I started playing piano at the age of seven and guitar at the age of twelve. In the 20 plus years since I have learned to play over a dozen more instruments, played in numerous bands and have received a bachelor’s degree in music. Music is essentially my life and my passion, so when my daughter joined us a few years ago the first thing I wanted to do was share my love of music with her. The problem I've found is that most of the instruments out there aren't really "instruments". If you go to Toy R US, Walmart, Target or any of those big box stores, it seems there idea of musical instruments for kids are, well…. toys. Sure they may look nice and that super low price can be extremely tempting, but what good is a guitar to begin learning on if it’s not going to stay in tune? We’ve heard these stories about famous musicians who learned on a broom stick, but that’s all a bunch of junk. A good instrument is essentially to learning to play and most of those stores do not stock quality. On the flip side the gigantic Music Stores like Guitar Center and others can be daunting, especially if you’re not a musician. And sometimes the high pressure sales people can often times push you towards purchasing things that aren’t much better than those big box stores to start with.
So basically my whole point here is to give you some suggestions as someone who has played music his entire life, has kids of his own, and can give you a little insight into what I would get for a child just starting off, and in some cases actually tell you what I got my own.
For me Piano is a great starter instrument . Unlike brass or woodwind instruments, it doesn’t require a reed or breathe control. And unlike guitar it doesn’t require you to push down on strings, which can hurt your fingers. Piano is pretty easy, you literally just hit the keys to make sounds. It’s really a great instrument for the really young kids because at first they’re not going to know how to play a Gmin7 chord, they’re just going to have a fun time making musical noise. Cacophony
Another nice thing about piano as a first instrument is that you don’t have to invest a lot of money. Sure a quality Steinway Grand Piano could run you in the tens of thousands of dollars, but really anything in the $100+ range usually is good enough to start. The light up keyboards can be sort of gimmicky, but they’re no better or worse than the ones that don’t light up. Until you get into full size, 88 key, pianos with weighted keys that mimic a real piano, or synth’s with lots of pro grade sounds, just about any keyboard is going to work.
Drums are a great starter instruments as well. When it gets right down to it, much like the piano, kids like to hit things. One of the first things I got my daughter was a pair of really good Drumsticks . Sure you can go all out and get a drum kit, (make sure it’s one that comes with cymbals if you’re just starting as a lot of good ones don’t) but a good pair of sticks is easy because they can just hit things. A pillow, a couch, maybe someone you don’t like. Sticks are great because you just hit and work on different rhythms.
As for Guitars for a first instrument for kids, first of all, Please, for the love of god, stay away from those Esteban Guitars or things they sell on the Home shopping network. I actually have an entire page on my website dedicated to just guitar ideas for beginners. I’ve played many of those and they are no better than the plastic guitars you get at Toys R US. Trust me, they look tempting, but stay away. Honestly I’m not sure I would recommend teaching guitar to a really young child. Strings can be very tough to push down for really young children and most of the smaller guitars aren’t that great. The Ibanez Mikro guitars are pretty good, but beyond that… wait till they’re a little bigger.
If they are a bit bigger, maybe older than 7ish, look into getting a decent quality instrument. Again, if it’s Target or Walmart or any of those places, stay away. Again, check out my page dedicated to guitars for beginners, but in the end buy the best you can afford. You won’t be sorry.
As for other instruments for kids to begin playing? I honestly wouldn’t recommend any woodwind or brass instruments like flute, clarinet, saxophone, etc. In those cases any decent instrument is going to be way out of the price range of the beginner. Most school music programs rent instruments at first, so if your child is interested in those I would definitely wait till they can join the band in school. Unless you have money to burn, and/or already a musician yourself and know about them, I would stay away. A $100 flute might as well be a drum stick. Not worth wasting your time or money.
The latest instrument I got my daughter was a Ukulele. They make some great ones for kids and they actually play pretty well. (I play it myself all the time) The strings are very light and easy to press. In fact you can play some basic chords with only pressing down one string. They’re very small instruments, easy to strum and easy to fret.
So in the end, whether you’re looking to get a Christmas or Birthday gift, or just looking to get your kids started in the world of music I just hope I helped a little bit.