4 Great Instruments For Kids
I recently wrote a piece for the most excellent parenting website Bondville about some ways to introduce the concepts of rhythm and beat to young kids – you can find it here. Why? When it comes to kids learning musical instruments – and indeed choosing the best instruments for kids – it seems that so often they get the idea of playing different notes and chords but can rarely play with any sense of timing. I know that comes with practice, but if you start with a basic feel for beat then that next step becomes much shorter.
It’s all very well to bunker down with the guitar or piano, but it can take a while before you actually make music that you actually want to! Now I fully support learning those instruments, but what about something else that you can get some more immediate satisfaction from? A bit like riding a wave on a body board (which you can do on day one) versus learning to surf (which can take a while). The instruments below are all things that rookie musician wannabees can use with very limited instruction, yet also allow a lot of exploration as they develop. No, they aren’t typical starter units, but they are fun and they are accessible.
1. Egg shaker
At the risk of being repetitive (for those of you who read the first article) I am a huge fan of the egg shaker as a means of introducing musical concepts to kids of any age. The shaking of the egg along with the rhythm is about as close as you can get to strumming the guitar without knowing how to play one!! It’s also a good exercise for other instruments as you can mimic the relevant wrist movement (get two of them going if you are a keyboard player).
2. Cigar Box Guitar
Now I know this is a little controversial given a CBG is a bit obscure, but an open-tuned three-string instrument that uses a slide is a great way to create useable sounds quickly – and as a lead in to the guitar it gets kids used to the basics of how the frets relate to each other and a song. Play an open strum, then place the slide on the third, fifth or seventh fret in a random pattern and your making music!!
After the CBG, a ukulele is a great step towards introducing kids to fingering patterns. With just four strings it’s a bit easier – as well as having a shorter scale length and less string tension so smaller hands don’t need to stretch so far or be as strong. It’s also an instrument where the lessons learnt about rhythm really come into play as the guts of uke playing is all strumming patterns.
Back on the rhythm/beat front, a cajon is another awesome instrument. It may be just a box that you tap with your fingers and hands, but it can create a lot of sounds. If I’m jamming with some friends, various kids have always been quite happy to sit on the cajon and join in by tapping away.
Finally, if you’ve got a Mac get your kids into playing around with Garageband – pulling different loops together is a great exercise in getting a feel for how music is created in layers. You don’t need to be able to play an instrument but can still make some great stuff!