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Choosing an Instrument

instrument choiceChoosing an Instrument: When, Where, and How to Start

New Student Inquiry Form


Age is probably the first consideration when choosing an instrument.  Starting with an instrument that is physically not manageable could cause your child to lose interest in making music altogether.  Remember that being able to hold an instrument for a minute or two is one thing, but practicing and rehearsals will require the physical stamina to maintain control for at least a half hour at a time. 


Does your child like to do activities on their own such as puzzles or drawing?  Or do they thrive more in group settings such as Lego club or sports?  Are they shy?  Outgoing?  Are they physically active and energetic?  Or are they more drawn to quiet activities? 

Just as most children likely enjoy a wide range of activities to some degree or other, certain instruments compliment certain personalities better than others.  Each instrument group has a certain character that might give clues as to whether your child would be drawn to it or not.  While we list some generalities below, these are very broad, and if your child expresses interest in a certain instrument, by all means, go with that! 

Try it out

BMS holds Instrument Petting Zoos at regular intervals during the year that are excellent opportunities to have your child get hands-on experience with instruments guided by a faculty member.  You can also take your child to a local music store and most have instruments available for in-store demonstrations. 



Piano Age Personality
Group 4-5 and often 6

The piano is always an excellent choice as a foundation instrument, and an understanding of the piano develops musical skills that are easily transferable to other instruments.  Piano is appealing to a broad range of personalities and can be either a solo or collaborative instrument. 

Private 7+ (and sometimes 6)

Students should enjoy working on their own to some degree, as the piano is largely a solo instrument.  Students need to be at a solid intermediate level before they will be ready to regularly play with others in a group setting. 




Strings Age Personality Listen
Suzuki Violin 4-6

The violin is the smallest instrument in the violin family, and is a popular instrument for young beginners.  Producing a sound and learning to hold the instrument correctly take attention, so young beginners need help from a parent or caregiver to ensure success.

Hear a sample
Violin 7+ Violin is a solo and ensemble instrument, and has the advantage of being portable.  Students play with others in group settings from the beginning, so this is appealing and motivating to children that enjoy a social element.  Violins often play melody lines, the part one would sing along with to a tune.    Hear a sample
Viola 7+

The viola is similar to the violin, but a bit larger, has a lower pitch, and plays on a different clef most of the time.

Hear a sample
Cello 7+

The cello is a low, bass string instrument, played in an upright position sitting down, as opposed to under the neck, as the violin and viola.  In an ensemble, this most often has supporting notes rather than melody (the main tune). 

Hear a sample
Double Bass (String Bass) 9+

The double bass is the largest of the string instruments and has the lowest sounds.  It is played upright and players sit on a stool.  Students often start with cello and move to bass if this instrument appeals to them.  It is versatile in terms of style, so if students are interested in jazz music this might be a good choice. 

Hear a sample




Winds Age Personality Listen
Recorder 4+

Recorders are a good choice for young beginners that enjoy the sound of wind instruments.  Beginner instruments are fairly inexpensive and are portable.  Although many students transition to other wind instruments as they grow older, recorder is not just for beginners and can be taken to the professional level.  Recorders are widely used in early music and can be solo or ensemble instruments. 

Suzuki Flute 4-6

The flute is a popular instrument that can be fairly easy to learn, although it can be difficult to initially get a sound.  Young beginners will need help from a parent or caregiver to support home practice.  Students play both solo and in groups from the beginning. 

Hear a sample
Flute 7+ Flutes have high sounds, usually play melody lines (the part one would sing to), and they are portable.  They are versatile in terms of style and are used in orchestras and bands.  Hear a sample
Oboe 9+

Many students move to oboe from another instrument.  It has a unique tone and tends to be somewhat temperamental, so it fits best for a personality with patience and perseverance.  It is a less popular instrument, which gives students more opportunities for playing in groups when spaces are lmited. 

Hear a sample
Clarinet 9+

Bigger and somewhat heavier, but fairly easy to get a sound on and operate. From the clarinet, many students switch to other instruments, such as bass clarinet, oboe or bassoon.  Clarinet is used extensively in classical, jass and pop styles, and has a warm, rich sound. 

Hear a sample
Bassoon 9+

The bassoon has a wide range distinctive tone, and unique character.  Like the oboe, it is one that students often move to after a foundation from another instrument.  Students spend quite a bit of time making reeds, so it fits a personality with patience and perseverance. 

Hear a sample
Saxophone 9+

Sax is used in many forms of music, from concert band, to jazz, pop and rock-n-roll. It comes in many different sizes and shapes, from soprano through contrabass. These different versions are intended to play in different registers and not based on the size of the performer.





Brass Age Personality Listen
Trumpet 9+

The trumpet is a popular instrument and used in concert bands, marching bands, and jazz bands.  It is portable and has a bright sound.  If students like the sound of brass instruments, trumpet is a good choice to start. 

Hear a sample
French horn 9+ French horn is a bit more difficult to master, so students often move to this after learning the basics on trumpet.  It has a beautiful warm tone and is used in orchestras and bands.     Hear a sample
Trombone 9+ Trombone is a particularly good choice for students interested in jazz band.  It plays lower sounds than the trumpet and operates with a slide valve.  
Baritone/Euphonium  9+  Baritone and euphonium are very similar and are both standard band instruments.  The weight of these instruments is substantial, so students need to be a good size before starting.   
Tuba  9+ Tuba is the bass voice in the band or orchestra – and a polka band wouldn’t the same without one.  The instrument is held in the lap in an orchestra or on the shoulder in a marching band.  Because of the size and weight of the instrument, students should be a good size themselves before starting.  Students often start with baritone/euphonium and move to tuba later.   Hear a sample




Percussion Age Personality Listen
Drum Set 7+

Parents will be relieved to discover that students can start lessons without investing in a full drum set right away. Many start with just a pair of sticks, and there are pads and electronic kits available too for home practice if it’s not practical to have a complete drum set in your house or apartment. 

& Marimba
7+ Percussionists learn an assortment of instruments besides the drum set one usually thinks of first. These include a variety of hand drums, bells, rattles, shakers and whistles. Mallet instruments include the marimba, vibraphone and xylophone. Hear a sample




Guitar Age Personality
Acoustic 8+

Playing the guitar requires a fair amount of pressure to hold down the strings, so even if younger students are able to get their arms around a smaller instrument they often find it difficult to manipulate.  Both electric and acoustic guitars are very popular and it doesn’t take too much time to learn to play a song compared to some other instruments.  Students can also maintain progress with somewhat less practice time than piano or an orchestral instrument. 

Electric 8+

Students can begin on either an electric or acoustic guitar. Both use the same tuning, have the same number of strings and are learned in a similar way, so the choice is the student’s. Some have said they find the electric to be a bit more comfortable to learn because the string gauge is a little thinner and the strings a bit closer to the neck of the instrument.




Voice Age Personality
Classical 12+

With other instruments a blister on a finger or sore muscle from holding it in place is about the most trouble you can have. Singing incorrectly, however, can actually cause a callus on the vocal cords. Called a “node,” this can make the voice sound constantly gruff and make singing well almost impossible – as well as requiring prolonged silence to cure.

Starting private lessons before age 12 greatly increases the risk of damage to the instrument, so our teachers recommend group voice classes for students younger than that, and piano skills are always a valuable foundation as well. 

Pop/Jazz 12+ The pop/jazz styles often place more strain on the vocal cords, so teachers recommend at least two years of classical training before moving to formal study in these styles. 




Other Age Personality Listen
Accordion 7+

You can play any style of music on the accordion, and it is a portable instrument that doesn’t take up too much space.  The accordion, like piano and guitar, is an instrument that can play melody, harmony and bass all by itself. 

Banjo  8+  Banjo is one of the staples of American folk music, and they are less expensive than guitars.  If students are interested in Americana and folk music, this is a good choice.   
Dulcimer  7+ Renewed interest in folk music has awakened the interest of hobbyists and musicians in dulcimers. The instrument is easier to play than more sophisticated instruments that require long hours of training and practice. Dulcimer-making kits are available from a number of suppliers.  
Harpsichord 7+ Harpsichord is the forerunner to the piano, and the strings are plucked instead of struck by hammers.  It has a lively jangly sound and students that enjoy Baroque music particularly would enjoy this instrument.  
Harmonica 4+ The harmonica is easy to learn, fun to play, and easy to carry.  This can be a fun instrument for young children to explore.   
Harp  7+  Harp is a beautiful instrument both in sound and appearance.  Drawbacks are that the instrument is large and hard to transport, but mastering this instrument is well worth the trouble.  Hear a sample
Music Technology 7+ While not technically an instrument, many students enjoy learning the basics of creating and recording music using today’s easily accessible technology.