By: Will Mason
We get a lot of calls at Mason Music … a lot. So, you can imagine how many questions we answer. Things like, “How much are lessons?” or “How old should my child be to start taking lessons?” and then the all important,
“Which instrument should my child start lessons on?”
Conventional wisdom almost always points towards the piano. And, in general, I would agree (keep reading to learn why this isn’t always the best choice). My own musical education started at age six with piano lessons, which I continued until I switched to guitar at 13. For me, piano lessons provided a strong foundation for musical understanding, especially in regards to rhythm, melody, intervals, chords and pretty much any music theory concepts. The simplicity of the instrument, as well as its linear nature (left to right, low to high), make these concepts so much easier to grasp on the piano than on the guitar or other instruments. I teach guitar these days, and I regularly find myself taking my guitar students over to the piano to explain music theory. It just makes more sense there! So for my own parents, the easy answer was to start me on the piano.
However, music lessons are a joint venture between the parent, the student and the teacher. All three parties need to be on the same page when it comes to goals. I have noticed that there are two distinct groups of parents when it comes to music lessons, and knowing which group you fall in can help you choose the right instrument for your child. As I describe these two groups, please know that I am in no way passing judgment on anyone here. I’m simply describing an observation that I think will be helpful.
First, there are parents who have serious goals and expectations for their child when it comes to learning music. These parents are intent on their child sticking with lessons long term, practicing and improving on their instrument. Even if their child does not love music, they will stick with it because it is important that the child learn discipline and all of the other important life lessons that come along with the learning process.
The other group of parents are a bit more recreational when it comes to music. Their child may have expressed an interest in music, or they may just want to expose them to it to see if it “sticks.” This group of parents are less stringent when it comes to practicing and are hesitant to push their children, so as to not create a future barrier between the child and a love of music. If a child of this kind of parent loses interest in their instrument, or is not having a lot of fun with it, they are more likely to end their lessons and move on.
The only way to find the perfect balance is to get your child started on the right instrument.
So how do I choose the right instrument for my child?
If you find yourself identifying with the more serious group of parents, then piano may be the way to go for you. It’s a great foundational instrument that can be enjoyed for a lifetime, and can easily transition to other instruments. If you find yourself identifying with the second group of parents, you may want to let your child’s interests lead more of the decision. If you simply want them to have some experience with music that’s fun and helps them be more well-rounded, see what they like to play. If they start with voice lessons and end up loving it, they can always learn the piano down the road to accompany themselves, and they would have an even greater drive to learn at that point.
Every child is different and may be drawn to one instrument more than another. One child may love the physicality of playing the drums and identify strongly with the rhythmic patterns and coordination required for that instrument. Another may connect with the sound of the violin and the motion of the bow across the strings. Another child might love the sound of the acoustic guitar or the feel of finger-picking while another might want to hear the distorted tones coming out of an amp from an electric guitar. And yet another child may absolutely love singing. (If your child is interested in the guitar, we recommend reading 6 Tips To Help You Tackle The Guitar first!)
So how do you find out which instrument your child connects with the most? You probably already have an idea of what your child is interested in, so start there and give it some time. If you are signing up for online music lessons or in-person music lessons at Mason Music (which, obviously we hope you are!) let us know, and we can work with you to follow up and see if your child is happy after a month or two. If not, no big deal, we can switch teachers and start over with a new instrument until we find one that clicks. Most studios are flexible with this kind of change as long as you are upfront about your intentions. If you are working with another studio, make sure you ask about cancellation fees, contracts, and policies related to changing teachers and instruments.
Another option for you if you happen to be in Birmingham and it’s Summer Camp season, we have designed our Beginner Camp specifically to aid in this discovery. We give our campers hands-on experience with five different instruments over the course of five days. By the end of the week, our camp instructors are able to make recommendations for each child on which instrument they believe would be the best fit. I can’t help but remember a particular camper who fell in love with the drums during a week-long camp and started taking drum lessons immediately afterwards. Within months, she was ready to join our Rock Band League as the drummer of an all-girl band, and it all started with a summer music camp! For her, I feel confident that she chose the right instrument. She can always learn the piano later on, but the drums got her hooked on music from the start!
Get more music news on Mason Music’s blog.