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What Musical Instrument Should My Child Play?

how to help your child choose the instrument that's right for them

So you’ve decided to nurture the budding musician inside your child, or maybe your kiddo up and chose band as an elective. Now what? The next step—choosing an instrument—might look like a giant question mark right now. With so many choices, how does your child decide what instrument they would be best at or enjoy the most?

While kids are often encouraged to play any instrument they choose, Andre Yanniello, co-owner of Williamson Music 1st in Plano, says some instrument pairings are discouraged.

“Students that are not well-matched with their instruments, they’ll quit early because they’ve not achieved a level of success that they want,” he explains.

So how do you find a good match?

The Right Fit 

Yanniello says a child’s physical characteristics are factors when it comes to guiding your child to the right instrument.

“If they have really thin lips, then they’re most likely to be really successful on the trumpet or the French horn,” he says, whereas a child with thicker, rounder lips would be better suited to a low brass instrument like the trombone, baritone or tuba.

Size also matters—at least to an extent. While some instruments such as tubas come in different sizes to accommodate different body types, small-framed players tend to have a harder time holding up large instruments, Yanniello says.

He adds that finger dexterity contributes too. If your child can alternate tapping their fingers to their thumb repeatedly with ease, then they’re a potential candidate for woodwind instruments such as the flute; brass instruments (most of which have only three valves) are better for shorter fingers and average finger flexibility.

One instrument that kids, especially beginners, generally do well on is the piano, says Vicki Gray, owner of Gray School of Music in Dallas. “There is a seven-, eight-key piano—we have one of those at our school—which the little kids just love to play on,” she explains, “because the keys are not as big and the octaves are not as wide.”

Still, space has to factor into the decision for some families, especially with large instruments.

“Some people really don’t have the room for a piano, so then they might choose the violin or guitar for that reason,” Gray says, mentioning digital keyboards as a way to save space and money.

Laura Glidden, a local lesson manager for Music & Arts, reveals that strings such as the popular violin are also good for little musicians due to their adaptability. “Strings are a really great option for a student or really any age because like a guitar, they make them in all different sizes,” she says.

The Intangibles 

Yanniello shares that in orchestras, the bassoon and oboe sections are often small, owing to their playing difficulty and intimidating appearance. The most difficult instrument a child will ever play, however, is their first instrument, says David Boswell, co-owner of Music Go Round in Fort Worth.

And your child’s gender? Turns out it isn’t important.

“I don’t really find a lot of sexism in instruments,” Boswell says. “I think you have musicians who play any instruments.” The flute has often been associated with female musicians and bigger instruments with males, but Boswell attributes this way of thinking to old-fashioned societal norms.

Yanniello agrees. “We really try to break down the gender specifics on those to encourage students to play whatever they like,” he says.

Outside of physical characteristics, there are several elements that influence which instruments kids are naturally drawn to. For example, if you or a close relative owns an instrument at home, then that exposure could spark a desire in your child to play that instrument, says Gray. “But a lot of it is the mindset of the child,” she adds. What music your child listens to on the radio (or anywhere else) can impact their taste in music and instruments.

Sure, there are technical considerations to mull over, but in the end, experts recommend encouraging your child to play whichever instrument interests them the most—that’s what’ll have the most staying power.

“What inspires your kids?” says Glidden. “What do they get excited about? What motivates them? Because that’s what they’re going to be drawn to.”

Try & Buy

The last—and arguably the most crucial—aspect of choosing an instrument is the question of renting or buying.

“It’s always the most cost effective to work with the music company to rent the instrument in at least the first year,” explains Andre Yanniello, co-owner of Williamson Music 1st in Plano, “because most instruments, like cars, as soon as you drive them out a lot, they begin to decrease the value.”

One option is renting to own, which allows you to put your rental payments toward the full cost of the instrument until your child is the proud new owner. But according to Laura Glidden, a local lesson manager for Music & Arts, if your child is fully committed to playing their instrument, buying instead of renting saves money in the long run.

Touch and try out instruments at these local events:

The Dallas Symphony Orchestra hosts instrument petting zoos in the Meyerson Symphony Center lobby before every family concert. Your child can try a variety of instruments on Dec. 7, 2019, at the Family Christmas Pops (tickets from $59) and May 30, 2020, at Presto Mambo (tickets from $10). The instrument petting zoo starts at 10am, one hour before each show.
2301 Flora St., Dallas; 214/849-4376; mydso.com 

The Dallas Zoo and the Dallas Winds are collaborating for a concert on Jan. 14, 2020, featuring The Carnival of the Animals by Camille Saint-Saëns and Scott McAllister’s Flight of the Elephant. The concert begins at 7:30pm and, kids can join in the fun with an instrument petting zoo from 6:30–7:15pm and during intermission. Tickets from $27. Email todd@dallaswinds.org for more information.
2301 Flora St., Dallas; 21/565-9463; dallaswinds.org

After a family concert First United Methodist Church in Richardson on Nov. 2, the Richardson Symphony Orchestra will hold an instrument petting zoo from 3–3:30pm. The concert starts at 2pm. Tickets are $10.
503 N. Central Expressway, Richardson; 972/234-4195; richardsonsymphony.org 

Like past Family Series concerts, the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra’s Halloween Spooktacular on Oct. 26 will include an instrument petting zoo. Tickets for the Bass Hall event are $22 for adults and $11 for kids.
525 Commerce St., Fort Worth; 817/665-6000; fwsymphony.org 

Kids 8–14 can try out tubas, saxophones and more when music students from the University of North Texas bring instruments to Denton’s North Branch Library on Oct. 5. The instrument petting zoo starts at 2:30pm; free.
3020 N. Locust St., Denton; 940/349-8761; dentonlibrary.com

Then put your money where your mouthpiece is at these music stores:

Guitar Center offers a wide range of band and orchestra instruments online for your child to choose from, but hopeful players can try out guitars, banjos, drums and keyboards in store.
2610 W. University Drive, Suite 1210, Denton; 940/382-2317; guitarcenter.com

Murphy’s Music Center sells both new and used instruments to fit your budget. Kids can try their hand at a guitar, keyboard or ukulele.
940 W. Airport Freeway, Irving; 972/554-6030; murphys-music.com

The Music Store offers rentals for aspiring musicians interested in the flute, trumpet, trombone, clarinet or saxophone. If your child loves their instrument, they can be the new owner through the store’s rent-to-own program. While not for rent, guitars are available too.
1311 Marketplace Drive, Suite 110, Garland; 972/686-2263; themusicstore.cc

Brook Mays Music has everything your child needs to get started: instruments (for purchase or rent), supplies and accessories.
5756 Lyndon B. Johnson Freeway, Dallas; 972/233-9633
6921 Independence Parkway, Suite 120, Plano; 972/618-3222

Used, high-quality marching instruments can be found at The Band Connection, along with supplies such as method books. Rentals range from $20–$38 per month.
1210 W. McDermott Drive, Suite 105, Allen; 214/383-4885; band-connection.com 

Bell’s Music Shop Inc. offers a wide selection of instruments from many brands for your future musician. Staff will help your child pick out an instrument to rent or buy.
536B Keller Parkway, Keller; 817/337-7900; bellsmusicshop.com

Kid musicians can try out instruments at Music Go Round, where you can find used instruments and gear in great working condition. Band instruments come in many brands, including Yamaha and Jupiter.
6006 Southwest Blvd., Fort Worth; 817/763-8188; musicgoroundfortworth.com 

Find an eclectic range of instruments and accessories as well as private lessons at Music & Arts. Instruments from woodwinds to guitars are available for rent or purchase.
360 E. FM 3040, Suite 820, Lewisville; 972/315-8400; musicarts.com 

Band and orchestra players just starting out can buy or rent instruments at Williamson Music 1st and look online for instruction videos. Kids can even try out instruments in store, as long as they bring a mouthpiece.
558 SW Wilshire Blvd., Burleson; 817/953-2396
2100 Greenwood Drive, Suite 100, Southlake; 817/421-7608
6807 Main St., Frisco; 469/362-7171
701 E. Plano Parkway, Suite 100, Plano; 972/516-1331

Image courtesy of Music & Arts.