Why learn an Instrument?

Learning a musical instrument doesn’t necessarily mean that you want to become a professional musician and play a week of sold out shows in Carnegie Hall (though that would be great, send us some tickets if you get there!).

Playing an instrument is a great way to start a lifelong love of music in all its forms. For some children it may be the start of a career in music but it is just as valuable as a way to build self esteem and confidence, meet new friends, learn to appreciate music and develop crossover skills that will help them in other areas of their lives.

Many parents have asked us, "what's the best instrument for my child to learn?" This is a short guide to help you or your children with some of those tricky decisions around choosing and learning a new instrument.


Pre-instrumental for young children

Before your child is old enough to get an instrument and go to lessons, there are a number of ways you can help them on their way to a lifetime of musical fun.

Simple musical activities and games can seem like just a bit of fun but practice at singing and playing at an early age helps children to learn basic musical concepts like rhythm, dynamics and structure.

Exposure to music making at a young age will make it easy to pick up and play instruments when they are ready. These musical concepts are transferable to any instrument.

Before you start spending on expensive instrument tuition here are a few things that will save you time and money.


  • Get them listening

Keep the radio tuned to music stations. Talk radio is of no real benefit to a three year old! Listen to songs you like and sing along (even if you think you can’t sing). Encouraging singing is a great way to get your children started on their musical journey.

  • Nursery rhymes and action songs

Playgroups, nurseries and online resources are full of great songs for young children to start learning and memorising songs.

  • Simple percussion instruments

Triangles, shakers, tambourines and hand drums are all great instruments for young children to explore different musical sounds. If you dont have any instruments, get the pots and pans out and make your own.

  • DabbledooMusic

There are a range of free activities at dabbledoomusic.com that will help you explore the basic musical concepts. Play along with a range of colorful characters and get making some music.



Choosing the best Instrument for your Child

We’ve put together a simple guide to a range of instruments to give you food for thought.First off, here are some things to think about before you choose an instrument.


What style of music do you want to learn?

Some instruments can be used in a range of different styles. Other instruments are more niche. Instruments like the violin, guitar, piano, saxophone, trumpet and flute are found in a wide range of styles from classical to jazz, rock and folk.

Instruments like the bassoon, oboe and french horn are more traditionally played in orchestras (and in demand!) while other instruments are more confined to folk styles like the Irish uillean pipes or the Brazilian berimbau.

Here's master Uilleann Piper Liam O Flynn.


Do you want to learn in a group?

Some instruments are better suited to playing in a group or an ensemble. These are mostly the instruments that generally play with a single voice like trumpets, flutes and violins.

Other instruments like the guitar, piano and harp can play with many voices (polyphonic to be fancy!). These instruments are more suited to solo performance or accompaniment.

Learning an orchestral instrument is a way into ensemble performance with orchestras, brass bands, wind bands and string ensembles. Learning in a group is a great way for children to make friends and enjoy music making with others.

In Ireland we are lucky to have a great tradition of traditional folk music with local groups around the country that cater for all ages, instruments and levels of ability and experience. Folk music in Ireland and in many other countries focuses on social events, festivals and competitions, which are another great way to meet people, travel and learn more music.


Do you want to sing too?

An extra benefit for playing piano or guitar is that you can accompany yourself singing. If you are looking for an instrument to entertain friends at a party, go for one of these.


The Instruments

Here’s our short guide to some of the most popular instruments with pros and cons and some videos to give you a feel for them.

If you know any musicians, they will be happy to give you a more in depth guide to their own instrument. Music people love talking music, just ask.


Brass

Brass instruments are popular in a range of different styles of music from orchestral music and jazz to reggae and soul.

Brass instruments use mouthpieces that require quite physical techniques and stamina, including things like lung capacity that will influence what age children start. Tricky for younger children but worth the effort in the end.


French Horn

The French horn is notoriously difficult instrument to play and is mainly seen in orchestra or brass ensembles. It has some of the most soaring and majestic parts in the orchestral tradition, so worth the effort, if you like it. Take a listen to this amazing version of the Back to the Future theme tune from the Vienna Horns https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jnFl1q0IYTA

French Horn


Trumpet

An instrument that is found across the world in different styles and genres. For beginners there are very reasonably priced options including plastic trumpets!

Trumpets are an important part of an orchestra or brass band but can also be found in jazz, blues, soul and a whole range of popular music styles.

The trumpet has a number of close cousins such as the cornet and flugel horn which have different tones and are commonly found in brass bands.


Saxophone

One of the most accessible of the brass instruments, the sax uses a wooden reed mouthpiece instead of a brass mouthpiece. This makes it a bit simpler for beginners and easier to cross over to certain woodwind instruments.The basic fingering technique is also similar to the recorder which we will come to later.

Here is a video of two jazz masters; Miles Davis on Trumpet and John Coltrane on sax.


Tuba

“Don’t go there” was the advice of my tuba teacher friend! I think that was due to the hour long piece he had just sat through where he played for about five minutes. This can happen to Tuba players in an orchestra but they still have the brass band scene to get more playing in.

The euphonium or tenor horn are great starter instruments from which someone could also progress on to the tuba.


Guitar

The guitar is my first instrument and I have been teaching it for over ten years to all ages. It’s an instrument that can be used for all types of music and it comes in a range of shapes and sizes, from electric guitars to classical guitars.

The guitar has remained a popular instrument for hundreds of years around the world for a number of reasons:

  • it is a great instrument of accompanying songs
  • it can also play melodies
  • Its very portable
  • It’s relatively cheap

There are different types of guitars, each with their own particular style of music associated with them. As a beginner I often recommend starting with a Nylon string guitar because they are easier on the fingers and its easier to get a good cheap one. A cheap steal string guitar can be nasty to play and listen to!

Here's a great example of the guitar as a instrument that can accompany singing and play solos, with the great Peter Green of Fleetwood Mac.

We will be doing a special follow-up on the guitar in the future so stay tuned.


Piano

The most popular instrument to learn mainly due to its versatility in playing a range of styles with different voices, as in, ten fingers making sounds. This means that on the piano you can play chords and melodies at the same time, or complex multilayered pieces that would be impossible on other instruments.

It also has a huge dynamic range, meaning it can be very quiet or very loud, perfect for a concert hall or your living room.

Piano is relativity simple for beginners and not physically demanding.

The keyboard is also a very clear visual system for understanding chord structure, pitch intervals and melodies.

The downside is that pianos are expensive and not at all portable. You could however play and electric keyboard or synthesiser!


Woodwind

The flute and clarinet are probably the most versatile of the orchestral woodwind instruments. They can be found in jazz and folk traditions and are also used in different forms of popular music.

Other instruments like the oboe and bassoon are more niche but are in demand in most orchestra so playing these instruments will make you popular with orchestra managers!

A simple and cheap way to get involved in the world of woodwind is the recorder and it is still a popular instrument in classrooms around the world.


Strings


Double Bass

A huge instruments and difficult to transport but quite versatile. You will find double basses in Jazz, rockabilly, folk, classical and popular music.

Viola

It’s like a bigger version of a violin. The viola plays at a lower register (pitch) so often plays less obvious part in orchestral or string ensembles. Not as versatile as a violin but has some great solo pieces and good viola players are always in demand!

Violin

Probably the most versatile of the orchestral string family. You will find it in all styles of music around the world including many types of folk music. It is the leader of the orchestra because it has a range and quality of sound that makes it perfect for playing the main parts of all your favourite orchestral pieces.

The violin called a fiddle when it’s playing Irish Music. It’s the same instrument, just playing a different style. We have a free course about Irish Music and the instruments of Irish music at DabbledooMusic.com. Follow the link below!

CLICK HERE



Cello

Great as a solo instrument or part of a orchestra or ensemble. The cello is often found in popular music too, with a range of bands and artist integrating the mellow tones of the cello into their sound.

One of the most famous uses of the cello in popular music as well as the other string instruments I've mentioned is in the Beatles song 'Eleanor Rigby' - give it a listen here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HuS5NuXRb5Y


Summary

Whatever instruments you or your child is starting, remember that the aim of learning about music and taking up an instrument is to develop a lifelong love of music that will help enrich your life and expand your horizons.

Don’t see it as a race or a competition or get upset with lack of progress or results. If there is enjoyment there then something good is happening.

On the flip side, no-one should be forced to play an instruments they really don’t want too. They may end up being turned off music for life, which is the opposite of what we are looking for!

Try out a new instrument whenever you get a chance. Enjoy your music. Enjoy the playing and practice.


NEXT TIME:

We'll be giving advice from a range of experts as to the best ways to practice and improve your playing. Stay Tuned!