Suggestions for musical instruments for kids
November 29, 2012 1:08 PM   Subscribe

Metafilter, do you have any thoughts or ideas on what might be a good instrument to buy for Chrismas, that the kids (6 and 3.5) can play with on their own (i.e. there won't be lessons) but can still gain skill and enjyment, that I can find second hand for under, say, $100. Recorder? auto harp? trupet? drums? We already have a piano and bells. Thank you!
posted by hollyanderbody to Shopping (27 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Melodica? My cousins seem to love them, and they're relatively inexpensive.
posted by backseatpilot at 1:11 PM on November 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

I would get them a guitar! I learned it by myself when I was 8 or 9. There's loads of resources online as well, which helps a lot. Also, it's a great portable instrument and loads of fun to pull out for singing and so on.
posted by cyml at 1:12 PM on November 29, 2012

posted by inturnaround at 1:14 PM on November 29, 2012

I remember pretty heavily figuring out the lap harp (which is a sort of zither, I think?) at a young age. I think it was a kids' version, though, not an adult-sized one. Basically you just fit the sheet music in and plucked where it said to pluck.
posted by Sara C. at 1:15 PM on November 29, 2012 [3 favorites]

You aren't going to find a trumpet or drums for under $100. Plus, a 3.5 year old isn't going to be able to play the trumpet.

It's a tough age spread, actually, because the size difference is significant, and 6 is about when most kids really start learning an instrument, at 3.5 you're still just goofing around.

A guitar is a nice thought, but a 3.5 year old won't get much enjoyment out of a guitar.

I second the melodica. Fun, easy, and something both of them can play around with. Also under $100.
posted by Lutoslawski at 1:15 PM on November 29, 2012

The $30 kid's accordion (1, 2) is a small version of the real way diatonic button accordions (as used in Irish, Cajun, Tex-Mex, and other folk traditions) work. It's not hard to figure out a scale, but it's entirely unlike playing a piano, so would be an interesting thing to learn. Coincidentally, it's very similar to a harmonica on bellows. And cheap enough that you could get them both!
posted by aimedwander at 1:16 PM on November 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Ukulele? Xylophone? Anything electronic, like a miniature synthesizer keyboard?
posted by sweltering at 1:17 PM on November 29, 2012

posted by MuffinMan at 1:17 PM on November 29, 2012 [3 favorites]

Bongo drums!
posted by jamaro at 1:18 PM on November 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

Would they share a set of hand drums? Percussion is always fun and something everyone can grasp, but the different sizes of drum will also give them some different pitches to play with.
posted by usonian at 1:21 PM on November 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

The 3 string dulcimer is easy to tune and you can't really play a wrong note.
posted by bonobothegreat at 1:22 PM on November 29, 2012

Uke. Glock. Theremin!

In all seriousness, a ukelele would be perfect.
posted by ourobouros at 1:26 PM on November 29, 2012

Strumstick. I have one and love it. However, I don't know about how easy it is to find a second-hand one. Brand-new ones are a bit out of your price range ($169). There are a few other alternatives to it listed - like the traveling guitar (I saw one on

The strumstick is pretty neat. From the website: "The Strumstick is ideal for anybody who wants to learn to play music, even if they think they can't. Beginners make great sounds right from the beginning, because the Strumstick is so easy to play. You can just strum all the strings while fretting one of them and music happens all by itself!"
posted by Sassyfras at 1:26 PM on November 29, 2012

A agree with the ukelele. It's small, easy to play and versatile. Tons of resources online--you could learn too!
posted by Catchfire at 1:31 PM on November 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

We had a lap harp (this one) when I was growing up. The music fits underneath the strings, and you pick at the string where each note is, in order, so you can play a tune without having any musical ability at all. I only know some musical notation, and I can play a very pretty tune that is recognizable with it!
posted by aabbbiee at 1:39 PM on November 29, 2012

Penny whistles and recorders are good. So is a cheap-ass casio keyboard that makes silly noises.
posted by colin_l at 1:43 PM on November 29, 2012

You have a padded basement encased in lead, right?

I love the bongos! That's awesome.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:50 PM on November 29, 2012

Nthing ukulele.
posted by JuliaJellicoe at 1:59 PM on November 29, 2012

Ukulele! Then you can indoctrinate them with the anthem, as well.
posted by Phire at 2:14 PM on November 29, 2012

My husband is a professional classical musician and didn't want our kids to have toy instruments, but rather real (or real-ish) instruments that were cheap, that the kids could fool around with, and could withstand some rough play. When our kids were about 3 and 6 they had recorders, finger cymbals, harmonicas, kazoos, a lap harp like those in the answers above, a couple of ocarinas, maracas, and yes, a couple of electronic keyboards on which they played Jingle Bells and Happy Birthday incessantly. Most of these instruments are about $10, the lap harp was about $40, although the keyboards were about $100 -- but that was 15 years ago.

I think we would have gone for a ukelele but my husband spent a lot of time tuning the lap harp and I don't think he wanted to be tuning the uke continually. Mind you, an out-of-tune instrument may not bother anyone in your house the way it bothers the musicians in my house since all three have perfect pitch.

The kids didn't get really good instruments until they started taking lessons.
posted by angiep at 2:20 PM on November 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Please buy the instrument that you would most like to learn to play and do it together with them. I think your enthusiasm playing something you enjoy will be the best motivation and best modeling behavior for them to enjoy the instrument (whatever it is).

In contrast - if you buy something that they 'should' play - there is a big chance they won't touch it and you will resent them for it and yourself for buying something no one plays.
posted by jazh at 3:36 PM on November 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

My vote is for an inexpensive scaled-down electronic keyboard with tons of different "effects". The younger child can bash around with rhythms and noises and the older one is old enough to start picking out simple melodies.
posted by drlith at 4:29 PM on November 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Ukes do come out of tune really fast. I tune mine just about every time I practice, sometimes twice if I fool with it a long time or put it down for a bit and pick it back up.
posted by Sara C. at 5:40 PM on November 29, 2012

Musician here - another vote for keyboard at their age. I tried to start my kids on recorder and they got really frustrated. Stringed instruments really sound bad when they're out of tune. The mechanics of a keyboard are very easy to figure out, relatively speaking.
posted by randomkeystrike at 7:38 PM on November 29, 2012

P.S. they now play clarinet and saxophone, but they're a lot older now.
posted by randomkeystrike at 7:39 PM on November 29, 2012

If you don't want to get them lessons and still want them to have fun and they are very young, I would say a keyboard or synthesizer. They can play around with the different voices and sounds and stuff that it does, and because it''s just a bunch of keys in order, it's pretty easy to understand and play.

A guitar would require at a minimum them being able to look up chords to figure out how to play anything useful. I had a guitar when I was a kid without lessons - didn't know how to play anything and eventually accidentally broke it. I also had a keyboard and made up little songs, despite not knowing how to play piano. It would be a lot harder to break a keyboard and a lot easier to make up a song.

Drums would drive you crazy. If need be, they can play the keyboard with headphones on.

Electronic keyboard or synthesizer, for the win. You can find some for incredibly cheap, also.
posted by AppleTurnover at 9:50 PM on November 29, 2012

The other day, I was in the kitchen cleaning up, and my 5-year-old daughter was playing with her iPad (gift from Grandma, and yes, I was all WTF, really???, but she was upgrading). I heard some music, and what sounded suspiciously like "Mary Had A Little Lamb". She had an app that displayed a keyboard and had the DDR-like things falling, and it was showing her how to play the damn song.

Not a replacement for an actual keyboard instrument, but who cares, she's learning that she can make songs happen all by herself.
posted by disconnect at 8:39 AM on November 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

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