Help me pick the best first instrument for a very small 6 year old.
April 23, 2008 2:28 PM   Subscribe

Help me pick the best first instrument for a very small 6 year old.

My daughter is six, and would like very much to play the guitar. The problem is that she's very small. She's too small to properly place her fingers on even a student guitar fret. There are other, cheaper, smaller guitars, but as you can imagine they aren't very good instruments.

I've been reading online that some people start young guitar players with ukeleles instead. They're smaller, and apparently the chords are less complicated (which makes sense, since the ukeleles they're suggesting only have four strings.)

Would that be a good way to start her out, and help her transition to the bigger guitar, once she grows into it? Should I just buy her a cheap tiny guitar and get her lessons? Or should I let her duke it out with an oversized guitar and hope she grows into it before she's too frustrated to want to play it?

I don't play an instrument, so I don't know and I was hoping for some advice or guidance. I just know she really loves music, and I'd like to help foster that love in the best way possible.
posted by headspace to Media & Arts (23 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
i think anything that gets her playing and reading music will help. do the ukelele if she'll go for it, but if not, how about a violin? they make very small suzuki violins for wee ones.
posted by thinkingwoman at 2:32 PM on April 23, 2008

We were able to channel our kids' guitar urges into a yamaha keyboard + piano lessons with the explicit promise that guitar lessons would follow as they got older.
posted by jenkinsEar at 2:40 PM on April 23, 2008

Yeah, a Suzuki violin would work for this. And the Suzuki method is in and of itself pretty interesting. Suzuki guitar is also available, and while Wikipedia mentions flute, it does not mention recorder, which is also part of the choices.

The Wikipedia article sucks hard IMHO and really doesn't describe what a relaxed and positive experience Suzuki can be with a good teacher, and how it can work beautifully to build accomplishment and self esteem in children. Many Suzuki teachers and schools will let you sit in to observe a lesson if you want to understand how it works as an applied methodology.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:47 PM on April 23, 2008

maybe a student-sized classical guitar with nylon strings would be easier than a steel-stringed guitar?
posted by gnutron at 2:48 PM on April 23, 2008

there's smaller scale guitars you might try, like the baby taylors. They might still be too big but might be worth a shot.
posted by sully75 at 2:53 PM on April 23, 2008

Definitely go with the Uke! You can get cheap ones for super cheap, nice sturdy ones for not a lot more (check out the Flea) and they are much easier to get notes out of than a guitar. It's a super easy step up to guitar later or off to other instruments. Also, standard uke tuning is just the top 4 strings of a guitar, so she's really getting a start on real chord and finger positions that will port right to guitar later. My 6 year old loves to play our Flea and we also have a crappy $15 uke that his younger sister can mess up.

If she wants to play the guitar, don't channel her to the violin. Suzuki is great, but that's not what she wanted. Make music fun and rewarding for her while she's young and she'll lead herself into more serious music when she's older... or not. But don't make the guitar her lost dream of musicianship she spends her whole career trying to get back to, like Bela Fleck or something.

Just kidding, Bela Fleck kicks ass.
posted by ulotrichous at 3:01 PM on April 23, 2008

For a kid that young starting out, they make half-size guitars. They even make 1/4 size guitars, but 1/2 size would probably be fine. When I was 10 I got a 3/4 size guitar and I was very small for my age (as big as the average 7-year-old) and it was just fine for me.

As far as quality, for a kid who may not even decide to stick with it, most are acceptable. The thing is, she will keep growing, and likely need to go up in size as she grows. The guitar will probably only be appropriate for a couple years, so I'm sure you can find a decent-enough guitar to last that long. My somewhat cheap 3/4 size is still playable and sounds fine almost 15 years later, so YMMV. And it sounds fine when my dad plays it because I quit after a few months, haha. Kids do that sometimes.

My recommendation: go to a local guitar shop (smaller shops seem to be best, even better if they specialize in stuff for kids and/or guitars) and find someone who knows guitars and/or kids. Get their expert opinion and guidance in picking something out for your kid.
posted by fructose at 3:10 PM on April 23, 2008

Just to add, nylon strings are really commonly found on kids' guitars.
posted by fructose at 3:18 PM on April 23, 2008

I can only speak from personal experience, but my father tried to get me to learn the guitar when I was a child, and I found it too large, painful and confusing... and eventually gave it up. Not more than a year later I was introduced to the ukulele (as I had the fortune of growing up in Hawaii), and I was much more excited by the progress I could make with my small fingers. Once I had 'mastered' that over the course of a couple years, I sought out playing guitar on my own and taught myself to play (much to my parents delight in retrospect). Now I own at least five guitars, front my own band, have recorded multiple records of my own... and it all started because of the ukulele. If the guitar was all I had as a child, I might not have played music at all.

YMMV. But I love me some ukulele. Besides It's a lot of fun to pull out at parties and play around with when you're older.
posted by rooftop secrets at 3:29 PM on April 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

A little girl with a ukulele would be adorable.

Don't shunt her off to something completely different, and if you do, find at least an instrument that's not one of the top four or five (violin, piano, flute, clarinet, trumpet).
posted by that girl at 5:10 PM on April 23, 2008

Best thing about ukes: your child accidentally sits on it, it's cheap to replace.

My 2-year-olds pick up my uke and strum it, and I have no doubt they'll be playing it soon enough. Absolutely encouraging you to have her start with the uke if she wants to end up on the guitar, and the uke as an instrument in its own right is nice, too.

However, if you're planning to send your child down the path to more serious music study, you might want to bite the bullet and get them into formal classes with violin or piano. Uke is fun, and you can play well without study -- which is both the good and the bad thing.
posted by davejay at 5:38 PM on April 23, 2008

She can learn about rhythm, harmony, and chord relationships with an autoharp. They’re easy for small people and beginners, because they sit in your lap and you usually only press one button at a time to sound a chord. It will probably be easier for her to sing along with than a uke or guitar.
posted by ijoshua at 5:51 PM on April 23, 2008

I took Suzuki violin lessons during my childhood, and it was great! I can't recommend it enough. There are also piano, viola, cello, and guitar lessons via Suzuki method. Piano and violin are both "gateway" instruments, the fundamentals of each help when playing most other instruments.
posted by nikksioux at 6:20 PM on April 23, 2008

Nthing 3/4 or 1/2 size guitar or uke.
posted by ludwig_van at 6:33 PM on April 23, 2008

A bass guitar (possibly a smaller sized one) might be a viable alternative as well.
posted by cCranium at 6:38 PM on April 23, 2008

If your daughter really wants to play guitar, but you give her a uke or violin or recorder she may decide she doesn't want to play anything at all. Get her a too-big guitar and she'll be uncomfortable and frustrated when trying to practice (says the girl who had to practice/perform on a full-size violin while her smaller one was in the shop). Give her the appropriate-sized instrument of her choice and you stand the best chance of fostering her enthusiasm. Yes, the 1/2 size guitars aren't the highest quality, but you can always upgrade as she outgrows the instrument physically and/or technically.

Also, if you can, try to find a teacher who is a good fit with your daughter. Just as with any other learning, there are a variety of teaching methods/styles. I started in a Suzuki program for violin and despised it--I need to read and learn rules, Suzuki is more of an immersion approach--so my parents switched teachers. Other kids I knew thrived under the Suzuki method. If you can match your daughter's personality with the teacher's personality and teaching method, I really believe it will be a bonus.
posted by weebil at 6:50 PM on April 23, 2008

ukeleles yes.

same tuning. when she moves up, it will be easy.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:22 PM on April 23, 2008

Ideally I'd go with a mandolin. It's got a really narrow neck well suited for small hands. Plays like a guitar and it's tuned like a violin, shouldn't be much trouble to switch to either later on.

Why not take her out to the local music shop to play around? I saw a bass guitar two feet long with rubber strings at sam ash the other day, and it sure didn't sound like a toy :)
posted by waxboy at 7:34 PM on April 23, 2008

There's a brand called Tara Guitars that makes a halfway decent 1/2 size children's guitar that is not a toy, but not something you'd worry about breaking, etc I think the basic nylon string 1/2 size is about $100; it's not a real instrument but it is far better than the ones on the shelves at toy stores, the best of which used to be Hohner

I'm sure they can be ordered online; I bought one for a small-sized child about the same age as your kid a while back, and it was decent (and I am a serious guitarist, so I am picky)

You can spend a lot more for a really nice instrument, but this will be the right size and worthy of a year or so of learning, at least
posted by fourcheesemac at 8:16 PM on April 23, 2008

Also, I think a bass guitar will be tough; even at a small scale, the strength required to press down bass strings and the limited ability to accompany yourself singing will likely be discouraging
posted by fourcheesemac at 8:18 PM on April 23, 2008

Nthing uke for all the reasons ulotrichous outlined.
posted by desuetude at 6:33 AM on April 24, 2008

Suzuki also does guitar; many schools and instrument shops that rent Suzuki violins also rent Suzuki-sized guitars. I found this school in your city. Looks like they do guitar for very young children.
posted by nax at 9:27 AM on April 24, 2008

So I took everybody's advice and mashed it all up. And after a long afternoon in the music store, we're coming home with a pink Flea uke, and she's crazy excited about learning it first so she can learn guitar next. Thank you all so much for your suggestions and your good links. You've helped make a tiny little six year old the happiest girl in the world!
posted by headspace at 8:20 PM on May 3, 2008

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