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How to help your child choose a musical instrument

Jen Klein is a New England-based technical writer and mother of three. When she isn't asking her kids to stop bickering, "caramelizing" the dinner or actively ignoring the dust bunnies under the couch, she enjoys knitting, gardening, pho...

A horn of his own

It’s the beginning of the school year and elementary schools across the country are introducing musical instrument instruction to students. The choices of instrument are overwhelming!

A horn of his own

What the heck is a euphonium? Or a bassoon? Basses cost how much? Although the music department at your child's school goes over this with the kids as instruments are introduced, your child may need a little extra guidance in choosing a musical instrument.

Choosing a musical instrument is a rite of passage for many -- perhaps you enjoyed it yourself? Although music programs all over the country are (sadly) being cut, if you are lucky enough to be in a school district with a healthy music program, you have an opportunity to help your child choose a musical instrument -- and experience the joy of making music.

A horn of his ownLearn about and listen to different instruments

Simple internet searches are a great way to start learning about instruments. How did they originate? What's a woodwind? How many different kinds of flutes are there? What's with string instrument sizes? Take those searches a step further and listen to the instruments as well. From iTunes to YouTube, there are a tremendous number of resources to listen to the sound that various instruments make.

Think beyond an instrument you own

If you have an instrument from your elementary band days, it can be tempting to say, "We have a clarinet, so you'll play clarinet." If your child wants to play clarinet, that's great. But if she really wants to play oboe, forcing her to play clarinet is almost a sure way to make sure she's not excited about music --and don't be surprised if she quits even sooner than you expected. A child is more likely to make the commitment to lessons and practice if he or she can play the instrument about which he or she is most excited.

A horn of his ownTalk about practice commitments

As part of choosing an instrument, talk with your child about the practice commitment associated with becoming proficient on an instrument. Your child will not instantly be Yo-yo Ma! It takes patience and practice. Offer your support -- and be sure to praise progress.

Consider portability

If your child will be taking the instrument to school on a regular basis, consider how your child gets to school, and how the instrument will factor into that. French horns and trombones are about the largest instruments you can take on a bus, for example. Cellos often have backpack cases that walker can use. If your child typically gets to school by bicycle, are you willing to be his or her ride on lesson days?

A horn of his ownGet creative about funding

Yes, musical instruments can get pricey. Your child doesn't need top of the line -- but you don't want to go for cheap, bottom shelf at a big box store either. While you can use auction sites to get good deals, beware: You really have to know what you're looking at! And if you were a woodwind player in school and your child is going string, it can be hard to learn that much about a type of instrument that quickly.

Many schools partner with rental organizations to get decent instruments in the hands of students at a reasonable monthly cost. Music stores often run similar programs. Sometimes these programs are straight rental and sometimes they are rent to own. Be sure to read the fine print! And take the repair/replacement insurance. Yes, do.

If you really can't afford an instrument, talk to the music program at your child's school. Schools often have a number of loaner instruments available, or know of families in town who own instruments but the children are no longer playing.

The experience of making music is a joy -- and a gift. You may have a prodigy in the house but just no know it yet! Help your child choose a musical instrument, endure the less than tuneful early practices, and give your child the gift of music for life.

More on kids and music

Musical genius: How music makes your child smarter
Music lessons: Is your child ready?
Makeover your kids playlist with these classic hits

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