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My daughter is currently 3, she has a very keen interest in music. She sings a lot and "composes" her own little "songs" to her own tunes. She has apparently has a keen ear for music, she inserts her own beats in the off-beat in quite a few songs I play for her from time to time and that is as far as I'm concerned quite impressive. I would like to know what type instrument to get her started with and how to go about doing it. I have very basic knowledge of music and used to play piano years ago, a skill I have now lost. Any suggestions would be great

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Typically if children are started on instruments that young in life, the instruments are either violin or piano The violins are 1/4, 1/8, or even 1/16 size if necessary.

Age 3 is an incredibly fertile time for a child - the brain is still taking shape and neurological connections are just beginning to be formed. For example, this age would also be the best time to introduce a second language if you wanted them to be fluent. That said, they may mix languages because they may not differentiate between the two.

At any rate, I just want to caution about "programming" children to be musicians. Yes, pretty much any child that begins at 3 can become a virtuoso - it's the nature of the way our brains function. That said, they may grow up feeling like they did not have a choice in the matter.

That said, developing kinesthetic motor coordination, aural skills, and a healthy appreciation for music is absolutely necessary for creating a well-rounded person. What is important is that it isn't forced onto her, that if she follows it, it's her own choice - which is exactly how it sounds so far!

My recommendation would be that if she is interested, you could rent a violin for a month or two or a keyboard from a music store, and try a couple months of violin / piano lessons. If she doesn't like them, then you can always wait a couple years before introducing a different instrument (though not stopping music!) In addition, renting by month is nice because you're not committing several hundred dollars to something that's not guaranteed.

I hope that was more helpful than advice-y.

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Nice one. I would also recommend buying a few toy instruments simultaneously to figure out which one is becoming the favorite.. –  user1306 Mar 3 '13 at 23:45
    
Yes, I'd agree with this as well - especially small percussion instruments. –  jjmusicnotes Mar 4 '13 at 15:30
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I disagree a bit about the forcing -- I disliked piano for 7 years and then somewhat abruptly began to love it. If not for being "forced" this wouldn't have happened. Best for the parents to play it out as they see fit. –  Matthew Read Mar 4 '13 at 19:12
    
Your comment Matthew is essentially the crux of my point in my answer - that the parents should be aware that they're not going overboard with things. You want children to have fun and explore, but on the other hand it is important to teach about commitment. I think you are a special circumstance as most people wouldn't spontaneously like an instrument that they disliked for so many years. I also agree with you that things should "play out." The child might love music but may end up a trumpet or flute player instead of piano or violin. –  jjmusicnotes Mar 4 '13 at 20:06
    
I played violin for 8 years - initially liked it, went through a phase of hating it (luckily my parents 'forced' me to continue) then liked it a bit more. Sure, I then dropped it for guitar when I was 16, but I think your point is very valid. –  Dr Mayhem Mar 5 '13 at 7:45

There are a number of well-established, traditional education programs that are around a century old which are geared toward introducing preschoolers to music and musical concepts.

An element of this is found in the Montessori educational program.

The next area to investigate is finding a program that incorporates the Orff method (also known as the Orff Schulwerk or Orff Approach), using Orff instruments.

After this, I'm aware of several new educational franchises in the United States that facilitate parents working together with their preschool children to explore music and movement in a group setting with a teacher. One of the best known is MusikGarten. Another is The Music Groove.

What all of these programs have in common is that none of them involve the child learning to play a traditional musical instrument. Instead, in these programs, preschoolers learn about rhythm and counting and dancing and singing, and this prepares them for musical concepts they can learn when they are older. In the case of the Orff Approach, the children learn to play simple melodies and rhythms on special percussion instruments designed for children, in an explorational environment.

I should also mention the Suzuki method, primarily known for teaching violin playing to very young students. You can read a discussion about it at this Wikipedia link.

Learn about these programs, the well-established traditional academic ones and the new, less-academic franchises, and see if there are schools in your area that provide one or more of these programs.

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Personally I waited until my kids were older as I didn't want to push them at that age, as you say, but there do seem to be a large number of children brought up playing violin or piano from kindergarten age - so it is obvious that preschoolers can handle it. –  Dr Mayhem Mar 5 '13 at 7:47
    
I'm not a parent. But I've never heard of anybody being successful at studying a conventional musical instrument before the age of 5 or 6. –  Wheat Williams Mar 5 '13 at 17:15
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You've seen the suzuki method, right? It starts them in preschool. A core tenet of the method is that learning from the environment at that age is natural. –  Dr Mayhem Mar 5 '13 at 18:35
    
Good point. I had not considered the Suzuki method. But this approach with children so young is not without controversy. I'll amend my post. –  Wheat Williams Mar 5 '13 at 19:17
    
I came to this question because I was thinking the question was not an appropriate question for this forum (although it is a great question to which I would otherwise want to contribute.) But you have 7k+ experience and you gave a good answer, so maybe I just need to revisit the boundaries for the forum. (Or maybe I have a good point?) Just curious how this fits within the pervue of musical practice and performance. –  jordanconductor Mar 27 '13 at 22:08

You want the child to play music? Focus on the word "play". Make instruments available. Play yourself (even if it's just banging two spoons together.) Sing. Have fun. Don't worry about formal music for several more years.

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