Do you wonder if you might have a virtuoso or prodigy in your home? Perhaps your child has expressed an interest in taking up a musical hobby and you’re unsure whether it’s the right time to begin.
If so, you may be wondering what is the best age to learn an instrument. This will depend on the instrument and the individual. But it’s possible to begin at a very basic level from at a very early stage, provided the right sizing adjustments are made.
In this article, we’ll take a detailed look at the most commonly played instruments. Find out which might be right for you – or your child – and what the optimum age is to get started.
What is the best age to learn an instrument?
Learning an instrument is a fantastic life choice. Did you know it makes you more intelligent, happier, and even healthier? This is because it requires a level of cognition and multi-tasking, simultaneously developing planning, mathematical and language skills while reducing anxiety and boosting memory function.
These benefits apply at any age or stage of life. Musical instruments are used in nurseries and schools, but also in nursing homes. However, there are some parameters to work within when it comes to deciding what and when you should play. Your purpose for learning is also relevant. If it’s just for fun, almost any instrument at any stage is a possibility.
When should my child learn an instrument?
Providing your child with the opportunity to learn an instrument is an excellent gift as a parent. In a tech-focussed world, where reducing screen time is becoming increasingly crucial for young people, non-digital hobbies are more important than ever. Nothing is ever lost when learning an instrument (other than any fees for tuition and instruments and remember that the latter can always be sold on).
So it’s more a case of when can a child start to learn a specific instrument, rather than when they should. If you’ve already started them on lessons at a young age and they’ve started to show resistance, it can be helpful to give them a break for a few months before trying again. Or consider switching to a different instrument.
What age should you start learning an instrument?
Take a look at some of history’s most famous musicians and you’ll see that many of them began playing between the ages of five and ten. This success may be down to the fact that they displayed a strong work ethic and can-do attitude from a young age, as opposed to simply long-standing technical know-how. So it also follows that a child who learns half-heartedly from primary age, will probably not do as well as an older learner who has passion and drive. The ideal scenario is where the individual has both.
Too often those from more deprived backgrounds have been precluded from learning an instrument due to purchase and coaching costs. However, there are now many schemes, including Arts Council Funding, to help those struggling to afford it. So if you’re worried about how you’ll pay for your child to learn, do check out the available schemes. There are also cheaper ways to go about it than funding music tuition, such as school instrument loans and taking lessons from an early stage music student.
What instrument should a child learn first?
Perhaps you’d like your child to take up several instruments. Once they understand the principles of music, via their first instrument, adding more to their arsenal will be easier than starting from scratch. All musicians began with something, but what should that be? There are a few factors that will dictate which instrument a child should learn first. These are:
- The physical size of the child
- Their current level of motor skills
- The time they can currently focus and concentrate
- Whether they can read
- Your budget for instrument and lessons
- The space you have to keep and store the practice instrument
- The type of music genre and instrument they display an interest in
Instruments by age
Making this decision can be tough, particularly when there’s a financial outlay involved. But if you’ve taken into account the factors we’ve outlined above and have compared them with the demands and practicalities of the various instruments, it will be much easier. Here’s a rundown of the most prolific instrument types with a guide to any limits on learner age, cost and size.
The best age to learn piano
With this instrument, it’s all about the fives. The test for whether your child can learn to play the piano is whether they can place five fingers on five adjacent white keys. If they’re too small for this, they won’t be able to have lessons. Additionally, they must be able to wiggle each finger individually and place three on three black keys at once. Usually, this is possible from around the age of five. However, you can still allow them to familiarise themselves with it and play around before this. It builds a sense of musicality and comfort with the instrument. An ability to read is also required for serious piano lessons.
The piano can be learned at any age, however, it’s much much easier to start with this one at a young age. Aim to start lessons between six and eight years if at all possible. Pianos are generally large and cumbersome, which won’t suit all home setups. However, a more portable keyboard option – while still relatively large – is more manageable. The piano is an excellent instrument for budding songwriters and singers wanting to self-accompany. And it will work for them whatever genre of music they decide to play in the future.
The best age to learn guitar or ukelele
Strings prove hugely popular with all ages, but it’s common for people to take them up later in life. The uke has seen a resurgence in popularity, with adult classes popping up in cities and towns across the country. Guitars have an enduring ‘cool’ factor – be they acoustic, electric or bass. For this reason, it is a fantastic instrument for teens. As basic chords can be learned quickly, there’s also a quick sense of satisfaction, which suits those who may struggle to stay focussed and committed.
To start, you (or your child if they’re the learner) will need to be able to comfortably hold and operate a guitar – be it full, half or thee quarter-sized. Strings can be painful on younger, soft skin, so a plectrum is recommended. In terms of dexterity, if they can tie a bow, they should be able to manage the fret. Guitars and ukeleles are portable, require limited storage (you can mount them on walls if space is at a premium), versatile and entry-level models can be purchased very cheaply.
If you don’t fancy the guitar or uke, you might like to start with a banjo or mandolin – many of the core skills crossover, so once you’ve learned on it’ll be easy to move across to another. Like the piano, this is a great choice for singers and songwriters. While the guitar is better suited to rock, indie and pop, classical guitars are an option too.
The best age to learn violin
This may also be a stringed instrument, but it’s a world away from the guitar in terms of sound, suitable genres and style. The violin carries a great deal of kudos and class but is a challenging instrument that’s far from easy on the ear in the early stages of learning. Be sure that the pupil will be able to focus for at least ten minutes, before this, teaching will be tricky.
A violin requires the dexterity for both the bow and strings. A good test of suitability for this is whether they can write with a pencil yet. This may be as young as three. Larger stringed instruments such as the cello and double bass may come a little later, as their sheer size requires a certain level of physical development. While violin prices vary enormously, an entry-level model can be purchased for under £50 and won’t take up much cupboard space.
Check if your child can understand the movement of notes up and down and whether they can follow basic instructions with up to three steps. Usually, this will all be in place between seven and nine, meaning this is the ideal range to learn, certainly if they’re to have the possibility of a professional career playing the violin. This instrument can be used in some pop songs, but it is generally synonymous with classical genres.
The best age to learn tabla and drums
Percussion is usually the first instrument a child will encounter. Drums, tambourines and bongos are all frequently found in pre-school environments. Many kids will pick upbeat and rhythm naturally, by ear and may not even need lessons. If you’d like to start them on some coaching super young, a drum or tabla is a possibility from the age of just two. Opting for a group class or workshop is much easier with percussion and cuts down on fee costs. A formal one-hour group class will be ideally suitable for those from five upwards.
While it’s great to learn drums young, this is an instrumental genre that is frequently not explored until later on into teens or adulthood. And a late start is unlikely to preclude you from a professional career. Dave Grohl, frontman for the Foo Fighters taught himself to play the drums in the latter part of high school, having already taught himself guitar as a kid. Karen Carpenter, perhaps history’s most famous female singer-drummer, also learned to play while at high school. So often, teens can be the most exciting and relevant time to begin working with a full drum kit – especially if you have aspirations to join a band.
You may assume that a drum kit would be both noisy and bulky. However, electronic practice sets are much smaller, affordable and come with headphones. Drums are not helpful for vocalists wanting to fully accompany themselves, or those seeking to write melodic toplines. Percussionists can go on to specialise in any genre of music.
The best age to learn woodwind
Early primary-aged learners will struggle with some of the more advanced instruments within this category but can get to grips with a simple recorder. They can then move onto a flute, clarinet, or alto saxophone from the age of around 10. Joining a band will often be a catalyst for learning a woodwind or brass instrument. But it should be noted that these are not going to be useful accompanying instruments for singers and they tend to be played in orchestral or jazz genres. Nonetheless, many singers include them in their use of different instruments.
So we’ve established that while age is not the only factor in what and when you learn to play, it is a consideration. Above all, a passion for music will continue to drive a person to push past any frustrations and the inevitably tedious practice sessions. The ability to play and sing is a fantastic combination that can also pave the way to songwriting. Look for a great teacher who will encourage and inspire your child and you’ll equip them with a wonderful life skill.
- What is the best musical instrument for 5-year-old to learn?
A 5-year-old can choose from a wide range of instruments, although will need a smaller model if playing strings. It may be worth trying your child with a few different options to see which they’re drawn to. As the piano is especially versatile and suitable for all ages, it’s a good starting point.
- What is the easiest instrument for a child to learn?
The recorder is easy to pick up and inexpensive. If you’re unsure if your child is going to enjoy music lessons, but you would like to try them out on something, this can be a good place to start. It is, however, less rewarding than more dynamic instruments. Basic percussion is also an easy option.
- What is the best musical instrument for brain development?
Did you know that singing and playing is excellent for brain health and development? Any will be beneficial, but some studies have shown that the piano is especially good for the grey matter. It builds excellent dexterity both physical and mental and improves memory, helping to ward off dementia.
What do you think is the best age to learn an instrument? How old were you when you first began to play and what did you take up? Let us know about your experiences and how you found learning a new skill at that stage of life.