How young is too young for a first uke?

barnstorm

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I see my three-year-old niece most weekends and she's taking an interest in my guitars and ukes. She's quite dexterous but she doesn't really have the patience yet to tolerate any instruction about fretting there and plucking here etc, and finds the fact that they don't automatically produce a nice sound a bit frustrating.

Has anybody had success teaching kids of that sort of age? Happy to buy her her own cheapie to mess about with at home, but I wonder if she might find another sort of instrument – a xylophone or a melodica or something – more rewarding at this stage. What do you guys reckon?

(There's an upright piano at home, but that doesn't seem to hold her attention yet, maybe because it seems more like a piece of furniture than an instrument.)
 

mingus

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My oldest son (18 now) showed interest in the ukulele around that age and then wanted to play violin around 4-6 years old. He has always been a very focused individual, even when he was young.

Well, he doesn’t play either now!

I tried to give him ukulele lessons, and we hired a wonderful violin teacher too. He was too young.

I am the one that ended up playing the ukulele!!

Personally, I believe the best age to seriously take up the ukulele is around 10 years old. Before that, it is sort of toy for little ones to just mess around with, especially at 3 years old. But, I say go ahead and get a beater uke for them!!
 

Aline

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Age 5 is a typical age to begin systematic musical instruction. Piano is often a beginning instrument and there is the suzuki method for violin. I personally think fretted instruments should wait until the hand is stronger and more dexterous and that depends on the child.
 

Aline

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Btw, I started piano at 5 and play piano, classical guitar, violin, celtic harp , uke and more as well as having played in a a variety of paid and unpaid groupings. It all depends on the individual.
 

Spieler

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For now, what about, bring in an inexpensive-but-relatively-robust ukulele-- in her favorite color if possible-- tune it to an open chord (pleasing sound with no fretting required), and simply have it on hand for her?

Make it as fun/least frustrating/low cost as possible for now, and enjoy being together with instruments. :)

~ S.
 

Aline

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For now, what about, bring in an inexpensive-but-relatively-robust ukulele-- in her favorite color if possible-- tune it to an open chord (pleasing sound with no fretting required), and simply have it on hand for her?

Make it as fun/least frustrating/low cost as possible for now, and enjoy being together with instruments. :)

~ S.

For now, what about, bring in an inexpensive-but-relatively-robust ukulele-- in her favorite color if possible-- tune it to an open chord (pleasing sound with no fretting required), and simply have it on hand for her?

Make it as fun/least frustrating/low cost as possible for now, and enjoy being together with instruments. :)

~ S.
 

barnstorm

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That's definitely a good option, Spieler. I suppose I was thinking about it from the perspective of someone who'd be annoyed to only be able to get one (pleasant) sound out of an instrument, but she'd probably be delighted just to be able to jump around thrashing out a single chord. And if I'm playing along it will feel like she's making music.

Interesting to hear your experiences, mingus, Aline. Exams and required pieces certainly took the fun out of piano for me when I was a kid, but equally I know I'd be a more well-rounded guitarist and uke player if I'd taken a more structured approach to learning those instruments. (I know there's still time!)
 

Jerryc41

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I see my three-year-old niece most weekends and she's taking an interest in my guitars and ukes. She's quite dexterous but she doesn't really have the patience yet to tolerate any instruction about fretting there and plucking here etc, and finds the fact that they don't automatically produce a nice sound a bit frustrating.

Has anybody had success teaching kids of that sort of age? Happy to buy her her own cheapie to mess about with at home, but I wonder if she might find another sort of instrument – a xylophone or a melodica or something – more rewarding at this stage. What do you guys reckon?

(There's an upright piano at home, but that doesn't seem to hold her attention yet, maybe because it seems more like a piece of furniture than an instrument.)
Lots of the pros seem to have started at age 4, so 3 should be fine if she has an interest. Just don't expect the interest to last forever, though.
 

Peter Frary

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Years ago I attended a Suzuki convention for music teachers and the presenters bought a group of star students from Japan for the demos and concert. The children were 3 to 5 years old and darned if they could play violin like a whip. Actually heard a Vivaldi concerto played well! The problem with the Suzuki for Westerners is it requires heavy parent participation. The mother normally learns and practices with the child, and that ain't gonna happen in most households. So, yeah, a 3 year old playing is certainly possible if the parents have the time to invest. I wish I could have started that young. At 3 I think I was mostly playing with dirt and catching bugs...
 

Rllink

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I bought my grand daughter a Dolphin for her second birthday for the same reason, she was pawing my ukes. She doesn't seem to want to play it, she wants to throw it around. If I get it out and try to show her how to play it her attention span is two minutes max. She is four now and the uke is sitting in the gig bag in the corner of her bedroom. I'm sure that she doesn't even look at it unless I make her. That said, it was a cheap ukulele that can take a lot of abuse. I would probably do it again, it is there if the urge ever comes over her. I mean, why not? Her mother told me that she is starting piano lessons next month. We will see how that goes.
 

clear

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(There's an upright piano at home, but that doesn't seem to hold her attention yet, maybe because it seems more like a piece of furniture than an instrument.)

Is the piano played often? Kids are interested in the instruments their parents/adults play often.
 

clear

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At 3, some type of percussion instrument might work well., so the xylophone you mentioned might work. I'd look into a tambourine and have her jam with you, ask her to play the beats (it's fun playing on uneven beats); you can strum and sing the songs she likes.
 

Graham Greenbag

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I feel sure that this topic has been covered before, and maybe a few times. Perhaps asking the question again throws up a few new answers. Occasionally you’ll see a child playing an instrument really well, such children are exceptional and so are not typical, pretty much every parent thinks that their child is wonderful and that’s fine but it can set unrealistic expectations.

Children like toys and to children below a certain developmental age that it is what a Uke and any other instrument is, by all means give children toys to play with and then don’t be upset if they don’t use them much or use them in unintended ways. The right age to give children the chance to be musical isn’t set in stone anywhere but be guided by what schools do, so offering an instrument to an able junior school child might be worthwhile and a small percentage of children do go on to enjoy music making in their teens and in their adult life.

My local Piano Teachers earn good money teaching the children of well intended parents, some of those parents struggle to pay for the lessons. When the children grow older they typically don’t want to play anymore and they don’t play later as adults either; to be honest they never really wanted to play as young children and the hobby was just pushed onto them by well intended adults. There’s always an exception to that playing trend and some children do go on to play in adult life, but to my observation we’re talking small percentages here. Piano Teachers might say that every child gets some benefit from having been taught music, IMHO the benefits can be small and the costs can be disproportionately high - possibly painful too. Turkeys don’t vote for Christmas and Teachers need students - or rather paying parents - to maintain their income stream ...

I wouldn’t say don’t give a child a Uke but rather let children be (typical) children. Give them your time, give them your love, give them toys to play with and give them life experiences but don’t give them your expectations.
 
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barnstorm

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Understand what you're saying, Graham – no expectations here, though. I don't mind if she ends up playing an instrument when she's older or not. It's just what she's interested in at the moment, so it'd be nice to be able to give her something to strum/bash that makes a reasonably gratifying noise with no skill required.

@clear, my sister does play the piano – probably only a couple of times a week for herself, but she'll plonk out nursery-rhyme requests from the kids. Plenty of time for 'Play Twinkle Twinkle on the piano' to develop into 'I'd like to be able to play Twinkle Twinkle on the piano', but it hasn't happened yet.

@ScooterD35, I've never played a Strumstick, but I did have a go on a Seagull M4 at a shop over here a couple of years ago. At the time I couldn't imagine picking it up over any of my guitars very often, but it was fun.

 

Graham Greenbag

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Understand what you're saying, Graham – no expectations here, though. I don't mind if she ends up playing an instrument when she's older or not. It's just what she's interested in at the moment, so it'd be nice to be able to give her something to strum/bash that makes a reasonably gratifying noise with no skill required.

As that’s the case - and you appear happy for the child to use the instrument as a toy too - then ask her parents if they’re OK with you giving your niece a Soprano. (Maybe take one with you to check that she’s actually big enough to be able to handle one too.) If they say yes then there’s plenty of painted laminate Soprano’s about and second hand should be fine for your purposes (second hand is better for the planet too). I’d set the Uke up to play easily but also consider having nylon strings on it, you can occasionally show her how it can be played/can sound and nylon strings are likely gentler on little fingers than the other options - maybe (helpfully) a bit quieter too. Retune it when you visit ... friction tuners are hard for little fingers to fiddle with and come as standard on the very old Mahalo’s (one of which I just bought for very little).
 
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According to an old George Formby song,
He walked into the room and saw his new born son
with his little ukulele in his hand.