Choosing an instrument - maybe not that big a deal?

When I first started out as a teacher, people would call and say "My daughter wants to play guitar" or "I'm enrolling both of my kids in piano." But when my school started to take off as a multi-teacher school (as opposed to just my own teaching studio), people would call and say, "We want to get involved with your program - what instrument should we pick?" I was thrilled to see this sign that our little music community was having an influence in the larger community. But in spite of the fact that I have played and taught several different instruments over the years, I have no idea what makes me want to play a particular instrument or how to go about choosing an instrument for someone else.

Maybe it's like deciding how many kids to have. There is no wrong answer, and even if it is the wrong answer (surprise!), it ends up becoming the right answer anyway. Or, you never even bring up the question, and so the idea of a wrong answer is moot.

The basics of learning an instrument are the same on every instrument even if physical techniques differ. It's like learning French for a few years and then switching to Spanish. True, the three years of French study became a dead end, but you developed your skills of language learning and can now apply them to Spanish.

Likewise, though you might awaken musical skills one one instrument, once you master the physical techniques of another, you can express yourself musically with it. Playing an instrument is simply translating what you hear (or see) to a physical interface, and the ability to "speak" this language continues to grow no matter what instrument you study.

So what do you do as a parent? Do you choose an instrument for your kid? What age do you start? When do you allow them to quit or switch instruments? Honestly, I don't know - it depends on your family culture.

You know what? It's like romantic love versus arranged marriages - given the right conditions, either can thrive, statistically speaking.

Whatever you do, be fully committed to whatever instrument you choose, during the period of time that you're enrolled in lessons. The main thing that contributes to enjoying music lessons is success, and the main thing that contributes to success is a good practice routine. For most kids, even the instrument they are so excited about will be gathering dust in a few weeks without that solid routine.

Given the right routine, a good result is possible on any instrument - and if it doesn't click the first time, switching isn't the end of the world.