The Right Instrument For Your Child

Many parents want their child to learn a musical instrument. Many of their children want to as well! However only 10% of children who learn to play an instrument will succeed. The other 90% may be no less musical and no less intelligent; they simply were not playing the right instrument for their temperament. Those who do continue to play will attest to the fact that playing an instrument gives them a huge amount of pleasure, gives them a skill that can provide entertainment to many and something they can share with people of all ages. And there are many other people who spend a lifetime wishing that they had learned to play a musical instrument.

In a bid to reduce this failure rate, Atarah Ben-Tovim, herself a teenage flute prodigy and her husband Douglas Boyd, who describes himself as a ‘musical drop-out’ developed a method of selecting an instrument for a child based on their personality, physical characteristics and musicality. They claim that they can change the usual 90% failure rate so that 90% of children will continue playing their instrument with enjoyment.

Their method consists of three stages. The first stage is to assess your child, after all as a parent you know your child better than any music teacher. The questions which you need to consider include how musical are they? Can they sing a recognisable tune, do they like listening to music? Can they read yet and do they have enough energy left after a day at school to practise on top of their homework? Then the physical characteristics must be considered. Do they have long or short fingers, are they supple or stocky, do they have their adult teeth and are they asthmatic? Finally their mentality needs to be assessed. Do they have good concentration, will they work at a problem until they succeed, do they have a good memory and are they good at arts or sciences?

Once you have considered your child’s mental and physical characteristics, it is time to compile a shortlist of instruments that will suit your child. In their book ‘The Right Instrument for Your Child’, Ben-Tovim and Boyd describe the type of person who is suited to just about every instrument that you can think of. Whether orchestral, brass band, folk, pop or jazz they can tell you what type of person will be best suited to any particular instrument. An introvert may prefer the piano or a guitar which are mostly played alone, whereas a gregarious child will flourish playing an instrument that gives them the opportunity to play with others in a band or orchestra. A child with short stubby fingers will struggle to play the Double Bass but may find a brass instrument presents no problems. Finally considerations such as storage and transport must be considered, as tuba players need large cars!

When you have the shortlist of instruments for your child they suggest you should then take them to a friendly music shop to actually let the child try the instruments. They should then be able to choose their own favourite.

Their method is very simple to follow, and as someone who still plays a musical instrument and knows many adults who still play for enjoyment, their descriptions of the personalities for various instruments seem spot on! I am perfect for the clarinet and saxophone apparently, which is good to know having played them for over thirty years.

‘The Right Instrument for Your Child’ by Atarah Ben-Tovim and Douglas Boyd has just been republished and updated for 2005. It is available from or

About the Author: Jacqui O’Brien is the editor of eParenting.

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