A Gift Guide for the Young Musician

The holidays are a great time to show support for your child’s musical endeavors through the gifts that you give them. I’m not talking stationary with guitars dancing around the borders, but musical instruments and accessories that might actually encourage more music-making.

It should be noted that all of the photos here link to an online source for more information but I encourage visiting a local music store for their expert advice and curated selection. Atlanta folks, my favorite is Earthshaking Music.

Music 

First and foremost, is music. I don’t know how kids are listening to music these days – I guess they aren’t still buying CDs but maybe it’s an iTunes giftcard or a Pandora or Spotify subscription. Spotify can be a great tool for building music appreciation because you can create and share playlists. It also has a great “browse” page full of well-curated themed playlist and it  recommends other artists you might like based on what you listen to.

Or better yet, tickets to see live music! Watch for their favorite artists coming into town or check out line-ups at local spots for a “date night” to see something new. Atlanta folks, Eddie’s Attic in Decatur and Venkman’s in Old Fourth Ward are good places to sit down, eat, listen to music and get home at a decent time. They have a wide variety of genres coming through too.

Playable Instruments 

Piano-Like Instruments

Any of my students with knowledge of piano could quickly find their way around any of these fun instruments!

Kids LOVE melodicas. They are basically just a piano that you blow into to make a sound. This is the exact model that I have in the music studio that the kids beg to play all the time.

I have lots to say about xylophones / glockenspiels but here are some of the big ideas. I prefer:

  • Colored Keys over Solid Keys – For some younger learners, starting with color recognition gives easy wins before we learn the numbers of the scale or the note names. However, if colored keys seem too juvenile for older students, the solid keys are just fine!
  • Chromatic to C Scale – Many of the xylophones are just a C scale, which is fine but limiting. If possible it’s nice to get the “black keys” or the chromatic scale. These will have a second row of keys stacked. It looks a little bit more like a piano with makes it more transferrable as well.
  • 2 Octaves to 1 Octave – Again, may xylophones are just a C scale, which is fine but limiting. I would say in the least be sure to buy one that goes from C to C but I also like to have at least down to a bass G for many of the songs that the kids learn (like the one below). Two full octaves is even better!

The one I’ve linked to here has all of those qualities but if it is too juvenile for your kiddo, there are tons out there that are wooden, black, white, silver with teal boxes – all sorts of cool things. They’re pretty popular in indie bands these days. Cool versions are everywhere!

I’m pretty sure this one falls more into the toy category than instrument but it’s still another fun way to build piano and musical understandings… and there is actually a music group that has made quite an art form out of large floor pianos like this – check out Il Grande Piano for inspiration!

This one takes some getting used to and isn’t exactly set up like a piano. But it does require relatively little by way of fine motor development and the notes are setup highest to lowest like a piano. The buttons are clearly labeled where students can find what they are looking for and they push or pull the accordion to make the sound.

This is also not quite like a piano except for the fact that the notes are laid out in order. Recorders are super easy to pick-up and a fun instrument to play around with. Recorders are in the key of C (unless otherwise noted) so it’s easy to work into songs with other instruments. My dad always got me penny whistles or tin whistles as stocking stuffers so I’m a little partial I guess.

Ukulele

Guitar students and older students can pick up ukulele pretty quickly. They are relatively inexpensive ($25), pretty indestructible, and easy to travel with. Of course, they come in every color you can imagine too.

Percussion Instruments

There are tons of fun percussion instruments out there but this is one of my favorites because it can be played while playing guitar or ukulele. It’s actually a great skill to learn too! I have this one in the studio and the kids have a great time with it.

Instrument Upgrade

Just a note to mention that your child probably does not need an instrument upgrade unless we’ve spoken specifically about transitioning to a new size or a higher quality. The only exception may be for my piano students – A keyboard with weighted keys is always a nice upgrade if you are currently using a beginner keyboard. You can skip all of the buttons and settings and things (in fact, I would because they are distracting and will drive you crazy) but I would prioritize weighted keys.

Accessories 

There are tons of accessories that I think are beneficial to playing music but don’t quite fall into the gift category – strings, rosin, music stands, instrument stands, cleaner, polish, cloths, chin rests, shoulder rests, foot rests, etc. etc. For this post, I’m going to try to stick with accessories that kids may be excited to open around the holidays – things that could pass as a toy or could show some personality!

Metronomes

A metronome helps provide that steady beat at an exact tempo while students play – sometimes I call our metronome, our “drummer.” A metronome is also a very effective practice tool. In our lessons, we’ll often learn a section at a certain tempo then bump up the tempo little by little until we are playing the section to tempo. Many adults (myself included) have terrible memories from tedious metronome practice but if we give them a fun, colored, robotic metronome and call it our personal drummer maybe we can keep the practice feeling like fun!

I should also mention that there are plenty of apps for metronomes too. The one we typically use in lessons is Pro Metronome. That to say, students do not need a physical metronome as much as it would be a want – but that’s the idea of a holiday gift anyway right?!

This electronic metronome / tuner combo is an Amazon bestseller, by a reputable music company Korg, comes in a handful of colors (black, silver, gold, red, white), and is about $25.

This one is the simpler version – same company, only metronome (no tuner), comes in black or blue, and costs about $15.

Mechanical metronomes use an adjustable weight on the end of an inverted pendulum rod to control tempo. The weight slides up the pendulum rod to decrease tempo, or down to increase tempo. The pendulum swings back and forth in tempo, while a mechanism inside the metronome produces a clicking sound with each oscillation.

Kids love mechanical metronomes because they get to wind them up and I love mechanical metronomes because they don’t need a battery. Sometimes it is challenging to get them exactly on the desired tempo (unlike the electronic versions where you can adjust it to the exact desired bpm) but I think it is plenty close enough.

There are tons of mechanical metronomes available out there, including teal and hot pink.

There are also adorable animal metronomes out there in the world too! They run about $70 on Amazon and look pretty close to selling out. One of my sweet students gave me the owl one and I love it! There is also a cat and a penguin (and who knows what else) available.

I have never used one of these super-fancy, high-tech. vibrating, wearable metronomes but for about $100 you can have your very own! As I understand it, this metronome vibrates on the beat instead of making a sound. You can twist the outer ring to set the tempo or it does have the tap feature like most electronic metronomes (of course, there’s an app too)!

Tuners

I felt like I should also include a tuner with the talk of metronomes. Similar to a metronome, you can just use an app on your device – I use PanoTuner for chromatic tuning and GuitarTuna for ukulele, guitar, and bass. These little clip-on tuners are handy though and somehow sense vibrations so they don’t pick-up all of the outside noise like an app does. I have only ever used Snarks – I lose them constantly and it seems like all of mine are currently dead but when I have them and they have batteries, they work really well. They come in a few different colors and a dizzying number of models (but they seem to all do pretty much the same thing)!

Guitar Capos

All of my guitar students need a capo so we can play in different keys with familiar chord shapes. They probably already have one of some sort but these are my favorite capos if you’re looking for an upgrade – they are slightly more expensive at about $15 but they are the best and they have the most options for colors and prints (like this super cool bandana one).

Guitar Picks

Guitar picks seem to be a popular gift. And don’t get me wrong, they’re a great gift. The colors are fun, we all lose them all the time anyway so we always need more. But… please beware of novelty picks. The ones printed with Taylor Swifts face may not be the highest quality and will only make it harder to kids to be successful playing guitar. This same sentiment stands for those pick punchers – it’s pretty cool to destroy old credit cards but they don’t necessarily make the best picks. The ones I selected here offer a variety of colors (obviously important) and a variety of weights (thin, medium, and heavy) for kids to play with.

Guitar Straps

I’m sure you can imagine but there are oodles and oodles of guitar straps out there. Guitar straps are primarily for playing standing up which the vast majority of my students do not do comfortably or regularly (and most guitarists don’t, unless they are playing on a stage). That makes a strap pretty unnecessary and they sometimes just get in the way but it is a fun gift with personality!

Instrument Cases

This may be unique to ukulele but there are lots of inexpensive, fun soft cases out there that could make a fun gift. This isn’t another instrument, or a tool for practice, it won’t make them a better player, and won’t take care of their instrument any better, BUT it is just another way to show your support for their music playing!

This link just takes you to a bunch of colors but with a quick search you can find pandas, flowers, cats, dogs, outer space, boho prints, Hawaiian prints, all sorts of things!

A Gift For You

Specifically for the parents of my beginning violin students, this may come in handy. It’s a violin mute (or quiet-downer, more appropriately) but we don’t have to tell the kids that. It can just be a really cool toy that makes their violin sounds super awesome (and coincidentally, a lot quieter). There are a lot of rubber ones on the market but this one is the real deal.

What Else?

I missed a couple of things on purpose.

  • Music-Themed Gifts – If it excites them, go for it. But otherwise, probably not necessary. Unless, it’s a cool personalized music-themed tote bag that is going to help them remember to bring all of their music and accessories to their lesson each week. Their music teacher would appreciate that.
  • Folding Music Stands – I just don’t like them. They are popular gifts, they come in a lot of different colors, they are easy to travel with… but they also are just flimsy and can’t hold anything up. Not my favorite but could be useful.
  • Music Books, Songbooks, Sheet Music – This may go in the category of “unpopular opinions” but I am not a huge fan of music books, songbooks, or sheet music. Unless it is a book that we have already picked out together that would align well with the student’s zone of proximal development and musical interests, it probably won’t be that useful. At best, it’ll be inspiration for us to build off of to arrange the songs for the students strengths and abilities. And the best inspiration, is just listening to the music itself!

Please reach out and let me know your thoughts, questions, and suggestions! I would love to help encourage our kids in their musical endeavors this holiday season!


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