Are you or your child beginning your musical journey but unsure where to start? Here are some important factors to consider when choosing an instrument, and the easiest instruments to learn. Here are the pros and cons of each instrument from the advice of music teachers.
Factors to Consider for Your First Instrument
Age is important. Young children do better with simpler instruments because of cognition levels.
What are the student’s musical goals? Do they want to be a pop star, to sing in a choir, or establish a foundation to build on? Make sure you are clear about your goals before beginning music lessons. Your teacher can help you choose a path that is right for you!
Are you well-coordinated? Is asthma or another breathing problem present? Music lessons can actually help some kids improve coordination and overcome other challenges, but these are important factors to consider.
It is best to match the instrument to a child’s individual strengths and goals. Selecting the right instrument will help them stay motivated to practice and improve.
Some instruments are expensive or hard to acquire. If chosen with care and properly maintained, a quality instrument is an investment that can last for years!
The actual cost of private music lessons will vary depending on what city you live in, and several other factors.
The Best (and Most Difficult) First Instruments
Our teachers at the Rochester Academy of Music curated a list of the best instruments for kids. It begins with the most difficult and ends with the best choice.
Brass & Woodwinds
Brass and woodwind instruments, such as saxophone and trumpet, are not recommended for beginners.
You need excellent breath control to play brass and woodwinds. This can be daunting for beginners.
Some brass instruments could be damaging for children who haven’t fully developed mouth and jaw muscles.
Complicated fingerings can be difficult. Students may begin to associate finger positions with notes on the staff instead of learning names and note interactions. This makes it harder to transition to another instrument later on.
You can’t play harmonies by yourself.
Embouchure (how you use your mouth on the mouthpiece) is difficult. You can learn with effort, but it’s difficult to focus on while learning the basics.
Constant upkeep and reeds are required by most woodwinds, which is difficult for beginners. This can also be expensive.
Getting scholarships could be easier with some brass and woodwinds due to less popularity. If you are committed to mastering a brass or woodwind instrument, beginning on one could be a good idea.
Each voice is different. This makes them unique, but also makes for more difficulty teaching. A voice will change over the years, so the student may have to re-learn new techniques later on.
You may lose a foundational level of theory. Some vocal teachers teach theory, but some concepts are better understood on instruments like the piano. If a student wants to play other instruments later, they may be limited.
Your body is your instrument. A new student might have difficulty understanding this, especially if they have no experience playing other instruments. If a student is sick, so is their instrument.
Your instrument is free, and singing can be very useful in many settings.
Many vocalists accompany themselves on instruments like piano and guitar. While there are basic techniques that help everyone, vocal instruction is very individualized. If a student doesn’t plan to play other instruments, vocal lessons could be a good match, but be wary of this decision and its limits.
Drums & Percussion
Percussions can be great for learning rhythm as a foundation for musical understanding.
You need a high level of coordination to learn the drum set. This can be difficult to begin but rewarding with practice.
You don’t have to learn to read notes on a staff. If a student wants to learn another type of instrument later on, they’ll have to learn this.
Rhythm is the focus, so students don’t need to read notes or understand harmony. Many students who begin with drums are better at keeping time later in their musical development, even with other instruments.
A wide variety of percussive instruments could be a great way to introduce young kids to music.
Ukulele and guitar can be great beginner instruments. Buying your first guitar is also not as intimidating as you might think!
You have to tune. This can be hard for beginners, but they may develop a better ear because of it. Tuning is especially difficult for the violin, viola, and cello. These orchestral instruments require more supervision and focus on fundamental techniques to avoid injury.
Correct finger placement is essential, so the guitar can be especially difficult for beginners, and especially small hands that struggle with reach. Strings can be painful before fingertips adjust, which can cause students to avoid practice.
Ukulele can be great for kids. It’s small and has only four strings, which makes it easy to learn rhythm, and introduces melody and chords in a simple way.
Guitar is great for older beginners as it’s easy to carry around, and can be used to accompany singing.
As they are quite affordable compared to some other instruments, guitars and ukuleles appropriate for a beginner can be a great place for you to start without spending a ton of money.
The piano is large, which means it isn’t easily mobile, and even keyboards can be expensive.
You need two hands to play at the same time, which can be a difficult concept to grasp for new learners.
Provides visuals to learn pitch, fundamentals of theory, and reading sheet music. This makes it easier to transition from piano to any other instrument. The key layout is straightforward with automatic pitch, so you don’t have to tune each time you play. The piano provides a great foundation for learning the fundamentals of music.
Learning to read both treble and bass clefs is a huge benefit. This creates opportunities to branch out into any other instrument. The piano also teaches coordination between both hands.
Both percussive and melodic, the piano can be a great introduction to drums.
Instant success and gratification can keep you motivated.
You can memorize easier by singing along.
The piano creates endless opportunities since you can use it in many settings including performance, accompaniment, ensemble participation, and composition.
Before you choose an instrument…
Practice Makes Perfect
Whichever instrument you choose, the most important thing is to practice.
Don’t be afraid to play around and explore to discover new things and become comfortable with your instrument. It’s also a great idea to find the music you love and ask your teacher if you can play it. This can help you stay excited!
Every artist was first an amateur. If you are interested in an instrument, go for it! You should learn an instrument because of interest, not because of difficulty level.
The Instrument of Interest
If a student doesn’t know which instrument to choose, they should think about instruments they enjoy listening to. Find an instrument to relate to and connect with. If torn between piano and another instrument, music teachers recommend the piano.
Although teachers overwhelmingly chose piano, the best instrument to learn is the one you commit to learning. Each instrument only exists because there are people to play them. The benefit of music lessons for kids should not be underestimated, so go ahead an encourage your child to pick an instrument they’ll love.
Some retail music stores, such as Rick’s Music World in Raynham, MA, offer opportunities to explore instruments and as k questions to expert staff.
Good luck choosing an instrument and enjoy your musical journey!