Choices, Choices: Helping your child choose an instrument
Sometimes a child expresses an interest in music or is ambivalent toward which instrument
to choose. On occasion it is the parent that has the stronger idea that it would be good
for the child to learn an instrument. The child is agreeable, but is unsure which instrument
to give a try.
Winds or Strings?
We have two broad categories of instruments to narrow down first - winds and strings (I'll talk about percussion later). The primary mechanical difference, of course, is that you play stringed instruments using your arms, fingers, etc, and play wind instruments using your lungs, lips, etc. I often ask parents if they recall if the child was the type of toddler that liked putting everything in his/her mouth or would rather touch everything. I don't know if any studies have been done, but I wonder if any pattern here belies an underlying affinity for the primary means of approaching the world (a writer or a talker?)? I could elaborate, but I'm sure you get the picture!
If you haven't already, please read my article on 'Starting an Instrument'. I discuss further considerations of different instruments. Most notably, implications of school participation.
High or Low?
Another useful way of dividing up instruments is by their range of pitch. Higher pitched instruments would include the violin, flute, and trumpet. Mid-ranged instruments include the viola, clarinet, saxophone and French horn. Low instruments include cello, bass and trombone. Of course there is considerable overlap of ranges here, and other instruments to consider. For many of the wind instruments there are different variations of the instrument, such as E-flat clarinet and bass clarinet, however, in this example your child would start on the standard B-flat clarinet.
I have had children come up to me and say the sound of the violin hurt their ears. Now the question is whether they heard a very bad violinist or someone playing a very bad violin, or whether high pitches actually hurt their ears. I find the latter case does occur, so it is important to pay attention to what your child says. Some people are really sensitive to high pitches. Whatever the case, many kids will readily tell you whether they like the higher or the lower sounding instruments. I'm always amazed that so many kids actually have a rather definite opinion at such a young age.
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