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Selecting a Musical Instrument

There are many reasons that a child may select a particular instrument, not all of them equally as valid. He may be attracted to the flute, for example because someone he knows plays it; there may be a piano in the home; she may pick the clarinet because it is different from the instrument that a sibling is learning.

Here are some suggestions that will help your child make an informed choice:

  • Take him to a concert so that he has the opportunity to hear and see a number of instruments at once.
  • Ask how the sound of a particular instrument makes your child feel. It is thrilling? Does it give her goosebumps?
  • Find some recordings of soloists playing the instrument in question in a variety of music genres and listen to them with your child.
  • If your child is seriously considering a special instrument—the trumpet, for example—take him to talk with someone who plays it (at the local high school, perhaps) so he can get an idea of what is involved with mastering the instrument and what opportunities there are for brass players in the area.
  • Discover what sort of music your youngster wants to play. Is it classical? Jazz? Rock? Some instruments are better suited to a particular genre than others. The saxophone, for example, is useful in a band or a jazz group, but not in an orchestra.
  • Does he want to be a soloist or play mainly with an ensemble or orchestra? Pianists generally fall into the former category; wind and brass players can do both.
  • Visit a music store so the child can actually handle his desired instrument and try it out. You may even want to invest in a few trial lessons before making your final decision.
  • Some instruments are more in demand than others. School orchestras are always looking for kids who play the oboe, bassoon, viola and French horn, for example. Conversely, there are always plenty of violin and flute players, so competition for seats in these sections can be stiff.

Other Factors to Consider

It is important that your child be physically ready to play the instrument he chooses. One can start the violin at a very early age, but study of other instruments needs to be correlated to such factors as handspan, tooth development and physical size.

Do some research on the cost of the instrument your child is considering. While some can be rented or borrowed from school, the quality will not be as good as that of a professional instrument. This will become an important factor as your young musician becomes a more proficient player. String players should also consider the cost of a bow. Those who choose the clarinet and trumpet should be aware of the fact that most advanced players should own more than one of these instruments in various keys. Clarinets and trumpets in particular fall into this category, and flute players often own a piccolo as well. Ask a reputable dealer about these "hidden" costs.

Some instruments can require higher maintenance than others. A piano needs less upkeep than a bassoon, for example.

Consider transportation. Don't choose the double-bass or the harp, for instance, unless you have a large car and unless you as a parent agree to be responsible for regular travel.

Once your child has chosen an instrument, give it a chance before you switch to another. This period should be at least a year.

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Lesson Plans
Based on the music of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, these lesson plans provide practical, effective activities for grades K-5.

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