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A Musical Beginning: The Best Musical Instruments for Kids

Toddler playing the guitar

If you are looking for the perfect musical instrument for your child to start on, look for the Casio 46-key portable keyboard, which is a foundational instrument that will help your child transition to another instrument. Also, it helps a child learn notation by showing the notes on a digital display as your little one plays the notes.

The runner-up, the ADM 1/4 Size Handcrafted Solid Wood Student Acoustic Violin Starter Kit is also great for children. It comes with everything your child will need to get started on the violin, including stickers for the fingerboard! These are not toys for babies & toddlers; they are actual instruments that can be used by budding musicians. In fact, the Casio keyboard and the ADM violin starter kit (which can come in 4/4 for adults) are both fine choices for children and adults alike.

After talking to Sammy Ash, founder of a music store chain found nationwide, I combed through more than 200 different musical instruments for kids available for sale online. I also did more than 30 hours of research into the factors that contribute to the proper choosing of children’s musical instruments and the best instrument for beginners.

Finally, I have played seven instruments myself, including keyboard, recorder, lap harp, ocarina, trumpet, baritone, and tuba. Having grown up in a household filled with music and where musical instruments were presented to my siblings and me starting at age four, I feel I am uniquely qualified to research and present this information.

Choosing the Right Instrument for Your Child

According to Dr. Robert A. Cutietta, determining which instrument suits your child’s talents is extremely important to their continued success in the field of music. Another author in the field of music, the LTP Editor –who has written almost fifty articles on music education– notes that there are many advantages to learning music at a young age.

But if you start your child off on the wrong instrument, you could put them off the idea of playing any instrument at all. The key at the younger ages, noted Sammy Ash in a personal interview, is to make the child comfortable with the process of learning. If you can choose the right ones for the children in your family, a lifetime of happy music performance may follow.

Learning music is about communicating, expressing yourself and enjoying yourself. It can promote listening and focusing and improve self-esteem and self-expression. This was true in my own life and has been the case in the life of many children for generations. Among others, the below five factors will affect what instrument you choose for your child.

These factors include age, size, sound and sound production, gender stereotypes, and trial and error. Let’s take a look at each one individually.

How Young is Too Young?

The first factor to consider is age. Under the age of two, the best musical instruments are specially-made toys for babies & toddlers such as little drums, maracas, or toy pianos. Children this young cannot grasp music concept well, so just let them have fun with musical toys for children.

Dr. Cutietta says that if your child is between two and four years, be sure you understand the purpose behind your child learning an instrument at such a young age and recognize the limitations of size and stamina that a very young child has.

The two most common instruments for a child ages four- to six-years-old are keyboard and violin, said Sammy Ash. This is because these instruments help build the foundation of music concept from which your child can choose another instrument later on if they decide they do not want to continue with that instrument.

Also, most brass instruments are not compatible with young children because, Paula Penna says, they require much larger lungs to push the air through all the tubing.

An instrument such as the cornet is small enough that young lungs can sufficiently play it. Two other good starter instruments, said Sammy Ash, are the flute and snare drum. Millions of kids start out on the flute or clarinet, and many more start out on the drum.

How Big is Too Big?

Size and weight of the instrument is the second factor in picking the right instrument for your little one. According to Ruth Bonetti, annoyance and frustration can build up when overly large instruments are given to young children. She also states that playing an instrument inappropriate for the child can cause tension, which will lead to fatigue, frustration, and even muscle strains.

Considering weight, a child may be able to hold up a heavy instrument for a few seconds, but not be able to hold it up for thirty minutes of practice. The low brass instruments and some larger woodwind instruments are especially difficult for a child because of their weight and the reach required to handle them. These instruments include tuba, trombone, saxophone, bassoon, and concert harp.

Some others, however, come in smaller sizes especially intended as musical instruments for kids. For example, the violin comes in six sizes ranging from 4/4 (full-size) to 1/16 (intended for children two to four years old). Finding the right size for your child is imperative since they will not enjoy an instrument if it is too big or bulky.

Is the Sound and Sound Production Appealing?

The third factor to keep in mind is the sound and sound production of the children’s musical instruments. Your child is not going to put effort into playing an instrument well if they do not like the way the sound is made or the sound that is produced, says Dr. Cutietta. If your child absolutely loves the way a recorder sounds and is pleased with covering and uncovering holes to produce music, then let your child try the recorder on for size.

On the other hand, if your child loves the hum of the violin and the feel of a bow in their hand, then perhaps the violin is the perfect instrument for them. The important thing is that they enjoy playing the instrument.

What is Appropriate for Their Gender?

Most people do not want to know that this is a factor. The truth is parents and teachers push stereotypes onto children all the time. Flutes and clarinets, said Sammy Ash, are most commonly played by girls, while boys commonly play trumpets and saxophones. Stereotypes like this are simply part of life and should not worry you as a parent. There are certainly exceptions, but the majority sticks to instruments considered appropriate for their gender.

This is a controversial subject, of course, and some people feel that stereotypes such as these should be broken down. Others do not even notice that the girls gravitate toward flute, clarinet, or harp and the boys toward trumpet, saxophone, or snare drum.

If you are against stereotypes, encourage your child to try instruments that they have not considered and challenge their preconceived notions about the instruments that may or may not be appropriate for them.

Give it a Try

The final factor in choosing a musical instrument for your child is what instrument your kid picks when they do a trial session or learn more about musical instruments. Many music shops and schools will allow your child to come in for a trial session in which they watch as many musical instruments as they want during a particular time period.

For example, Sammy Ash told me that his music stores across the nation will provide a one-hour session before the store opens in which the child can go from department to department and experience what the instruments are like. This is an important step you do not want to skip if you are at all concerned about the cost of children’s musical instruments, which can range from $9 for a recorder to over $400 for a harp.

If you cannot provide a trial session for your child, try visiting the local music store and just looking around. Sometimes, children will see the variety of musical instruments on display and naturally gravitate toward a particular instrument. Otherwise, visiting DSO Kids will give your child a chance to listen to the various instruments that are played in the orchestra.

The Competition

After hours of testing and research, here's the final competition.

ImageInstrumentRatingCurrent Pricing
Casio SA-46
*Top Pick*$39.00
ADM 1/4 Size Violin Starter Kit
Runner UpOut of stock
Yamaha CGS102A Half-Size Classical Guitar Bundle
For Older Children$149.99
Hape Early Melodies Ukulele
Budget Conscious$26.90
Yamaha Recorder
Yamaha YRS-302B Soprano Recorder
Budget Conscious$21.44
Harpsicle Harp
High Quality$439.01
Songbird Ocarinas Six-hole Seedpod Pendant Ocarina
Unique$21.95

Our Recommendation: The Casio SA-46

Casio Keyboard

The most popular instrument for beginners, said Sammy Ash, is the keyboard. A foundational instrument, the Casio SA-46 Key Portable Keyboard is my top choice for a child’s first instrument. One reason for this is because unlike a piano, your child will be able to reach all of the keys on this keyboard. This keyboard is made especially for those little hands with keys that are about half the size of piano keys.

Your child will love the retro green and black color combination, as well as the simple piano to organ change-over switch. With an eight-note polyphony, your child can create harmonies to match the melodies they play. It also has 100 timbres and 50 rhythms to inspire your little one to compose new songs.

Best of all, at 23 inches long and only 2.3 pounds, children can easily carry it with them wherever they go using the molded handle on the back, which is something a piano simply cannot do. Another feature of the keyboard is that your child can plug headphones (included with the keyboard) into it. This means that they can practice anywhere and everywhere without breaking the quiet. It covers about three and a half octaves, so can play many beginner and intermediate songs.

The only drawback to this keyboard is that you have to buy the adapter separately. The Casio ADE95100LU Power Supply is recommended as the best adapter for the job. Even though the adapter comes separately, you will want to buy it because not having to buy batteries all the time is a tremendous help for any parent. If you decide not to buy the adapter, this keyboard can also run on six AA batteries. Fortunately, this keyboard has an automatic shut-off after six minutes to save battery strength or electrical power.

A final excellent feature of this keyboard is that as you play, the musical notes show on a digital display, allowing your child to comprehend that each note can be represented by a corresponding dot on the notation staff.

Runner Up: ADM Student Acoustic Violin Starter Kits

Credit: Amazon.com

Another foundational instrument, where Sammy Ash and I agree, is the violin. A popular instrument, the violin is our runner up for the best instrument for younger children. An excellent violin kit is the ADM 1/4 Size Handcrafted Solid Wood Student Acoustic Violin Starter Kit.

It comes with everything a young child needs to start playing violin, including a shaped foam carrying case with luggage-grade nylon exterior, rosin, digital tuner, fingerboard stickers to help your child learn which strings to press down on and where, polishing cloth, and shoulder rest.

Note that this violin kit is for a 1/4 violin, but it also comes in 4/4, 3/4, 1/2, 1/8, 1/10, and 1/16 for different ages and arm lengths. Available in four colors, this is a hand-crafted violin that produces excellent sound and is pleasing to the eye.

Also, at just 1.2 pounds, a young child can easily hold it up for long periods of time without muscle strain or fatigue. Another great feature of this violin kit is that it has a one-year warranty in case anything goes wrong. Best of all, this violin starter kit is inexpensive, so you do not have to worry about scratches or dings, which are bound to happen in the hands of a young child.

Other Products to Consider:

There are many others to consider when choosing children’s musical instruments. Below are a few of my favorites: guitar, ukulele, recorder, harp, and ocarina.

Yamaha CGS102A Half-Size Classical Guitar Bundle

Credit: Amazon.com

Made specially for the beginner, the Yamaha CGS102A Half-Size Classical Acoustic Guitar is a great first instrument for a child. Thirty-eight inches long, this guitar is half the size of an adult’s guitar, making it perfect for little hands. A little heavy at 5.5 pounds, this musical instrument is best for a seven- or eight-year-old.

Made comfortable by the rosewood fingerboard and nato neck, it is also very sturdy thanks to the spruce top and meranti back and sides. It has a very rich tone and the high quality that people have come to expect out of Yamaha instruments. It comes with a gig bag, tuner, instructional DVD, strings, pick card, and polishing cloth.

Hape Early Melodies Ukulele

Credit: Amazon.com

Playable by toddlers and older kids alike, the Hape Early Melodies Ukulele is an impressive instrument. Easily tuned and strummed, it is a great introduction into the world of music. Made of wood taken from sustainable forests and finished with a non-toxic coating, this ukulele is also one hundred percent safe for children.

Available in red or blue, the Hape ukulele can even be the first instrument for a one-year-old! While this is not a professional ukulele, it is certainly not a junk toy. It produces a great sound and can be strummed along with your child’s favorite songs. At its incredibly low price, you do not have to worry about the child banging it around or breaking it.

Yamaha YRS-302B Soprano Recorder – Baroque 3 Pc.

Credit: Amazon.com

Another great instrument from Yamaha, the Yamaha YRS-302B Soprano Baroque Recorder is a jewel waiting for little hands. Played in the key of C, this is a great little instrument for any child interested in participating in a duet or trio.

With a warm, rich sound and three separate pieces to make tuning a breeze, this recorder is one of my favorite introductory instruments. It has much better quality than the shrieking whistle-like recorders that schools often give out. It comes with a nice carrying case, a cleaning rod, cream for the joints, and an insert that has the fingering chart.

Unfortunately, due to the thin mouthpiece (which makes the recorder easier to play) This instrument gets clogged fairly quickly. However, this is the case with most plastic recorders, so it is not an issue only found in this one. It is lightweight, durable, and simple to play. Your child needs only memorize the fingering, and they will have it down in no time at all.

Harpsicle Harp

Credit: Rees Harps

A diamond in the rough, the harp goes unnoticed by many people. However, it truly is a gem of an instrument. Ideal for beginners and casual adult players alike, the Harpsicle Harp is a beautiful instrument that comes in either natural maple or one of nine colors. Made in the USA, this harp plays in the keys of C and A minor, allowing it to play alongside many other instruments.

If you want it re-tuned in another key, you can do it with the included tuning wrench, but another harp with levers would be more appropriate if your child regularly wants it in another key. If budget is an issue for you, the Harpsicle Harp is perfect because of its low cost compared to many others. Another great feature of this harp is that it comes with strap buttons. These buttons make it easy to add a strap (sold separately) to your child’s harp, helping with balance.

Finally, this all-maple harp comes with a two-year warranty if bought from the Harpsicle website, which comes in handy if anything breaks or the harp is not tuning properly. Perfect for a first instrument, the harp can teach children how to play chords and tune strings, as well as have the usual benefits of teaching note recognition and harmony.

This is an excellent instrument for children of any age. While the most expensive instrument mentioned in this article, it is well worth the extra expense because of its uniqueness if this is what your child wants to play. It also can make your home look more cultured!

Songbird Ocarinas Six-hole Seedpod Pendant Ocarina

Credit: Amazon.com

Let your child take their music wherever they go with a six-hole pendant ocarina! Many pendant ocarinas are made of plastic, but the six-hole seedpod ocarina from Songbird Ocarinas is made of ceramic, giving it a more beautiful tone.

Weighing only 0.3 ounces and with an adjustable necklace, your child of any age will enjoy whistling away on the ocarina, which has been popularly seen in the video game, “Zelda: The Ocarina of Time.” Finished with a lovely midnight black glaze, this is a unique instrument that will teach your child how to finger notes, strengthen their lungs, and improve hand-eye coordination as they play along with the included songbook.

Use the included tutorial to teach your child the basics, and then let them have at it! They’ll be playing in no time and your home will be filled with the sound of music.

Summing it all Up

Learning a musical instrument will help your child with study skills, as well as lessening noise annoyance. You cannot go wrong with choosing any one of the instruments mentioned above since they are all high-quality and are all under $400. But keep in mind that there are over 2,000 different instruments in the world, so do not fret if your child chooses something not included here.

Just remember the factors that make a difference in your and your child’s choices: age, size, sound and sound production, gender stereotypes, and what they like at the trial session. Make sure you do a trial session because it will end up saving you the cost of an instrument if your little one decides they do not like the one they picked after all.

Most importantly, though, give the child in your life a chance to have fun with music and they will go far. Music is a beautiful language understood around the world and will add enjoyment to your child’s life.

Sources

• Cutietta, Robert A. (2003). Helping Your Child Choose the Right Instrument. Retrieved from http://www.pbs.org/parents/education/music-arts/helping-your-child-choose-the-right-instrument/
• Penna, Paula (2010). Choosing an Instrument for Your child. Retrieved from http://musicmakersacademy.com/2010/09/choosing-an-instrument-for-your-child/.
• Bonetti, Ruth (2006). Tips to Choose the Right Instrument for Your Child. Retrieved from http://www.banddirector.com/article/pg-general-education/tips-to-choose-the-right-instrument-for-your-child.
• LTP Editor (2014). What are the Best Kids’ Musical Instruments? Retrieved from http://www.learntoplaymusic.com/blog/kids-musical-instruments-learn/.

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