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Is My Child Ready to start an Instrument?

How do you know when your child is ready to learn a musical instrument? Some music teachers are concerned that starting formal lessons too early is a sure way to turn your child off music and some children can find lessons hard to cope with under the age of eight. But before this you can see if they are interested in music by exposing them to different styles.

Take your child to live music where the opportunity arises. Children should recognise numbers and know the alphabet up to G before taking up an instrument. Physical development and age often play a part too.

Top Tips

The recorder is a very common first instrument and good for progression to other wind instruments. It is also increasingly played to concert standard and can be a very rewarding and beautiful instrument when played well. Children can start as soon as their fingers are big enough to cover the holes. Piano can be played as soon as your child can reach the keys and has enough strength to press them down, although their feet may not reach the pedals.

Wind and brass instruments do not normally come in smaller sized equivalents. Where there are smaller sizes (such as the piccolo or soprano saxophone) they are advanced, specialist instruments which play at a higher pitch. Younger brass players would be advised to start with the cornet and progress to different instruments only when they're big enough to handle them - which clearly makes hiring a sensible option.

Stringed instruments often come in smaller sizes for example one-eighth of full size for younger children and can be started at a very early age. Some children can handle a violin from the age of four but a more realistic age to start is probably six. Wind and brass instruments - apart from recorder - should not be played before the child's second set of teeth are through because pressure is put on the teeth when they are played. A child needs to be big enough to hold and blow these instruments.

For woodwind instruments, there is less obvious progression from one to another, though if your child has her heart set on the bassoon, it may make sense either to wait or to start with the oboe, which like the bassoon uses a double reed, and therefore some of the same lip muscles.

Guitars come in smaller sizes and are suitable for children from around eight upwards, depending on the size and stretch of their hands. With singing, you must be careful not to push a young voice too early in case the child strains it. Formal singing lessons are not usually recommended for children until they are in their teens when their voices have become more developed.

Copyright BBC 2002