Which instrument should your music-mad child take up?
Firstly, it would be nice to correct a myth: the one which states that after the age of 10/12/14/16 (delete as applicable) you will be unable to learn how to play a musical instrument.
You really can learn how to play an instrument at any age. Often, children are introduced to an instrument at too young an age, given one that they aren’t particularly interested in and then, dispirited, give up; never to return to music-making again.
Those who try to learn an instrument later in their childhood are often more motivated, more patient and more assertive about what they want to learn. I learned to play guitar at 16, a decade after being one of the only people in my school to fail the school choir auditions. I have a friend who took up the guitar in his late 20s and has since become good enough to give guitar lessons.
If your child is looking to take up an instrument then do encourage them but don’t impose your will on them (even though you will probably pay for the lessons!). If they like the music of Blink 182 and you like classical music concertos then it is a better idea to let them learn the guitar rather than to force a cello bow into their hands.
So which instrument should an aspiring young rock star learn? I’ll concentrate on the pros and cons of playing bass, drums, guitar, keyboards and vocals – instruments I’m familiar with through playing in local bands…
One of the advantages of the bass is that it only has four strings whereas most guitars have six strings. This makes changing the strings and re-tuning considerably simpler (bass strings also tend to stay in tune a lot longer than guitar strings do). There are many great bass riffs to learn on the instrument. However, the bass player will often have to carry out the role of ‘water carrier’ – holding down the rhythm while the drummer, guitar player and singer are given free rein to steal the show. This supportive role doesn’t suit everyone’s personality and it’s also a drawback that basses and bass amps are such heavy things to lug around. However, bass players can have a heavy influence on a band’s personalities and songs – Paul McCartney and Lemmy were driving forces in the groups they belonged to!
Drummers have a real influence on a band’s sound – often because, invariably, they are the loudest person in a group. The downside is that many drummers struggle to practice without letting their volume annoy the neighbours. Electronic drum-kits used with headphones are the obvious answer but these often come with price tags of at least £2,000. If you do manage to learn the drums without being attacked by irate neighbours you will always be in demand – ‘drummer wanted’ ads are easily the most common ones on music websites.
The guitar is the ideal instrument to use when playing by yourself (unlike the bass which sounds better when you play it alongside other musicians).
Acoustic guitars are perfect for beginners who just want to get the basics right without the distractions of bending strings and using different amplifier sounds – they also sound great when played by better players.
Electric guitars can be played without disturbing the neighbours (just plug a headphone jack into an amplifier); allowing you to hone your licks without anyone else hearing.
If there is one disadvantage of a guitar it is this: as so many people play one the competition for a place in bands can be fierce!
Thanks to the wonders of modern technology most instruments can now be replicated on the keyboard (for some reason brass sounds seem to be an exception). Keyboards no longer need to be as large and unwieldy as they once were. Bands like The Killers have popularised the use of small Korg keyboards which sound great and won’t take up much room on stage or in the bedroom. Keyboards can help set the mood in a song or apply the last layer of glitter to a recording but, unfortunately, they often get drowned out in live performances.
Yes, the microphone is an instrument too if used in the right hands. Gone are the days when singers just used to belt out songs without any thought – there are lots of singing teachers out there to help singers make the most of their voices. One of the great advantages of being a singer is that you can don’t need to carry much equipment with you – a good set of lungs is normally sufficient. One of the main disadvantages of being a singer is that if you’re not up to scratch you will stick out like a sore thumb – the modern era has made Simon Cowells of us all and no one will be shy about telling you that you’re out of tune.
Despite all the hard work involved, taking up an instrument is such a worthwhile pursuit – encourage your chil dto learn one now and they will thank you later on!