Guitar Or Piano: Which Is Best For A Child?

Guitar Or Piano: Which Is Best For A Child?

Most kids are presented with the choice of guitar or piano as their first musical instrument, but what are the differences, and which is the better choice?

At around six years, many kids will want to start an instrument because they see their friends doing so, and because most school instrumental programs do not begin until the 4th grade. The two most common choices are the guitar or the piano.

The correct choice actually, is up to your child. In fact, if they said they wanted to play the bassoon because they saw it in a movie, I’d let them have a shot at it. Seriously, you want the child to be happy that they were allowed to make the choice. They will have more fun with it if you let them have their way with this choice at first. Later, when they are wildly bored with the bassoon, suggest the piano or the guitar.

But most kids will want piano or the guitar, anyway. Which might be the better choice for a six-year-old? Here are a few things to consider:

The guitar is rather the more glamorous choice, perhaps because of the “Elvis Syndrome” that entertainment for kid’s drums into them. But the guitar is deceptively difficult to get started with for most kids.

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First and foremost, a guitar must be tuned by the player or it will sound very bad, and the child will not want to play a bad, discordant sound. Tuning is not easy to learn or to maintain, especially for a child beginner. So unless you are prepared and qualified to tune the guitar, I’d stay away from it unless the child insists.

If the child insists, learn to tune a guitar, quickly.The piano, on the other hand, needs to be tuned twice a year at very most, and is always ready to play a tune if you want to. Pianos tend to be more rugged than the guitar, which is really quite fragile because of the thin neck and the tendency for six year olds to drop and generally abuse things. It’s fairly hard for a child to abuse a 500 pound piano.

The guitar is arranged such that the two hands perform two different tasks, the left hand pressing the strings, and the right hand strumming. The piano is arranged such that the two hands perform largely identical and interchangeable tasks. Thus, in terms of the usage of the two sides of the brain, the piano might seem easier for a child, still building the neuron path between the two hemispheres, the corpus callosum.

And frankly, piano is easier for kids. The piano has the added advantage that it can be played fairly well with an index finger alone, which is easily within the comfortable motor skills of the average child of this age. That’s a big plus for kids who are by this age refining the coordination of their arms and legs, and fingers.

Ultimately, the guitar will win out as the child gets older and there are more and more images of cool guitarists. Many kids, boys especially, who are faithful piano students when younger, drop it when they approach puberty because they begin to see guitar as cooler.

But as far as musical education goes, the piano is a far easier instrument on which to gain a deep knowledge of  musical theory, perhaps because on the piano there is only one unique piano key for each note, whereas on the guitar the entirety of notes must be divided onto only six strings, making calculations and motions sometimes beyond the reach of most kids.

There is a knack to the guitar that some people have and some don’t. You have to try it to find out which type you are.Remember also that almost every great composer has been at least a  competent pianist, if not in many cases a great one(only Berlioz comes to mind as a famous guitarist/classical composer.)

This is perhaps because it is easier to play quickly a huge variety of notes and sounds on the piano that the guitar cannot hope to match. Nonetheless, the guitar is an endless favorite, a noble instrument that historically predates the keyboards and has been a favorite for hundreds of years.

Almost all popular music nowadays and for the past fifty years has been designed around the sound of a guitar. Whichever instrument your child chooses, music lessons and indeed all musical activities have demonstrable benefits for children. Here are but a few benefits I have witnessed from piano lessons:

Better math skills

Better handwriting

Better handling of tasks

Let your child try the instrument they wish, and see the results. Then, move on to another if the child wishes. It’s important that the child feel part of the choice and is excited at the prospect of learning the instrument, rather than having a choice forced upon them.

Copyright 2000 Walden Pond Press

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