How and When to Introduce an Instrument to Kids

Playing an instrument has many benefits for kids, from improving academic skills to boosting self-esteem. Learn the right time to start lessons for your budding musician.

Playing an instrument has many benefits for children. Research has shown that it helps improve academic and social skills, promotes discipline, and boosts self-esteem. Plus, playing music can relieve stress and help spur a lifelong appreciation for music. Learn more about how and when to introduce different types of instruments—and cultivate a love for music that lasts 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 wait until around age 5. That's because they must be able to sit and pay attention for half an hour. Older kids are also better able to 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 actually turn your little one off of music. If your child is ready before age 5, you'll know it by their intense interest in watching a relative play piano or routinely asking for a guitar or drums.

Additionally, 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, which can injure baby teeth.

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). Note that these recommendations are for general readiness. Each child's individual development and interest level will mean they may be ready a bit sooner or later.

mother and child playing instruments near sofa
Stephanie Rausser

How to Introduce an Instrument to Kids

There is no one perfect way to introduce an instrument to your child. Your approach should be tailored to your child's needs, interests, and abilities. Kids who can focus for longer and have a natural affinity for music may do better with longer or more rigorous lesson expectations.

Kids who are less excited about learning an instrument may do better with lessons that are more geared toward discovery and fun rather than developing proficiency—at least right away. Try these tips to help engage your child in learning how to play an instrument and develop their curiosity about and enjoyment of music.

Surround them with music

One of the best ways to get your budding musician interested in an instrument is to make music a regular part of their life. When kids are exposed to music, they 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. Using an instrument incorrectly could result in developing bad habits that could lead to hand, back, or neck injuries. Group lessons tend to be more affordable, and provide kids with socialization and a festive environment, whereas 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, or Guitar Tuna. Although these apps and games do not replace real instruction, they offer a great way to experiment with an instrument and 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 times 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

Like many things in life, 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 but also simply for their effort and having fun with music.

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

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  1. Long-Term Impacts of Early Musical Abilities on Academic Achievement: A Longitudinal Study. Journal of Intelligence. 2022.

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