If you’re at a point in your life where you’re thinking about learning a new instrument – or you’re wondering what your child should learn – here’s a fun way to narrow down the options. Enjoy!
If you’d like to embed this graphic on your site, you’re welcome to, but please link back to this page. Thanks!
We’ll now look at each instrument from the graphic and discuss the pros and cons (in no particular order!).
Table of Contents
The harp is one of the oldest instruments and dates back to at least as early as 3500 BC.
Due to its size and cost (they don’t come cheap) players of the harp are a rare breed, but if you’re up for the challenge (and have space and money to spare) it’s a brilliant instrument to learn. Surprisingly, unlike wind and bowed string instruments, the harp sounds great from day one and is relatively easy to play simple pieces after only a few lessons. However, to play to a high standard, the harp is a notoriously difficult instrument.
Violin is arguably one of the most versatile and beautiful sounding instruments you can play, however, it can take years to master. For this reason, only younger children (from as young of 5 years) or older folks with plenty of patience should embark on learning it.
Of course, the violin is not impossible to grasp. Just start by understanding the fundamental concepts surrounding finger placement, correct posture and bowing technique, and learn some simple violin songs.
A huge bonus here is that your instrument is portable and that you’ll learn how to read music, so with time you become an expert in theory too. Ultimately, the violin will open you up to the realms of classical, jazz and folk music, as well as progressive rock.
To hear just how beautiful this instrument can sound, check out list of the best violin concertos of all time.
Perhaps you have a child that is a little impatient or maybe you’re an adult that doesn’t have quite as much time to practice? If so, the recorder is going to be a great instrument to learn. In particular, the playing technique is quick to grasp and the design is easy for little fingers to handle, so they make a fun learning tool for children aged between 0-5 years old.
A child will likely find one of these captivating from the start, as you simply blow into the mouthpiece to get a sound… Just remember to prepare for a lot of loud, shrill notes blasting out initially!
But don’t get us wrong, these instruments are still capable of being used on a professional level, in fact, Vivaldi frequently had recorders playing technical solos in his concertos. Overall, the recorder makes a great choice for anyone wanting to instantly produce a tune, without spending hours practicing fundamental concepts. With a little effort, you’ll also be able to be able to play in group ensembles and to apply your technique to progress onto saxophone and flute too.
You may think that a massive double bass is not a great instrument for kids to learn on, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth.
For children as young as five, you can get a 1/4 size student model and for those a little older a ½ size is the best option. On the other hand, adults will need a full-size instrument.
In terms of sound, double bass produces a very specific, low, booming tone, so make sure your child feels inspired by this and also classical/ jazz music, rather than wanting one for its novel aesthetic.
When it comes to playability, the fretless fingerboard will take some extra practice to master, so will suit folks with plenty of passion and time to spare learning to read bass clef. You also need to make sure you can transport and store your double bass both at home and in the car, so check you’ve got the space before buying one!
You may think that the organ is pretty much a louder, more powerful version of a piano, but this isn’t exactly true. The main difference is that the organ is a wind instrument which uses bellows to pump air into pipes, whereas the piano is a percussion instrument, which uses strings to produce a sound.
Organs also have the keys on different levels, stop buttons to control which pipe produces sound and a pedalboard for tonal versatility.
Of course, the sheer size of these instruments creates a bit of a problem, as most people don’t have the space or money to get one in the house. For this reason, organs are usually played in churches, so are convenient if you have one close by.
In terms of learning how to play the organ, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to do so without getting taught, so you’ll need to take lessons if you’re looking to really get stuck in.
Overall, their complexity makes the organ a better option for older children or adults that are patient and enthusiastic about orchestral music. Saying that, you could always buy a digital organ to use in the house.
This is probably the most popular choice among new learners, thanks to its versatility in different genres of music. Whether you like rock music, classical, blues or folk, you can’t go wrong with an acoustic guitar.
One thing to consider, however, is the type of music you’re looking to play before taking lessons, this way you can focus your interests in the right direction.
For example, some of you may want to learn your favourite AC/DC tunes and churn out rockin’ solos, whereas others would prefer to play classical and read sheet music. If you go for the wrong teacher, you’ll be left feeling uninspired!
In regards to age, make sure you choose the right type of guitar: full-sized acoustic guitars are most practical for adults, whereas student sized versions are more comfortable when used by teenagers. Very young children may find an acoustic is a bit of a stretch and that the strings are hard to press down, so would be better starting off on a short scale guitar.
Overall, as long as you’re prepared to power through the initial finger pain that comes with pressing down the strings and positioning your digits into different chord shapes, the guitar is a great choice for people wanting to start a band or play solo classical pieces.
Learning piano is a great choice, in that you can use it in tons of different styles of music, whether that be blues, classical, jazz or pop.
The layout of the piano’s keys is helpful too, especially when it comes to music theory. Because the black and white keys are easy to visualise and press down, most find understanding and playing scales, chords and melodies quick to pick up. That’s not to say, the piano doesn’t require practice and a little enthusiasm, as reading both treble and bass clef simultaneously takes skill and dedication.
Children and adults of all ages can learn to play this instrument however, often finding the cash to buy one and space at home can be tricky. But don’t let this worry you, a good keyboard or digital piano works just as well, and many schools will have a piano to learn on.
Just remember to pick the right teacher for you, as some focus on classical, whilst others may be more inclined to teach jazz or show-tunes. Ultimately, it’s up to you to choose the style you want to play.
Perhaps you’re after an instrument that’s super loud and going to get you lots of attention? If so, not many portable options are as powerful sounding like the French Horn.
These wind instruments are designed to fill out sections of classical or big-band music, so will guarantee you stand out in a crowd. Interestingly, they also have several health benefits, as they give your lungs a workout and strengthen your core stomach muscles.
The downside is that due to the force required to sustain notes, the French horn is not really suitable for children younger than 13. You’ll also need to be fairly enthusiastic about classical music and prepared to spend plenty of time getting your technique correct.
Because the margin for error is so slight when it comes to playing in tune, and the constant physical effort of blowing is tiring, unfortunately, many impatient beginners are easily put off. If you keep at, however, you’ll be playing in an orchestra or marching parade sooner than you think!
The tuba is the lowest sounding wind instrument in the brass family and is often heard in orchestras, brass bands and occasionally jazz. For this reason, you’ll need to be passionate about these styles of music and playing a lot of rhythm rather than lead.
The tuba is also the largest of all brass instruments and therefore requires the most air from your breath. For this reason, young children will usually struggle to hold and play one, so they are best suited to folks that are older than 13.
Although the tuba requires a more lung capacity than a trumpet, they are usually easier to get a note out of initially, as the embrasure required isn’t quite as precise in comparison.
Overall, this is a great option for anyone interested in playing classical or big-band styles of music, on a relatively straight forward instrument.
Maybe you’re fascinated by obscure prog rock or classical music like Grieg’s famous ‘Hall of the Mountain King’? If so, the unique bassoon tone may make it the wind instrument for you.
Make sure you’ve got the time to commit properly, as this one is notoriously tricky to grasp initially and you’ll need to get your head around reading treble and bass clef. Saying that, both adults and children can learn however, kids under 12 should opt for a mini bassoon, to make their fingering and posture more comfortable.
Having lessons here is also a must, as an incorrect technique is hard to self-diagnose and more down to your breathing and embrasure. You should also be aware that even beginner bassoons cost a lot to buy outright, so you should ask around your local community to see if they can borrow or rent one to save some cash.
Ultimately, the bassoon is best suited to folks wanting a truly unique sound and that have the commitment to regular practice.
The cello is a large stringed instrument, played with a bow or plucked with fingers, to produce rich notes an octave lower than the viola.
They are highly sought after in orchestras, however, can be heard in pop and rock songs occasionally too. For this reason, they suit folks that have a love of classical music and plenty of enthusiasm for sight-reading. That said, anyone wanting to play both rhythm and solo pieces, will get on with one, as these instruments are used in the bass, tenor and treble clef, making them very diverse.
The best age to learn cello is around 6-7 years old, as children tend to absorb learning material faster than adults. Just remember, they’ll need to get a ¼ size model so that it’s not a stretch on their hands. Kids younger than this tend to find finger placement a bit of a challenge, whereas, with plenty of practice, adults are capable of learning on a full-size version too.
Cellos are fairly large, so make sure you’ve got the space and the muscles to carry one before you buy!
Oboes are most often heard in classical music however, are also used in ensembles and jazz styles too. These woodwind instruments produce a distinct, bright tone, brought about by a double-reed that vibrates when you blow into the mouthpiece.
Oboes are usually played in the treble or soprano range and work in both solo and rhythm sections of music. Of course, you’ll need to be willing to learn how to read music and will need to practice regularly to get the reed and complex fingering techniques correct. This requires quite a lot of time and patience, so only suits those that have the dedication and are up for a tough challenge.
Another thing to consider is that the oboe and its reed require constant care in order to keep a good tone, so folks that are very attentive and responsible would do well by choosing this.
Along with the piano or keyboard, the ukulele is one of the best instruments for young children to learn on.
The small body and neck make it comfortable for petite builds to get their arms around, whereas the pliable nylon strings feel soft on little fingers. Having frets and just four strings also makes the ukulele easier to work with in terms of music theory, as the notes are highlighted and well defined.
That said, many adults love to learn this instrument too, as it becomes ever more popular among buskers and acoustic bands. It’s also relatively low cost to purchase even high-quality models, so are a great choice for anyone tight on cash.
If you have tons of energy and more into your rock than classical music, a drum kit is a great choice (just remember, there are many types of drums to choose from aside from a drum set – for example, the conga, bongo or djembe).
There’s no real perfect age to learn to play, however, very young kids will be best starting off on a single drum like the snare, rather than a full-size kit. Energetic children will find playing especially beneficial and often develop well enough to play in school musicals and professional bands. Saying that, all this energy needs to be balanced with precision and patience, as mastering limb independence and stick technique takes a lot of focus and practice.
If you’re a fan of country music, folk, blues-grass or Dixieland jazz the banjo is not going to disappoint you. Whilst it doesn’t apply to classical styles too well, the banjo offers a good balance between traditional and contemporary music, so is a great option for anyone wanting a unique sounding, yet diverse stringed instrument.
It’s best to start learning the banjo from a young age such as 6 or 7, however with plenty of practice adults tend to find it’s an easy instrument to learn. Younger kids may find the strings a little tough on their fingers and the fretboard a bit of a stretch, so may be better off trying out a ukulele. After getting used to the fundamentals of handling a banjo, some of the traditional clawhammer and frail techniques can be quite tricky to learn, so you’ll need to be committed and persistent enough to keep trying if you want to become the next Alan Munde!
Perhaps you’re a huge fan of jazz, classical or brass-band music? If so, you’re likely to fall in love with the trumpet. This instrument is so loud it’s guaranteed to get you noticed, plus it doesn’t need a reed to produce a sound, so requires a little less maintenance than say, an oboe.
Older children and adults are best starting off with a trumpet, as they require a fair amount of breath to sustain a note for a decent amount of time. You’ll also need to be willing to spend time perfecting your fingering techniques, before being able to play melodies properly.
This is due to the fact that the trumpet only has three finger pads, which are required to produce full scales by pressing them in different patterns. Because they are relatively difficult to play, trumpets are a great choice for determined individuals that want to capture the audience’s attention whilst booming out loud melodies.
As well as producing a very beautiful, distinct sound, the flute is also one of the most diverse woodwind instruments out there in terms of how you can apply it. Of course, most people will associate it with classical, but anyone who loves folk, jazz, funk and prog rock will most likely love it too. Just remember, the flute is more of a solo, melody-driven instrument, so will suit those who want to be noticed in a more elegant way than say, the trumpet.
Of course, getting the right embouchure can take quite a bit of practice, so you’ll need to make sure you’ve got the patience to put up with some trial and error for a month or two, before getting the basics in place.
Overall, the flute is great for younger kids and adults alike, as basic fingerings aren’t too tricky to master. But, saying that, very young kids will be better starting off on a smaller recorder and progressing over at about 4-5 years.
The first thing that comes to mind when we hear the word ‘Saxophone’ has to be those smooth, blues or jazz solos, so it’s easy to see why these instruments are going to inspire any fans of John Coltrane.
The really great thing about saxophone is the sheer number of different types available. This is advantageous as it allows folks of different builds to play the most comfortable size, without being squashed onto a small soprano model or stretched to reach the finger pads on a large baritone.
In terms of personality, the saxophone will suit any cool cats out there wishing to express their heart and soul through sound. With that in mind, it’s also great for beginners, thanks to the simple fingering positions and its ability to produce a note without too much embouchure practice. For this reason, it makes a great choice for anyone 7 years of age or older.
Perhaps you have a younger child that’s keen to play an instrument, without having to take on a huge challenge? If so, the clarinet is one of the best and most affordable choices for complete beginners.
Because of its size, easy to grasp fingering technique and ability to play a note without a lot of practice, the clarinet is one of the most popular choices for children ages 5 and over. It’s also a great starting point for younger folks that want to progress onto saxophone or flute, as the playing style is similar among all three.
In terms of sound, the clarinet produces notes that are warm and full, but not quite as raspy as those of a saxophone. So, the instrument works really well when used in classical and jazz genres of music. One huge bonus here is that clarinet lessons are also widely available in most schools, so you’ll not have to look too hard to find a good teacher.
Maybe you’re a bit of a musical expert and have fallen in love with tranquil renaissance and baroque era pieces?
If that’s the case, the lute might be an inspired choice, even more so if you’re already familiar with the acoustic guitar. This is advantageous as you’ll be able to apply the left-hand fingering technique and right-hand picking style. Plus you’ll get away with reading tablatures instead of staff notation, which may be a huge relief to some.
For young children, lute can be a little fiddly to grasp. This is mainly because the strings run in courses, which are two sets of strings played simultaneously. Some baroque lutes have as many as 24 strings, so as you can imagine, are a lot to take in initially.
Overall, both complete beginners and those with some experience will need to take lessons in order to play the lute well, so make sure there is a good teacher in your area before you go buying one.
Like the lute, the harpsichord was widely used throughout the renaissance and baroque music era, so is going to suit those with a natural enthusiasm for these styles of composing.
If however, you’re not familiar already, the harpsichord is actually more like an organ than a piano or keyboard, often having an extra row of keys and buttons to swap through octaves.
For this reason, even experienced pianists would be best opting for lessons with a good teacher. This in itself can be problematic, due to the scarcity of the instrument and experts, so make sure to ask your local music shops for any contacts they might have.
Another issue is of course, purchasing a harpsichord, which will be extremely expensive and space consuming. Saying that, if you are lucky enough to have a friend willing to share or a local music school with one, by all means, go for it!
With enough practice, you’ll be able to read both bass and treble clef, with is a skilled job in itself.