Kid-friendly Instruments

Starting with pots, pans, and toddlers the world over, children naturally love to experiment with sound and music. Here are some musical instruments that elementary children can explore even before beginning (or in addition to) formal music lessons. You can help children bring music into their daily lives by keeping the instruments in an easy to reach spot in the center of the home. Play and sing songs together whenever you can. Have some simple sheet music lying around so that kids can ask you how it works. And of course, prepare yourself for some noise!

A slide whistle

This affordable little instrument is incredibly simple to use and kids instinctively understand how to adjust the slide to change the sound. These cause a very happy ruckus. Nicer metal or wood whistles do exist, but the plastic ones are fine. Older children ready for a greater challenge can also try a recorder.

A tambourine

With bells and drum in one delightful package, children can explore rhythm and volume combinations. Avoid the urge to get a small 6″ diameter instrument for small hands – the larger tambourines have a bigger and better sound.

A ukulele

This is a terrific introduction to stringed instruments. Ukuleles are small enough for little arms to hold and the strings are nylon, which is easier on fingers than guitar steel strings. There are tons of great lessons on YouTube if your child wants to do more than strum and play with different string lengths. A small guitar with nylon strings and a low action could be suitable for a child, too, but in general, you can get a really great ukulele for the same price as a mediocre little guitar. There is a fabulous new world of tuning apps that make tuning stringed instruments a breeze for everyone, including beginner students. We have been happy with GuitarTuna. You probably don’t really need a bunch of gear like a strap or case, but be sure to get plenty of ukulele picks – they’re affordable and easily lost.

A rain stick

The falling shhhhhhhh sound of pebbles within a rain stick fascinates little ones. As a bonus, a rain stick is never very loud. Do be aware that some rain sticks dry out and the plug at the end can come loose, releasing a mess of pebbles (ask us how we know). If yours is loose enough to remove, do so and glue it back in firmly. While rainsticks come in many materials and lengths, the longer ones generally give more time for children to play with angle and speed of sound.

A piano

If you have the space, nothing beats an old piano that kids can use at will without anyone panicking about sticky fingers or toddler marker attacks. Pianos are simple to use right away, delight children with their clean, important sound, and have a direct and clear relationship to scales and notes. They also allow for “duets” of all types. You can sometimes find an old beater free, but be aware that the older pianos can be very heavy and that it can cost hundreds to move them. Once children are older or start lessons, you can upgrade to something nicer. At that point, pay close attention to the action of the keys, since young hands can have a hard time pressing keys with a heavy action. If you don’t have the space for a piano, go for a digital piano or electric keyboard. Keyboards can allow for neat electronic music experimentation, too. Of course, if you have a very well-behaved child and plenty of extra space and cash, consider an awesome baby grand!