Playing an instrument has many benefits for children, ranging from improved academic skills to boosted self-esteem. Learn about the right time to introduce different instruments and how to make your budding musician intersted in playing.

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Playing an instrument has plenty of benefits for a child. Research has shown that it helps improve academic and social skills, promotes discipline, and boosts self-esteem. If you're not sure where to start, check out this guide that explains when to introduce different types of instruments and how to cultivate a love for music that last a lifetime.

What's the Right Age to Start Playing an Instrument? 

If you want to introduce your child to an instrument, it's best to waiting until around age 5. That's because they must be able to sit and pay attention for half an hour and accept that they won't be making music right away. Plus, once your kid hits elementary school, they're developing their own musical tastes, they're physically able to hold most instruments comfortably, and they have the finger strength required to play.

Starting formal lessons too early (when they're likely to get bored and frustrated) can turn your little one off music for good. If your child is ready before age 5, you'll know it by their intense interest in Grandma's piano or Daddy's guitar.

It's also important to remember that different instruments are better studied at different stages. The recorder is a great first instrument that often leads to other wind instruments like the flute and clarinet. Kids can start it as soon as their fingers can cover the holes. Other wind and brass instruments should not be attempted before your child's permanent teeth come in because they put pressure on the teeth when they're played.

Your child can learn piano as soon as they can reach the keys and have the strength and dexterity to push them down. And although some kids can handle a violin at a young age, most experts agree on waiting until around 6 to begin string instruments (most come in smaller sizes for smaller hands).

mother and child playing instruments near sofa
Credit: Stephanie Rausser

How to Introduce an Instrument to Kids

Surround them with music. The best way to get your budding musician interested in an instrument is to make music a regular part of their life. When kids hear music, they start to absorb and learn musical concepts like rhythm, melody, and changes in pitch. Challenge them to make sounds with their voice or with items around the home. If they're interested, offer to get them an instrument. But don't force it. Kids are more likely to stick to music if it's what they want to do rather than something you push on them.

Let them choose. The piano or keyboard, recorder, drums, violin, ukulele (the nylon strings are easier to press than those on a guitar), or a small electric guitar make good choices for early learners. A woodwind or brass instrument can be tricky to play because your child has to hold it up and supply the air to produce a sound. But if your child has their heart set on a flute or a trumpet, let them try.

Find the right teacher. A skilled instructor will ensure your child is learning proper techniques and not developing bad habits that could lead to hand, back, or neck injuries. While group lessons tend to be more affordable and can provide kids with socialization, private lessons offer one-on-one personalized attention that really helps kids build skills. Try the Music Teachers National Association to help you locate an instructor, or ask your child's teacher or your family and friends for recommendations. Virtual music lessons can also be effective if the instructor works directly with your child in real time. Music-learning software, apps, and games can help too. Try NoobNotes, Simply Piano, and Guitar Tuna. Although these apps and games do not replace real instruction, they can be a great supplement to lessons.

Make practice more fun. Most music teachers recommend that kids this age practice for 15 to 30 minutes about five time a week. Set a reminder and make it part of your child's routine. While practice should be serious, look for ways to spice it up. Do a quick Google search for a backing track (like an instrumental) that your child can jam along with to help them feel as if they're playing with a band. A lot of their musical toys may already have these tracks built in. Little drummers can practice on books, or you can use chalk to draw a musical staff in your driveway and have your child jump to notes as you call them. And even air guitar or playing the piano on a paper keyboard helps build muscle memory.

Give encouragement. We actually learn music from our mistakes, so perfection should not be the goal. Provide the vocals, dance, or be their audience. Offer positive feedback like, "I can hear how hard you're working on that chord." Avoid being overly critical, and give your child kudos when they nail that tough song. And if they want to quit early on, talk to them to find out why. They may be bored or struggling, or they don't like the instrument. Your child's teacher could also have some ideas to reignite their interest. If they're not feeling the instrument, allow them to try others. There's nothing wrong with getting a taste for more than one.

Sources: Anna Cucciardo, director of Music Time, in Livermore, California; George Ramsay, cofounder and CEO of Bold Music Lessons, in Charlotte, North Carolina; Karen Thickstun, president of the Music Teachers National Association and director of Butler Community Arts School at Butler University, in Indianapolis