The social and academic benefits of learning a musical instrument for kids are manifold – and well known: a noticeable improvement in maths and reading skills, the development of healthy social habits and an uptick in self-expression and self-esteem are all worth mentioning, amongst the many other documented rewards.
But it is never too late to start learning a musical instrument in any decade of our lives. Benefits to older people include all of the above, as well as lowering our risk of developing early cognitive decline and helping those of us with hearing loss to better detect sound.
Just what the doctor ordered
And in times like these – for most of us, at least – there has never been a better moment to take up an instrument; the full list of the benefits of music reads like a roadmap for improving resiliency during a pandemic: it reduces stress, promotes perseverance and strengthens the immune system. And if you have ever driven all the way to the supermarket, only to realize you’ve left your mask at home, take heart: musical training also increases memory capacity significantly.
First among equals
But how do we go about choosing the right beginner instrument? Well, most experts agree that some are definitely more suitable than others for the novice musician. And because it is relatively easy to learn, doesn’t take up much space and comes in a range of sizes, styles and shapes, the guitar is frequently named as one of the top two options (the other being the piano, or keyboard).
The guitar in particular is a very rewarding instrument to begin with because the fundamental techniques of playing a note, scale or chord are fairly simple to pick up: the frets serve as an easily distinguishable division between notes and a handy indicator of where to place your fingers.
Take your pick
The kind of guitar you should start off with really depends on personal preference, so take some time researching acoustic, electro-acoustic and electric guitars before making a final decision. Music teachers, however, generally recommend the classical guitar as the best option for several reasons: the fretboard is wide enough to accomodate inexperienced fingers, the strings are made of nylon, which are much easier on the fingertips and there is no need to factor in the added expense of an amp.
Classical guitars, like other instruments, vary considerably as to how comfortable they are to play and the quality of the sound they produce, however. And nothing will have a greater impact on the progress of a beginner guitar player than their first instrument. The market is saturated with low-cost student models made with sub-standard woods and poor craftsmanship; the action of the strings on these models is also too high, making them difficult to play. It’s best to avoid these instruments which will only frustrate the learner and lead to a swift loss in motivation.
But this does not mean a hefty investment in a first instrument is called for: a beginner won’t appreciate the full potential of a premium model. But it is advisable to choose an instrument from a renowned manufacturer with experience in producing high-quality student models at an affordable price.
Finally, when choosing a guitar for a child, it’s really important to find an instrument that is the right size for his or her height. The first few weeks of playing are crucial, because if the instrument is uncomfortable for them, they will just put it away – or more likely, leave it on the floor, where it will stay.
The best way to determine the correct size is the scale of the instrument, and not the overall length. The most popular options are the 1/2 size guitar, for children between the ages of 5 and 8 (height 100 – 125 cm) and the 3/4 size guitar for children between the ages of 8 and 12 (height 125 – 165 cm). Although children vary a great deal in size, from aged 12 onwards, a full-sized guitar is generally suitable.
A string to your bow
In conclusion, we may have had to close our front doors to the world a lot more than we would like recently, but that doesn’t mean to say we can’t open a window. Engaging in activities that actively improve our health and happiness, such as learning an instrument, is one way of finding positives from the pandemic, as well as other difficult moments in our lives.
And when this has passed, we will be able to share the gift of music at those long-awaited gatherings and reunions with our loved ones, family and friends.