Best First Instrument?


We seem to have suddenly reached the stage when afternoon playdates are being replaced with various lessons. I wave hello to friendly faces crossing through the park with their children: this one is off to soccer, that one is running to swim. This one wears the tell-tale tutu, that one carries a little black case with a tiny violin inside—rental sticker prominently affixed.

Hudson asked us about violin lessons—he was so impressed when a classmate at preschool brought hers in to play a song. And then a neighbor, roughly the same size, gave him a little tutorial on hers. The girl’s grandmother leaned over to suggest that she’d recommend choosing an instrument that sounds pleasing whether you know how to play it or not. I gathered this wisdom came from years of experience.

My parents brought over an old harmonica of mine the other day. I remember buying it in Chinatown in San Francisco when I was in college. And though it would never pass muster with a true harp player, it doesn’t sound terrible for just fooling around. Hudson played it nonstop for a few days (thanks a lot, grandpa). Still, there would never be hope of really learning on this one, so I went to our local music shop and asked about their beginner harmonicas. They sent me home with something called a Suzuki Air Wave. It looks a bit like a giant plastic toy, but is actually pretty amazing—a real instrument made perfect for little five-year-old hands. Aron teases me with ridiculous scenarios of our son pulling out his ultra-cool harmonica in high school, and I reply with Bob Dylan. I think I’m going to get one for every 5-year-old’s birthday.

Their parents might curse me, but with the kids, it would be a total slam dunk.

And that’s what we’ll stick with a little longer. Not being in any rush to add to his plate, we’ll wait a few more months and see how the violin interest sustains.

But I’m curious: where do others stand on the “best first instrument” question? Are music lessons important to you? What’s the goal? And when do you start? 

I took piano lessons. But as an adult, I’d love to be able to play the guitar and think it’s cool that my young nephews are starting with the ukulele. Aron played the trombone and notes that there’s value in learning something you can play with others in a band or orchestra. He wishes he had also learned to play the piano. And then, of course, there’s always the recorder…

[Photo of John Kendall and his student via The John and Catherine Kendall Memorial Scholarship]

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