One of my favorite things about being in the music business is that every last person on planet earth wants or likes to be a part of music in some sort of way. Either you want to learn the instrument, love a certain genre of music, or own a restaurant with a specific playlist you want to stay on, music is as a part of our daily lives as is food. Any time I talk to someone who hasn’t learned an instrument, they will always tell me “I want to learn” or “I wish I could learn if I had the time”. If the person is unsure of what they want to play, the question that almost always comes next is “What instrument is best to learn first?” I feel this question is more common these days because there seems to be a new breed of musician that has graced the planet in our era. You’ve got artist prodigies such as Jacob Collier and Jesus Molina that play more than 5 instruments at an extremely high level and this culture seems to be reflected in how our students are starting to learn these days. Many of our students take lessons on more than one instrument. With that said, today I want to talk about my opinion of which instruments are best to learn first and why.
When giving my take on what instrument a student should learn to play first, my first question is always “How old is the student?” The reason for this is that a student’s attention span is a key factor in deciding what instrument they should learn first. To be clear, however, age is not a factor in deciding whether to learn to play music. The beauty of music is that there is no wrong age to start to play. This is due to the fact that musical progress is strictly dependant on the amount a student is willing to spend practicing their instrument because at the end of the day, playing an instrument is mostly muscle memory. So whether you are 3 years old or 85 years old, if you practice, you will make progress. It’s that simple. In our line of business, we’ve see 3 year olds not practice and make no progress and 80 year olds practice and make plenty progress. We’ve also seen it the other way around. If you want to learn to play, you CAN. Simple! The only thing age can do for us is simply give us a meter to measure what instrument they should most likely learn first in their musical journey.
For students that are extremely young (ages 3-6), I will almost always highly recommend starting out learning drums unless they are showing significant interest on their own in something other than the drums. A child as young as 3 has a low attention span. The best way to combat that is to give them the illusion of quick results by putting a stick in their hand and letting them beat the drums with it. This doesn’t require much effort and gets the child excited really quickly about the instrument because they are seeing “results” almost instantly. This way, if we get the child started on the drums and get them hooked on it pretty quickly, they will have a simpler time adding in another instrument as they get older and their attention span increases.
For kids ages 7 through 12, if they aren’t showing significant interest in one specific instrument, I will highly recommend the piano. I may be a bit biased as a piano player but even many guitar players will agree that the piano is a great instrument for a basis in theory, rhythm, musicality, etc… With guitar, young kids may complain that their fingers hurt from the strings and overall the guitar is a meticulous instrument due to how closely spaced the strings are on the neck of the guitar. With the piano, your fingers won’t hurt in any way and the student gets a nice basis for music theory and rhythm. Learning the piano will also never go to waste. Even if the student switches instruments completely down the line, they will already have learned so many aspects of music that applies to any other instrument. This makes the transition easy and smooth. If they switch to guitar, they will know clearly what the different types of chords are, what the different keys are, and how to play a melodic instrument in a percussive manner. If they switch to something like the drums, they will already have an understanding of what a quarter note is, a half note, a whole note, a sixteenth note, etc… Time and time again we’ve seen students start on the piano and end up adding multiple instruments with ease once they get a little older.
For anyone above the age of 12, I always highly recommend starting on the instrument that simply interests them the most. At this age, attention span isn’t an issue and the person has matured enough to understand instructions clearly and has a high chance of putting in the practice hours regardless of the instrument they choose. At this age, the student can also start an instrument that is extremely difficult to start at a very young age such as the violin or the trumpet. Instruments such as these are meticulous and require a lot of physical effort that very young students just wouldn’t be willing to deal with. The great thing about starting an instrument past the age of 12 is that there aren’t any attention span issues, physical limitations, or other issues. At this age, you can have a lot of fun from day one!