How to Choose the Right Instrument for Your Child

Many studies have shown that learning to play an instrument has powerful cognitive benefits, but does the instrument a child chooses to play impact the benefits he reaps from the activity? While no instrument on its own is better than any other, in some cases the answer to this question is yes.

According to a CNN story featuring Ron Chenoweth, a band and orchestra division manager for Ken Stanton Music, the success a child experiences while learning to play music can impact his decision to stick with the activity.

“My first thing is you have to get them onto an instrument that they first are interested in because if there’s little interest in playing it, there will be the same amount of success – very little,” Chenoweth said.

Once you have a list of instruments that appeal to your child, Chenoweth recommends taking into consideration two important things: personality and body type. Doing so will set your child up for success with the instrument, increasing his odds of enjoying the activity and reaping the cognitive benefits of making music.

Certain instruments, such as the flute, saxophone, and trumpet, are frequently featured in melody and solo lines. They often make a great fit for extroverted children who exhibit leadership qualities.

Physical characteristics can also play a role in your child’s success with an instrument. It’s naturally going to be more challenging for smaller children to play tall or bulky instruments, such as the bassoon or tuba. Likewise, children with long fingers and large hands are physically built to be more successful on the piano than children with short fingers that struggle to span the keys. The violin, on the other hand, is a great instrument for almost any child because they can be manufactured in a variety of sizes to suit a child’s unique build.

Other physical characteristics to consider when helping your child choose a band instrument include lip size and finger dexterity. Smaller lips tend to be a better fit for high brass instruments, while larger lips are better suited for brass instruments in the lower range. Music written for the upper woodwinds often contains quick-moving passages, which require players to have nimble fingers that can easily manipulate the keys.

According to Dr. Nina Kraus, director of Northwestern University’s Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory, the act of playing music versus just listening to it is what makes the cognitive difference for kids.

“The same biological ingredients that are important for reading are those that are strengthened through playing a musical instrument,” said Kraus, whose research regarding the impact of music training on a child’s cognitive development has been published in more than 200 journals and media publications.

“It’s not just about your child becoming a violinist,” she said. “It’s about setting up your child to be a more effective learner for all kinds of things.”

As a result, she acknowledges the importance of children having a say in the type of music and instruments they learn to play.

“I think parents should follow their intuitions with respect to keeping their children engaged,” Kraus told TIME Magazine. “Find the kind of music they love, good teachers, an instrument they’ll like. Making music should be something that children enjoy and will want to keep doing for many years!”

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