Most parents are probably so focused on just getting our kids to play an instrument that we don't give much thought to the question: "What's the right instrument for my child?"
Quite honestly, on the list of things I'm supposed to keep in mind as a parent, I never knew such a question existed. Until now.
Ron Chenoweth is the band and orchestra division manager for Ken Stanton Music, a Georgia-based music education company with nearly 100 teachers providing more than 1,000 lessons every week.
Part of Chenoweth's job includes managing a team that regularly goes into schools to help band directors determine what instrument each student should play. Two things he and his colleagues are always looking at are body type and personality.
Best instruments for kids who like center stage
If a child likes to be the star of the show, Chenoweth might steer the child to the flute because flutists tend to stand in front of the band.
"I look for the kid that's smiley, happy, sometimes talkative, rather than just very, very quiet," said Chenoweth, who has been with Ken Stanton Music for 16 years. "They usually are asking questions and they'll say, 'Well, I want to do this because ... ' and so they're telling you their story."
Other instruments for extroverts, Chenoweth says, are the saxophone and trumpet.
"They tend to be lead instruments, whether a jazz band or a show band. They play that higher melodic part, and these kids tend to be almost uncontrollable at some point," he said with a laugh. "But they just are very outgoing. You don't really see the quiet ones go that way."
How body type factors in
Physical characteristics can determine the best instrument for a child too. Take the bassoon, for example, which isn't ideal for small kids.
"The bassoon, when assembled, is almost 6 feet tall, and the spread of the finger holes is ridiculous," he said.
Someone with very small lips might be better suited for the trumpet or French horn, while someone with larger lips might have trouble playing those instruments, according to Chenoweth.
"The cup size of a trumpet or a French horn would be too small, and they wouldn't actually be able to produce a good sound," said Chenoweth, who played the French horn in his high school and college marching bands and has been involved in music education ever since.
"And then sometimes you're surprised. ... Somebody you thought 'Oh, they'll never get the sound out of this trumpet,' and away they go."
I asked Chenoweth what personality and physical attributes might lead to success with other instruments:
• Oboe: An important trait for mastering this "very intricate" instrument is "above average intelligence," according to Chenoweth.
• Tuba: An excellent choice for students with larger lips, he said.
• Trombone: The player's front teeth should be even. "You want a nice bite that shouldn't be in need of orthodontia," he said.
• Violin: Kids can start playing as early as 2 to 3 years old. "I think because they have varying sizes, it makes them rather universal," said Chenoweth, who started playing the clarinet in the fourth grade.
• Piano: Long fingers or large hands are desirable, and so is being a good thinker. "Physically they're going to need good dexterity with their hands," said Chenoweth. "You would probably look for a propensity to something analytical, somebody who might show a little bit of inquisitiveness."
Let them play what they want to play
Even before you start assessing whether an instrument matches your child's personality, or if they have the right body type for success, you should let your child be the guide, Chenoweth says.
"My first thing is you have to get them onto an instrument that they first are interested in because if there's little interest in playing it, there will be the same amount of success -- very little," he added.
Try not to push them to play what you played, said Chenoweth. "Private lessons at home with the parent are not necessarily going to be successful," he said with a laugh.