Fergus Black

music teacher and performer


Choosing a Musical Instrument

Here is an article from Telegraph.co.uk

How to keep them in tune

If your child wants to play an instrument, the violin might not be the best choice, discovers Ben Rooney

Published: 12:01AM GMT 28 Nov 2002

Horrendous noise? Although a popular choice, the violin is paticularly difficult to master

Scientists tell us that babies are born with perfect pitch: that before a baby can even walk, it can differentiate between different musical notes. But if that's true, how to explain the hideous discordant noise when your seven-year-old first takes up a bow and scrapes it across the freshly rosined strings of a half-size violin?

Most parents are delighted that their child wants to play an instrument. Apart from the pleasure music gives, learning to play has well-documented educational benefits (the ancient Greeks considered music to be one of the four branches of mathematics).

But clearly, picking the right instrument is essential - not just for your child, but also for you and your ears. Why, then, do so many parents choose the violin?

"Chester just liked the sound," says Wendy Meldrum, whose son started fiddling when he was seven. "Which is more than can be said for us. With the best will in the world, the noise when they start is pretty awful."
Not surprising, according to Dr Alexandra Lamont, a lecturer in the Psychology of Music at Keele University, who describes the violin as a horrendous instrument to start on.

"Technically it is difficult to master. Children have to listen to what they are playing; they have to read the music; and they must have the motor co-ordination to play. Each of these things is manageable on its own, but it can be asking a lot of a child to do all three simultaneously." And she should know. A violin player herself, she had two false starts as a child before finally she stuck at it.

Dr Lamont is keen to stress that, whatever instrument your child wants to play, he or she should be encouraged. At the same time, however, she suggests that parents consider "fixed pitch" instruments, such as the piano, flute, clarinet or trumpet, where it is impossible to play a bad note. "It is one less thing for the child to worry about."

Sexism apparently plays a large part in the choice of instrument. Research has shown that, as early as nursery school, children have notions of "male" instruments - guitar, drums, most brass - and "female" ones - piano, violin and, strongly, the flute.

"We do see an awful lot more girls playing the flute than boys," says Clara Taylor, chief examiner at the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music. "And brass used to be very much a boy thing - although we are seeing more girls coming forward." Indeed, she explains, one of the most successful child prodigies was a girl cornet player, who achieved a grade eight with distinction at the age of eight.

It has also been suggested that personality type will influence the choice of instrument - for example, that extroverts are better suited to drums. The evidence for this is not at all conclusive, but a book by the psychologist Anthony Kemp did suggest that professional musicians often have certain personality traits in common - high levels of anxiety being one example.

One source of anxiety for parents is that a child might be starting too early - but such worries are overplayed, says Dr Janet Mills, a research fellow at the Royal College of Music. "There might be something in waiting for a child to develop its second set of teeth before learning a brass or woodwind instrument. But apart from that, children can play at almost any age."

Psychologists believe, she explains, that the development of children's brains changes at the age of about seven - so exposure to music before or around then might help. But the only real obstacle is the physical size of an instrument. "It's hard for seven-year-olds to learn the trombone if they can't play the notes."

Whatever instrument your child plays, the key to success is twofold, says Dr Mills. First, and most importantly, allow children to choose for themselves which instrument to play - even if it is the violin. "Let them hear as many instruments as you can being played, preferably live at a concert. Let them pick up instruments and handle them - even try them out."

And second, offer masses of support. Practice really does make perfect - but making it too serious will put children off. "Let them explore - let them jam," says Dr Mills. "Let them have fun."

See the original article here.