Choosing an Instrument

Choosing an instrument to learn can sometimes be a daunting task. When making a selection, parents are advised to consider what sort of ensemble their child might enjoy (e.g. Orchestra), and certainly which family group of instruments seems to suit most; this may help to narrow down a selection. Fundamentally, however, the sight and sound of the chosen instrument is of utmost importance; ideally, it should be an instrument that excites and stimulates the child, hopefully so that practice at home and other playing opportunities remain a genuine pleasure. Some instruments are perfectly suited to playing alone; others are at their best when playing as part of a group, which is of course a wonderful additional dimension to music-making.

Please note: Ealing Music Service do not deliver music tuition outside of schools, except for leading various Ensembles. For more details, please click here.

Why?

The Brass family of instruments are ideal for young performers as it offers opportunities to play in many different types of musical ensemble (Jazz Band, Brass Band, Trumpet Ensemble, Orchestra, Pop Groups and small Chamber groups).
Brass instruments are very versatile and easy to change from one to another as the fingerings are the same for all except the Trombone, which has a slide mechanism. The method of producing the sound with the embouchure is basically the same and differs only in the size of the mouthpiece used.

When?

Generally speaking, children can start playing the smaller Brass instruments as soon as their second teeth are formed; but for the larger instruments it would also depend on the size of the child as they need to be physically capable of lifting up the instrument without causing long term posture problems.

Ensembles

Jazz Bands
Orchestras
Brass Band
Concert Bands
Miltary Bands
Pop Groups
Chamber Groups

Why?

The flute is very versatile in that it can play a variety of music – classical, jazz, modern, etc. The sound is easy to produce – if you can make a sound by blowing across the top of a bottle then you can produce a sound on the flute! It is small and easy to carry and easy to assemble. If you can play the flute, then you can also play the piccolo, alto flute and bass flute.

When?

Pupils should be able to reach the basic keys and a child’s adult front teeth should be fully through. Progress may be slow in the early stages when starting out at a very young age. The flute is physically easier to hold than most other wind instruments.

Ensembles

Orchestras
Wind Ensembles
Concert Bands
Pop Groups
Chamber Groups
Jazz Bands

Why?

The clarinet makes a really expressive sound. It has the widest range of all the wind instruments. It is versatile: you can play in all sorts of groups – orchestra, jazz band or wind band. It isn’t too big to carry around – you can even get backpack clarinet cases. The clarinet is very good instrument for an imaginative and adventurous sort of person who is interested in how things work. It is much cheaper than, say, an oboe; easier to carry than a bassoon or saxophone; therefore the clarinet has become a very popular instrument.

When?

Generally speaking, the clarinet can be learned from a young age. However, pupils should be able to reach the basic keys and achild’s adult front teeth should be fully through. Progress may be slow in the early stages when starting out at a very young age.

Ensembles

Orchestras
Wind Ensembles
Concert Bands
Jazz Bands
Pop Groups
Chamber Groups

Why?

The saxophone is a fun instrument to learn; quick and easy to assemble/disassemble; and for most, progress is seen (and felt by the student) quite quickly – although it may take a lesson or two to become accustomed to the blowing technique and the mouth position (‘embouchure’) needed. Once past this initial stage, most new pupils are able to progress at a good speed, encouraging confidence and enjoyment in learning the instrument.

When?

Pupils should be able to stretch hands to reach the basic keys and a child’s adult front teeth should be fully through. The ability to take the weight of the instrument via a neck sling will also be a deciding factor.
If the saxophone proves to be too big for a pupil, it is recommended they try the clarinet.

Ensembles

Orchestras
Wind Ensembles
Concert Bands
Jazz Bands
Pop Groups
Chamber Groups

Why?

The recorder is a good instrument for someone learning an instrument for the first time, and certainly for a young person with small hands! There are no breakable parts and it is very easily portable. It is also the cheapest instrument to buy. One can use it either as an instrument from which to progress to something else, or take it on as a serious instrument in its own right. ABRSM music exams are available for recorder, just as with other instruments and voice.

When?

Pupils can be as young as Year 1, but only once hands are big enough to reach all the holes.

Ensembles

Recorder Groups
Mixed Ensembles

Why?

The oboe is a similar size to the clarinet. However, it produces notes from blowing into two reeds rather than one. It has a distinct tone and can be slightly more difficult to master the basics than other wind instruments.

When?

Generally speaking, children can start the oboe as soon as their second teeth are formed.

Ensembles

Orchestras
Wind Ensembles
Concert Bands
Chamber Groups

Why?

The bassoon is a large double reed woodwind instrument with a wonderful rich sound! There are generally less people playing it, so progress into orchestral and chamber music groups is quicker than other more popular wind instruments.

When?

Generally speaking, children can start playing the oboe as soon as their second teeth are formed; however, suitability would also depend on the size of the child as they need to be physically capable of lifting up the instrument without causing long term posture problems.

Ensembles

Orchestras
Wind Ensembles
Concert Bands
Chamber Groups

Why?

The Violin and Viola are beautiful instruments to play independently or with others; with piano accompaniment; within a large orchestra; or in a small, intimate group. Players have access to some of the most wonderful music ever written and to play string quartets is surely one of the most rewarding ways to spend an evening. Being a smaller instrument, it can be transported quite easily. Violin and Viola players are always in demand and there is rarely a restriction on numbers within an orchestra. The viola, being a little larger, may be preferred on account of its richer, more sonorous tone, and also because it is a rarer instrument.

When?

Children can start to learn the violin or viola from as early as 4 years old, with no need for previous experience on another instrument. Violins come in many sizes to accommodate very small players.

Ensembles

Orchestras
String Ensembles
Chamber Groups

 

Why?

Children will enjoy playing the cello as it has scope to play melodies as well as accompany others. The cello has a capacity to play in both the bass, tenor and treble registers and is renowned for its beautiful, singing tone. The cello is an incredibly rewarding instrument to play.

When?

It is possible for children as young as 4 years old/reception top learn the cello. Whilst cellos come in different sizes, suitability also depends on the size of the child as they need to be physically capable of lifting up the instrument.

Ensembles

Orchestras
String Ensembles
Chamber Groups

Why?

The double bass is the foundation of the ensemble, and is very versatile in that it can adapt to most styles of music ancient or modern. It is a most impressive instrument, being the largest of the string family.

When?

Ideally year 7 upwards is the best time for beginning tuition. Since the double bass is so large, transportation is probably the biggest problem, but well worth the trouble.

Ensembles

Orchestras
String Ensembles
Chamber Groups

 

Why?

The harp can be approached like any other instrument. Once you learn the hand positions for correct and comfortable playing you become more skilled with practice. In fact, unlike some instruments, the harp makes a beautiful sound from the very first steps of learning to play. The easiest of tunes sound lovely. So, it’s a great pleasure for all who hear it!

When?

Depending on the child, some can start as young as 5 or 6 years old. They can learn the basics of music through learning to play the harp. If the teacher is happy to teach young children, they can start on the harp as soon as they can manage to hold the instrument.

Ensembles

Orchestra
Chamber Groups
Accompanying Choirs

Why?

Percussion is an umbrella term for instruments such as drum kit, tuned percussion (xylophone, glockenspiel), un-tuned percussion (snare drum, conga, timpani). Students can take graded exams in both drum kit and orchestral percussion.

There are numerous opportunities for students to participate in various chamber/symphonic groups and bands. It is a fun and diverse group of instruments.

When?

There is no minimum age, although recommended starting minimum age is 6 years old.

Ensembles

Orchestras
Wind Ensembles
Concert Bands
Jazz Bands
Pop Groups
Chamber Groups

Why?

Singing can increase the confidence of a shy youngster. It is an excellent preparation for a pupil keen to become a Chorister/Choral Scholar, and is also useful for anyone seriously interested in theatre studies/speech and drama. Singing lessons can help with theory and aural training for pupils studying another instrument.

When?

It is possible to begin at any age, though many teachers are generally reluctant to start anyone before year 7.

Most students join a choir prior to having singing lessons.

Ensembles

Choir

Pop Group

Why?

Guitars come in many guises:

Classical guitar (playing traditional guitar music)

Acoustic guitar (playing mostly chords and solos)

Electric guitar (playing mostly chords and solos)

Bass guitar (playing bass lines)

When?

Classical guitar can be played as early as year 2. A good age to begin the electric guitar or bass guitar is year 5 or 6 upwards.

The Ukulele can be learned by pupils as young as year 1.

Ensembles

Jazz Bands
Pop Groups
Chamber Groups

Why?

The piano is the most popular beginner’s instrument. The piano is perfectly suited as an introductory, all-round musical instrument, as it enables an appreciation of harmony, rather than just a single melodic line. In most respects, the piano is happy on its own and does not require other musicians to provide a complete musical experience. The piano player does not struggle with issues of tuning.

When?

Piano can be started at almost any age. Year 1 is common and starting at nursery not out of the ordinary. Much depends on the child’s ability to concentrate.

Ensembles

Jazz Bands
Pop Groups
Chamber Groups

Tips to Choose the Right Instrument for Your Child by Ruth Bonetti – Click here

Instrument descriptions on Wikipedia – Click here

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