How to Choose Which Musical Instrument to Play


Before I go on, let’s get one thing straight:

Everyone is capable of playing an instrument at a proficient level with the right support and mindful practice.

Therefore, the first step is the most crucial:  picking an instrument that suits your child’s identity and personality, and picking one that they want to play (hopefully for a long time!).

While that sounds like serious business, also remember that students change instruments all the time; this is not exactly “do-or-die” here…yet.  Anyone is allowed to change their mind (just not too much).

Students Must Actively Be Involved in the Process

Many schools deal with the instrument choice issue differently.  When the decision is made to start a instrument (anytime between kindergarten and twelfth grade), the most important thing is to have the student be involved in the process. The second most important thing is to be aware of the many instruments available for the child to learn to play. Not only should a parent and student learn about the different instruments prior to making a decision, but the child should handle and play several instruments.

It is crucial that your child start by playing an instrument that they are excited about learning. Many students already think they know what type of instrument they want to play, but their decision may not be as educated as one might think.  After all, if you ask most kids what instrument they want to play at a young age, they will usually say “sax” or “drums”!  Those instruments are more prominently featured in our culture, in general.  Your child may not even know what an oboe or a french horn is yet!

Some of the more not-so-ideal situations occur when one teacher demonstrates all of the instruments to the students.  Being that the teacher probably specializes in only one instrument (maybe two), the likelihood of students hearing an instrument played at its best is very small.

No one can make an educated decision about the instrument that they want to study without hearing it played beautifully!

Students need to hear instruments played to its absolute full potential with the most beautiful sound in the world, both while choosing it and also during their weekly study.  This can happen in one of a few ways:

  • going to a live concert
  • attending an instrument “petting zoo” where students can try out each instrument and hear each of them played by professionals, hosted by a local music store (if your local store doesn’t do this yet, ask them to….they will probably think it’s a great idea!).
  • signing on to YouTube to check out performances (there is a lot of garbage on there, too.  Make sure you surf around a bit)
  • going to a local college and watch a band/orchestra performance

This is just flat out funny.


Size of child/instrument matters
One of the biggest reasons students quit playing their instrument is unnecessary frustration.  Instruments are challenging enough to play to begin with, so any physical limitations that could be avoided should be considered ahead of time. Consider these points:

  • A youngster who lacks fine motor coordination may struggle with a violin but manage an alto saxophone more easily. But a tenor sax or bari sax for a smaller person may be too much, too soon. The young saxophonist is advised to begin with the alto instrument before moving to larger instruments.
  • The weight and finger or arm stretch of tuba, trombone and bassoon are daunting and uncomfortable to smaller physiques.
  • A young girl’s clarinet may squeak a lot if her fingers are extremely skinny and cannot cover the holes well enough. Without knowing this in advance, she may get frustrated and quit.  She would manage much better with the covered holes found on flutes and saxophones.

Playing an incompatible instrument can cause tension leading to fatigue, frustration and quitting. Tests are available through some music shops and schools to assess a student’s suitability to the instrument of choice. I strongly advise parents to look into this to the best of their ability before paying money for an instrument.

That said, if a student really loves a particular instrument’s sound, you need to go with that.  The other incompatibilities can be overcome with mindful practice.

Sax and Drums

There is nothing at all wrong with wanting to play sax and drums, but please remember this:

  • If you start on flute or clarinet, there is a good chance that sax will seem easy in comparison later…then you will be able to play 2 instruments!
  • Drums, when you begin, does not mean drum SET…it is usually snare and bass drum (especially in a school setting).  Make sure you watch some videos of percussionists in bands and orchestras and point this out.  It is very different than playing drum set in a rock band!  Percussion instruction includes playing mallet instruments (xylophone, marimba), so make sure there might be an interest there as well.

The most important factor in choosing an instrument is that the student WANTS to learn how to play it and is excited about doing so.

Some neat websites to help you choose a musical instrument:

Musical Instrument Choices

Choosing an instrument by personality :  Please note that I do not agree with everything written in this article, but it is interesting.


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