7 Musical Instruments For Kids (Safe & Easy To Learn)

Disclosure: We may receive commissions when you click our links and make purchases. Read our full affiliate disclosure here.
  • Learning an instrument can be incredibly beneficial in a child’s brain development
  • Cognition and neuroplasticity have been shown to improve when learning music
  • Read on for the best (& easiest to learn) musical instruments for kids of all ages
  • Also, check out our post on the easiest ukulele songs to learn for children!

Having just looked through the most recent alumni bulletin from my alma mater, it is clear I have reached a certain stage in life. If that weren’t enough, a scroll through Instagram is definitive proof: pretty much all of my friends are having kids right now.

As the resident musician among several of my friend groups, and a music teacher by profession, there are plenty of questions coming my way as to how to go about introducing musical instruments in early childhood.

Specifically, which instruments are most appropriate at different stages of childhood development?

Who Is This Article For?

My guess is you are not a two-year-old with a monstrous vocabulary seeking out a new hobby in between nap time and your afternoon stroller ride–though if you are, you have come to the right place.

Rather, if you–like seemingly all of my friends–have a little one on the way, and you want to provide for their early childhood music education, this article is for you.

Or, if you’re like me, and have no plans to raise a child in the foreseeable future, but happen to be the musical aunt or uncle everybody goes to for answers to questions about music’s role in childhood development, this article is equally for you.

Do You Have To Be A Prodigy To Play Music At A Young Age?

Some of the greatest musicians of all time began their careers as children. By the time he was six years old, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was already a touring musician.

Similarly, Michael Jackson was performing in nightclubs at age seven.

Dolly Parton performed for local television and radio at 10, and Aretha Franklin was known for prodigious vocal performances in her early teens.

These are merely some of the best-known musical prodigies, but a child need not be a prodigy to benefit from the many advantages conferred by early experiences with music.

Which Instruments Are Best For Children, And In Which Order?

The remainder of this article should give you some idea of which instruments work best as starter instruments for young children and when they can be introduced (the operative word here being can, as there is no deadline for introducing children or even adults to musical instruments).

Below is my list of the best musical instruments for children to learn:

  1. Child-Safe Percussion Instruments
  2. Singing
  3. Violin (And Other Bowed Strings)
  4. Piano
  5. Orff Glockenspiels
  6. Ukulele And Guitalele
  7. Woodwind And Brass Instruments

1. Child-Safe Percussion Instruments

From birth until age two or three, children are not really capable of playing sophisticated instruments, as their gross and fine motor skills are still in the earliest stages of developing.

Percussion instruments, particularly those that are childproof (not sharp, not too heavy, not a choking hazard, and the like) can be great early introductions to pulse and rhythm, and even high and low, loud and soft, and other foundational musical concepts.

Kindermusic classes, in which children and caregivers engage in musical play, provide wonderful opportunities to lay the groundwork for more formal music instruction later on.

2. Singing

Around age two or three, depending on the child, physiological developments in terms of fine and gross motor skills and the voice allow for more formal music instruction.

A three-year-old typically has access to about a sixth in terms of vocal range, so children’s tunes sticking to within that range with fairly simple rhythms will come naturally to children once they are introduced.

Of the countless examples, Sol-mi tunes work really nicely from age three through early elementary school.

3. Violin (And Other Bowed Strings)

Age three is also the earliest one might want to introduce a true starter instrument, and not just any instrument but particularly string instruments work well for this point in childhood development.

Three-year-olds can typically make a reliable grip with their hands, a prerequisite to playing a string instrument, but they do not yet have the strength and control to play blowing instruments.

Violins come in ten standardized sizes: 1/16 (23 centimeters, just over nine inches), 1/10, 1/8, 1/4, 1/2, 3/4, 7/8, and 4/4, or full size.

Moreover, while bowed string instruments can be scaled down to the right size for even the smallest players, the size of a recorder or flute has implications for the instrument’s pitch; hence, the piccolo, which is essentially a smaller flute, is also significantly higher in pitch.

This is to say nothing of the muscular requirements of the woodwinds and brass instruments, both in holding up heavier instruments and particularly in developing the embouchure to play them properly.

Thus, perhaps the best starter instrument for a child under the age of six is the violin, viola, or cello, each of which can be found in a size small enough for the tiny hands of a 3-, 4-, or 5-year-old.

4. Piano

By age six, a child’s hands are often developed enough to be able to play the piano, though they won’t typically have a full octave range in one hand for a few years.

A precursor to the modern piano is what W.A. Mozart played on tour and how he first began to develop his compositional skills. 

5. Orff Glockenspiels

By age six, children are also ready for more sophisticated percussion instruments, such as the Orff Glockenspiels found in many elementary music programs.

These warm-toned mallet instruments make for great elementary ensemble experiences and are playable by children still developing fine motor skills.

6. Ukulele And Guitalele

The 1/4-sized guitar, or Guitalele, and soprano ukulele are the right dimensions for most six-year-olds.

While bowed string instruments require much instruction and supervision, plucked strings are a bit more intuitive, especially for the youngest music students.

While countless habits bowed string players ought to avoid–a couple of notable examples being the breaking of the left-hand wrist and flattening of the fingers and the locking of the right-hand wrist resulting in poor bow control–the few bad habits a plucked string instrument player might pick up are quite easily fixed.

A child might pick up a simple song on their first day of playing the ukulele whereas nothing played on the violin will sound remotely like music for the first month or so of playing, whether the new violinist is a three-year-old or a twenty-year-old.

7. Woodwind And Brass Instruments

The woodwind and brass instruments that are not playable in any meaningful way for three-year-olds are better suited to children ages seven and eight, with proper supervision.

The physical proportions of instruments like the tuba and bassoon make them less agreeable to small children. Still, the trumpet, B-flat clarinet, flute, alto saxophone, and the like will be playable with adequate instruction and consistent strengthening of the embouchure.

Conclusion

Children are ready to engage with music from birth (at appropriate amplitude–please be careful of children’s hearing!).

Even in the womb, fetuses have some sense of hearing: from 4 1/2 months into a pregnancy they can detect the mother’s heartbeat, and at six or seven months they can hear sounds outside the mother’s body.

All that is to say that listening is an important part of a child’s musical development. From age three, the child’s physiological development is the only bound on which instruments they are ready to pick up. 

In other words, as soon as they are strong enough to grip the tiny 1/16 size violin and bow, they are ready to start playing the violin. They are ready to begin singing as soon as their vocal folds and breath support give them sufficient range and articulation.

As soon as they can support the alto sax and maintain sufficient breath support and the musculature of the embouchure, they can begin playing the alto sax.

Some children hit these physiological benchmarks more quickly or less quickly than others, which is perfectly fine because one need not have an instrument in their hands to engage with music.

For that reason, the most important steps to keep in mind are:

  1. to give children an opportunity to engage with music, and
  2. to follow cues in a child’s unique physiological development in determining how they engage with music, whether this means spending some time with Orff Glockenspiels (which, honestly, are fun to play at any age, and always sound beautiful) or breaking out the 1/4 size violin earlier than expected.