or anything, but piano/keyboard is the only instrument I play. But it’s the only one I’m interested in).

jamielynn2328's avatar

My children also love music. I just bought them whatever I could and let them be creative with it. They each have a keyboard and guitar. My 6 year old plays the harmonica very well, and she has taught herself. They say to start piano lessons when the child can read, so it is a bit early for that. I think when my kids were three they just loved to dance, so I bought them a lot of music. Our home is full of music, so they are always influenced. However when the time comes, I think starting with the piano is a great way for kids to learn how to read music.

Tink's avatar

I would say to get him a children instrument, a guitar might be too much for a 3 year old, but if he can learn that would be good.
As for the singing, just let him do his thing. Let him have fun with the instrument you decide to get him. Because if you pressure him into learning he might not want to do it anymore, I experienced that before and hated it. And maybe when he is older he might pick up on that instrument and go on from there, classes might not be a good idea because as I said they pressure kids into learning stuff and they don’t want to, but it’s mostly the parents fault.

SirBailey's avatar

And let’s not forget the kazoo.

PandoraBoxx's avatar

If there is a Kindermusik program near you, it’s designed for 3–4-5 year olds. Also, we played Classical Kids CDs pretty much non-stop at bedtime from age 2 until 11. At age three, my youngest could listen to a regular recording of The Magic Flute, identify all the instruments, and tell you where in the story the music as.

Jack79's avatar

Even though the guitar is fairly easy for adults, it needs co-ordination which small children lack, and can hurt their fingers (if tuned properly). A toy piano (but make sure the keys produce the proper sounds) could be a good start, and of course many educators start with simpler things, such as rhythm (clapping or banging things, which children love to do anyway). Then there are xylophones, which is how my daughter started (I made the mistake of introducing her to the guitar too young, but have taken a step back since).
And any well-produced CD with children’s songs or also something with a basic melody line (classical, older rock songs, 60s pop, lullabies and ballads) will do. My daughter likes jazz too but I think it can confuse them if you start with that too early, I’d go with the simpler stuff and let them pick for themselves later.

Aethelwine's avatar

We bought the Fischer Price I can Play Piano for our daughter when she was three. She loves it! It has age appropriate software, so you can buy more advanced lessons as they grow older. I really recommend this toy. She is five now and still enjoys playing with it.

You could also buy a recorder. It can be painful to listen to but will give your child a head start before he enters kindergarten.

sakura's avatar

What about those pots and pans bashed witha wooden spoon?? My daughter loved doing this!! There are plenty childrens ‘musical instruments’ on the market Fisher Price are usually the ones to go for V Tech have some too!! Just remember to let him have fun ;)

ShanEnri's avatar

I don’t know about formal lessons! My children both displayed a talent for music. I bought them an electronic keyboard and they have taught themselves to play it. Mostly my daughter really and she’s teaching herself the guitar now!

cyndyh's avatar

I go for rhythm instruments first -bongos, maracas, tamborine, etc. You can have several around and play with him while you have the stereo playing. You can trade off different instruments. My kids had several banging things first and then blowing things and then we went on from there.

I had a xylophone when I was little, then a recorder. A penny whistle could work for a 3 year old. I go with the real thing whenever possible rather than kiddie toys. I’d take him to a music store and look at all sorts of things and buy a few to bring home.

If he’s into stringed instruments, kids can handle a ukulele around the age of four. But I’d get him playing with rhythm before he has to fiddle with precise fingerings.

cyn's avatar

remember that kids ages before 6 learn faster and have a better chance in memorizing than a 15 year old….

growler's avatar

Too young for lessons, maybe. Too young to enjoy music? Never. Just make sure that any teacher understands the kid’s age and therefore temperament. I started playing the alto sax as my first instrument, and it was a great introduction. Naturally, I recommend it above all others. Try not to swamp him with too many instruments and possibilties – gradual is good. Just introducing him to the concept of formalized music is probably a good start – the basics of theory (staff, notes, key) now will really help him later.

angelic_fire_hazzard55555's avatar

no age is to young to start playing music ive been singing since i cud talk and i can now play guitar and trumpet really well why dont you try getting him a little drum or a guitar or just some of those really cheap toy instruments and some kids cds i bet he would love it

aprilsimnel's avatar

I had a kid-sized tambourine to bang on at 4, and there was an acoustic guitar to strum when I felt like it. I started music lessons at 7 with the violin and then moved to voice.

gailcalled's avatar

I saw the violin prodigy, Joshua Bell, yesterday at Tanglewood. Here is an except from his bio;

“Bell and his two sisters grew up on a farm in Bloomington, Indiana. As a child, he indulged in many passions outside of music, becoming an avid computer game player and a competitive athlete. He placed fourth in a national tennis tournament at age 10…. Bell received his first violin at age four after his parents, both psychologists by profession, noticed him plucking tunes with rubber bands he had stretched around the handles of his dresser drawers. By 12 he was serious about the instrument…”

That said, I would try your son on a mini-piano. Percussion is wonderful but requires a different skill. And the piano does not have to be tuned every half-hour and does not use a reed. Recorders require some finger coordination that is more exacting for a 3 year old than piano.

“Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” and “Frère Jacques” are nice, easy tunes for the right hand. Adding chords for the left hand would be easy also.

shilolo's avatar

Thanks all for the suggestions. We do in fact already have a bunch of kids level instruments like drums, harmonica, recorder, tambourine, maracas and xylophone. The issue is more about getting him into so-called “real instruments” and “real instruction”. Also, I’ve never really understood how kids develop into say clarinet players (like my wife) versus oboe versus violin and so on. Should we just arrange one instrument (eventually) like piano or guitar, or somehow let him try out and experience a multitude of instruments?

Tink's avatar

Let him choose what he would want to play first, then let him try other instruments.

gailcalled's avatar

My son learned how to play the recorder in Jr. High and then switched to the clarinet (and lessons). We had flawed reeds all over the house.

You son is only three; take your lead from what he chooses to do. Try different genres of music on the radio, too. Maybe he wants to be a dancer as well.

My sibs and I started with piano lessons when we were 6; I tried the violin (bad idea since I had no pitch) and the classical guitar, which I could tune to the piano.

My brother took piano lessons and played the trombone in the HS band.

My sis also took piano lessons and picked up the country and Celtic fiddle as an adult. She ended up in a band but also had pitch problems.

Aethelwine's avatar

I think it is a great idea to let your child try out many different instruments and let him decide on his own, when he is older. The band teacher at the middle school in our town (6–8th grade) would have a day that the 5th graders from the elementary school could come over and try out all the instruments for those that were interested in being in band. This allowed them to get a feel for what they might enjoy.

My father and sister played clarinet. When I decided to join the band in 5th grade, I chose the clarinet also. I then went on to play alto saxophone for the next few years because I liked the sound of it better.

My husband also started out with the clarinet and then moved on to alto sax when he was in school. When my oldest son started band, he chose alto saxophone. Maybe we chose the instruments that we did because we were familiar with them? I’m not sure. When my youngest son chose the flute, he did so because he thought that it was the easiest to learn. He’s a sophomore now and still plays.

Jack79's avatar

To be honest, I don’t know the answer to the second question either, but I’d say let them try for themselves and see what they like best. Most children usually just follow whatever path (or rather channel) they’ve been thrown into by their parents and teachers, though some with extraordinary talents in specific instruments may change later on.

My personal experience is this: I wanted to play the guitar, but my father insisted that I learn the accordeon. I was never particularly good at it, hated it and eventually broke it after 5 years of forced learning. I did however use the knowledge to play pop songs on the synthesizer and eventually a bit of piano. I also learnt to play the harmonica alone (from quite a young age, persuaded my dad to buy me one for Christmas when I was 7 or so).

When I was 15 I saved up and bought my first guitar, and have been learning that ever since (I’ve owned more guitars than I can count since then, including various electrics and a base at one point). I do not consider myself to be particularly good (as in world-class good), but it was the instrument I always wanted to learn and I’m good enough to perform live on stage and even play some chords on my albums (though I still hire professional session musicians for the hard bits).

Oh I also tried to learn the sax at some point, and played percussion in a philarmonic orchestra. It was fun.

I do not consider myself particularly talented in any instrument, or music in general. I’m not being modest here – I’ve always had a good voice and could carry a tune even when I was a small child, and I had a great talent in languages and therefore songwriting (lyrics mainly). But not music itself. I did however manage to learn at least one instrument properly, the one I liked the most.

Darwin's avatar

Every musicians story is different. However, some people just really need an instrument of some sort. They have to make music, almost as much as they have to breathe.

My brother is that kind of person. He asked for a piano teacher when he was three. Unfortunately, he didn’t agree with the fingering she insisted upon so he bit her and she quit. After that he taught himself piano, was forced into violin lessons briefly in first grade, won a plastic ukulele at a carnival, tuned it like a violin and started his first rock band when he was in 2nd grade. He mowed lawns to get his first guitar. When he was 12 he got a gig playing ragtime in the vestibule of a bar so he could afford to pay for piano lessons on his own. This time he picked the teacher and listened to her. Since then he has purchased or been given many guitars, mandolins, banjos, ukuleles, quatros, and even a banjolin. He has been a professional musician for decades.

My sister started with piano lessons in first grade in large part because we had a piano, but switched to flute at school in third grade. She picked flute because that is the least expensive instrument to rent. In high school she switched to saxophone because she loved it and then in college played in an all-girl jazz band in Kansas City. However, her true love was writing poetry, so now she is an English professor.

I started with piano lessons in third grade, managed to wiggle out of having to take an instrument at school other than recorder, and got myself a guitar. I learned the basic chords and how to read a chord chart and played folk songs throughout high school. However, what I really love to do is draw, paint and sing, so my musical instrument training has vanished, except for my ability to pick out the tune to a song I am learning to sing.

I would say expose your kids to music, let them mess around with instruments, but let them decide what they want to play, if anything.

gailcalled's avatar

@Shilolo: Darwin has the answer. Hire your son an instructor, and if he bites the teacher, it’s too soon.

PandoraBoxx's avatar

That what’s was really nice about Kindermusik. Much of the early lessons revolve around Peter and Wolf, learning the names and sounds of the instruments, and how music tells a story. A xylophone is used to learn to read notes, play simple melodies, and to understand the pattern aspect of music. It makes it fun, and is age appropriate. We’re talking pre-reading here, right, so traditional instruction is not going to be fun for any of you.

shilolo's avatar

@PandoraBoxx The music class suggestion is a good one, but in our area it seems that they are all during the week in the morning. Both my wife and I work, and so we cannot take him.

PandoraBoxx's avatar

Is he at a daycare center at in-home care? We had enough parents interested (6 families) that the instructor made arrangements to teach a class at our daycare. We paid her separately.

shilolo's avatar

@PandoraBoxx No. He’s at a relatively large day care affiliated with my work. They do bring in a music teacher every so often, but mainly she sings songs and plays guitar (as far as I can tell).

cyndyh's avatar

My brother and I got to pick an instrument after trying several in band and orchestra through our school. This is how my kids picked their instruments, too. This was after years of fiddling with recorders and percussion instruments, etc.

I think it’s important for the kid to get to pick—within reason. He’s not going to be able to play some things when he’s small.

If you want to get him into “real instruction”, most kids can manage that around 4 if the teacher is used to teaching small children. That’s the kind of thing you can ask about when you meet them. I wouldn’t put a young child with a teacher who usually teaches kids in middle or high school.

PandoraBoxx's avatar

@shilolo, I would talk with the director about music enrichment as an add-on fee, and talk to either kindermusik or music schools in the area about other early childhood education music programs, and see if there is someone that would be willing to do an on-site program if there’s enough interest. You might be surprised. Getting young children to practice is really a challenge, and often a lot of the program (like Suzuki) involves in part training the parent to teach the child at home. We took Suzuki piano for a number of years, and it was really hard on me, because I am not at all musical.

casheroo's avatar

@shilolo I forget which part of California you are in (I believe that’s where you’re from) but you should try looking into the YMCA. They usually have weekend programs for children, or “afterschool” programs, hopefully after you and your wife have work so one of you could go or drop him off.

mattbrowne's avatar

A lot depends on what kind of musical instruments the parents play. Best age to start piano lessons is 8 in my opinion. Before that perhaps a recorder or xylophone. Maybe also guitar. Of course there are always exceptional talents picking up a violin at a very young age.

gernreich's avatar

I have read that there is a minor pentatonic scale where no two notes played in sequence will sound “wrong” such a scale on a xylophone would make it easy for a child to improvise a tune.

gernreich's avatar

In the Wikipedia article http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pentatonic_scale
under the section “Use in education” more is said about using the minor pentatonic scale for children.

A good page on the Orff method of teaching which uses the pentatonic scale.
http://www.classicsforkids.com/teachers/training/orff101.asp

kokko's avatar

piano is a great base for all instruments.
but if i were a parent, i would take my child to the instruments shop, and let them touch and feel all the instruments…let them hear someone play, then i would ask them which instrument sound they loved more. when choosing an instrument it is very much about the kind of sound u can identify as the sound of ur soul.

and when comes the time to choose a teacher, choose a kind one.

jazmina88's avatar

some young childrens’s hands and fingers size is to be considered. electronic keyboards good. recorders good. percussion good.

I taught myself piano til 6th grade. started clarinet in 4th grade, but with small hands, had some minor issues.

Trumpet and asthma??

They make small guitars. Kindermusic sounds like my elementary music classes. and a good start to enjoyment and fundamentals of rhythm. orchestra instruments.

Anybody can sing. I taught a kindergarten girl singing lessons. short and fun.

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