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Choosing a First Instrument - where to start?

By Jim McCutcheon

One important element is the age and size of the child. In general, band instruments are best started in the fifth or sixth grades because instruments such as flutes and clarinets are simply too big for small hands and arms, and those instruments are not available in smaller sizes. Other band instruments, such as the brass family, are physically difficult to play and require a lot of wind which children under the age of 10 or 11 are incapable of producing.

The traditional first instrument for children has been the piano. Pianos are very good for teaching the layout of the notes used in music. They are also very rewarding to play because each note requires a fairly simple movement of only one finger. In contrast, a guitar requires a finger on the left hand to do one thing and a second finger on the right hand to do something different, just to play one note. Woodwind instruments use combinations of fingers along with breath and control of the lips and facial muscles, and just getting a nice note to come out is an achievement for a beginner. On the piano, it is much simpler - youngsters can get one or even two melodies going at the same time, and this is quite a payoff for their beginning efforts!

On the other hand, a dependable, working piano represents a sizable investment of money and floor space in the home. To sound good, it also requires tuning once or twice a year, something which needs to be done by a professional piano technician. It is possible to save some money by renting, but after delivery charges and rental fees for a few months, that amount of money could largely pay for another kind of instrument.


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