Does your child want to learn to play an instrument? Music teacher Anthony S. shares his tips to help you choose between ukulele and guitar for kids…
I have been asked by parents over the years if learning to play ukulele is a good starting point for children who want to learn the guitar. The ukulele is a very good first instrument for children, however you must think of it as a real instrument and not consider it an introductory instrument that is generally easy to play.
Although there is an obvious size difference between the two instruments, I often discourage parents from jumping into ukulele just because of its size. I prefer choosing classical guitars of 1/8, 1/4, 1/2 or 3/4 size for children’s guitar lessons. There are excellent resources and method books for young children who want to learn the guitar that do not need to attempt to learn ukulele first.
The truth of the matter is that although the ukulele is a fretted string instrument, it is a completely different instrument than the guitar. I have observed in the course of my career a great many students find it challenging to transition from the ukulele once they and their parents feel it is time to switch to guitar. Ukulele and guitar are tuned differently and learning the ukulele first will not necessarily translate directly to the guitar.
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter whether you choose to get your child a guitar or a ukulele. What’s more important is choosing the right ukulele or guitar for your child.
Choosing the right instrument and the right size for a beginning musician is the first piece of advice that I give parents. I have been challenged many times whilst trying to teach students who are using an instrument that was purchased prior, a gift for example. Often times children receive a gift from a parent or relative that is simply impractical and counterproductive to proper education. I always advise parents and potential clients to choose an instrument and consult with a teacher before investing in an instrument. And when possible, work with a teacher who can expose your child to multiple instruments during the first month of instruction before purchasing an instrument.
Please don’t get me wrong, I am not bashing the Ukulele, I love the instrument – for those focused on learning it. Besides the evident small size of the standard soprano ukulele, the soft nylon strings are also great draw for young students with delicate fingers. For children who want to learn guitar, I urge parents to not buy an electric guitar as their first instrument. Select a classical guitar with those nylon strings after consulting with a sales associate or qualified music educator.
When a child enthusiastically points out a shiny electric guitar on television or in the music store, a parent may decide that this enthusiasm is a great place to start! While I agree that enthusiasm for an instrument is a wonderful starting off point, I see so many students quit their lessons because the correct instrument wasn’t selected and parents don’t follow through with practicing.
Parents, please be involved in your child’s musical education! Just going to weekly lessons isn’t quite enough; your child will also need to practice every day. Encourage your child and participate in their practice and they WILL succeed.
Anthony S. teaches many instruments in Oakland, CA, including guitar, flute, drums, and trumpet. He has an MM in Composition from CUNY Brooklyn College and has been teaching music to students ages 5 to 14 since 2005. Learn more about Anthony here!
Photo by Sarah Han