How to choose a musical instrument for your child

on Monday, 29 April 2013. Posted in N21 Experts

I am often asked by parents to recommend an orchestral instrument for their child to learn.  Most children start to learn a musical instrument because mum or dad thinks it’s a good idea.  While music plays a very positive role in your child’s development, in order to enjoy learning an instrument it is important that you and your child are involved in choosing the right one together.

Each instrument has a different personality and composers write in different ways for different instruments.  There are lots of violins in an orchestra but generally only two oboes so the oboe is an instrument which often plays solos.  A trumpet player will have to enjoy the limelight as trumpet music is often loud and noticeable.  An instrument like the double bass is very versatile and is important in an orchestra as well as being suited to playing jazz as a member of a small band. 

Try to go to lots of live concerts and musical events when you are in the process of deciding which instrument your child might choose to learn. Special children’s concerts are a great introduction to music and musicians and many orchestras run these regularly.  If you know anyone who already learns a musical instrument ask them to show your child how to play it. If your children hear you listing to music at home, they are also more likely to become interested and it provides an opportunity for you to talk about music and introduce them to the sounds made by different instruments.

The following guidelines may help you both make a better-informed choice.


How old does my child need to be?


7 years old is an ideal age to start learning most orchestral instruments as by this age children are nicely settled into Junior school.  As they will probably be reading quite well they will make rapid progress in learning to read music, as well as being physically ready for the challenge of learning a musical instrument.


Can my child start learning an instrument younger than 7?


If your child is well co-ordinated and has good levels of concentration then they might be able to cope with learning at a very young age, although from my own experience most children who start later soon make up time and are not disadvantaged in any way.


Some children start the piano and string instruments as young as 4 or 5, but there are other ways that children under 7 can join in with musical activities e.g.  by singing in choirs or learning the recorder, which is typically taught in schools to children between 5 and 7 years. As long as children are enjoying their music making they will be developing important musical skills which will be of benefit to them when they eventually choose their instrument.


What sort of instrument should my child choose?


This is not as simple as it sounds and often involves asking very basic questions at the outset, such as the size of the family car and the amount of space available in the home.  There would be no point, for example, in encouraging a child whose family were fond of their small hatchback to play the tuba or the harp as transporting it would be very problematic!


Orchestral instruments fall into 3 main categories – String, Woodwind and Brass.  Each has its own attractions and disadvantages, and most (but not all) instruments are available in smaller sizes so that children can start early and then move up to the full size instrument when they are bigger. 


String Instruments


Violin, Viola, Cello and Double Bass

Smaller versions of string instruments are available in different sizes as your child grows into the full-size version – there are even small versions of the double bass! Progress on string instruments can be slow in the early days so parents should be prepared to help out with practise at home and should observe lessons to pick up tips to help their children in between lessons.




Double Bass



Relatively inexpensive to hire/buy to start with

The vast repertoire of classical and popular music available for this group of instruments

Violinists can swap to learning the viola when they are older, which are very sought after by local orchestras and music groups



Children need to be fairly co-ordinated and also mature enough to cope with comparatively slow progress at the start.

Good quality instruments can be very expensive to buy at a later stage.


Woodwind Instruments


Clarinet and Flute

Playing the clarinet or flute is an exciting option for lots of children as young

as year 3.  Both instruments can be adapted so small children can hold and play them comfortably.


The smaller and lighter C Clarinet is ideal for small hands, and children who start on this usually progress to the larger and heavier Bb clarinet after a year or so.


The normal flute can be fitted with a curved head joint so that the stretch out to the side is shorter.  When the child can reach out to the side comfortably the curved head joint is replaced with a straight one.  The body of the flute remains the same whichever head is used.



Fast initial progress means that your child will quickly be playing familiar tunes


Relatively cheap to purchase beginner instruments and not too expensive to upgrade to more sophisticated instruments later


The compact size of both instruments when disassembled is definitely an advantage when walking to school


Valuable lessons learnt on the flute or clarinet paves the way for a relatively easy transition to the saxophone at a later stage



They are comparatively popular instruments played by many children so yours won’t necessarily stand out in a crowd.  Having said that, I love watching and listening to my daughter in the midst of her hundreds of ‘flute friends’ all playing together!


Oboe and Bassoon

Other wind instruments to consider are the oboe and bassoon.  Both are double reed instruments which require the children to be really careful with how they play and handle them – reeds break easily and cost money, and if they break need to be replaced in order to make the instrument work.


The oboe has the most beautiful haunting sound but also the reputation for being one of the most difficult instruments of the orchestra to play.  As an oboist myself I would encourage children to learn but not until at least age 10.  I started on the clarinet at 8 and then became so obsessed by the beautiful sound of the oboe that I switched to learning the oboe at age 11.  By learning the clarinet first I made very quick progress.


The bassoon, a large heavy instrument, is now available in a small size for young hands.  If your child learns the bassoon they will be in demand to play in orchestras and wind bands the breadth of the country.



Brass Instruments


As second ‘front teeth’ are needed before starting to learn brass instruments, children typically need to be in Year 4 onwards.  Most brass instruments are available in small sizes.


Trumpet, French Horn, Trombone and Tuba

The French horn, along with the oboe, has a reputation for being one of the most difficult instruments in the orchestra.  This is because many of the notes are made by just changing the embouchure (the lip shape) and so the notes can easily ‘split’, which means you hear a sound exactly like a ‘split’.  The French horn is sometimes a little awkward for young children to hold so the smaller size suits beginners.


The trombone comes in a mini version so that the reach out in front is shorter.


If your child is desperate to learn the trumpet when they are still quite small then a start on the cornet is a solution.  Both the trombone and trumpet are versatile instruments with many different musical personalities.


The tuba is only available in its original size – and a rare opportunity for the right child.  Sometimes children will learn the euphonium first and later swap over to the tuba.



You will always be in demand by your local orchestra and music group. The repertoire is varied and brass players fit into many different musical groups e.g. jazz groups, brass bands, orchestras etc.

Relatively cheap to buy a beginner instrument and moderately expensive to upgrade



All the huffing and puffing is quite hard work in the beginning and tired lips can be a problem.

How do I find a good teacher?

There are several ways to go about finding a good teacher.and Ask your friends and also check onliine, including this website. You could also approach your child’s school as often peripatetic teachers visit schools on a weekly basis offering lessons. Alternatively, your local county council will give you the contact for your local music authority which will have names of teachers they use.  If you are lucky you may have a local private music school which will be able to supply and organise a teacher.The North London Music Shop in Baker Street is always helpful and did you know that you can actually rent a piano from UK Piano's in Southbury Road, Enfield?

Ask what qualifications the teacher has, and whether they have been CRB checked.  It is always a good idea to have a trial lesson with a teacher and also to ask for references from other parents. 

How can I keep my child motivated to practise?

Regular short bursts of practise is the best way to make progress, starting with 10 minutes a day and increasing by 5 minutes every term, building up to 30 minutes max for most normal kids!

As soon as possible your child should learn to play music with his friends.  After learning very few notes there will be an opportunity locally for him to join a beginners’ music group.  Very soon he will start taking part in concerts and the real reason for playing an instrument will become apparent as he makes new friends alongside making music.  


Tonya Babb lives in Winchmore Hill with her two daughters.  She owns the Monkey Music franchise for Winchmore Hill, Southgate and Palmers Green and has thirty classes running each week. Being passionate about how music supports all aspects of child development, she is often asked by parents which is the best instrument for their child to learn.


Monkey Music is for children from 3 months to 4 years old.  Children are grouped according to their age is small classes to ensure maximum enjoyment and learning. To book a free complimentary class with Monkey Music please email Tonya at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  or call on 020 8360 2730.

read more about Monkey Music here

I am often asked by parents to recommend an orchestral instrument for their child to learn.  Most children start to learn a musical instrument because mum or dad thinks it’s a good idea.  While music plays a very positive role in your child’s development, in order to enjoy learning an instrument it is important that you and your child are involved in choosing the right one together.

Comments (1)

  • Nick Othen

    Nick Othen

    15 November 2013 at 11:23 |
    Always worth hiring the instrument for a few months to see if your child enjoys playing it.


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