The benefits of introducing our children to instruments and music-making at a tender age are almost too numerous to count. Learning how to play an instrument goes far beyond simply developing manual dexterity. It helps boost confidence, memory, brain power and creativity. Music is often a social activity that helps nurture cooperation, discipline and patience while rewarding effort. That’s why it’s so perplexing that many kindergarten and elementary schools are eliminating or curtailing music programs over budgetary concerns.

This being the case, it is up to parents in many communities to give their child their first toot on a recorder or thump on a set of bongos. The early introduction of kid-friendly percussion and simple melody instruments can have a resounding effect on their development.

The good news for parents wanting to provide simple starter instruments for their kids is that they’re quite affordable. Keep in mind though that toys in the guise of real instruments will not only fall apart, but they will likely sound unmusical and be hard to play, souring your child’s experience. In this quick-start guide, we'll look at some of the most popular kid’s and classroom instruments to help you find great starter instruments.

Shakin’ all over: shakers,castanets and rattles

A great way to teach rhythmic skills, shakers and rattles are a kid-friendly way to begin building your toddlers’ sense of time. Whether played in an ensemble, solo, or along with pre-recorded music, they’re kid-friendly and go easy on tight budgets.

Nino 4-Piece Botany Shaker Fruit Assortment

The colorful Nino 4-Piece Botany Shaker Fruit Assortment produces a variety of sounds and each shaker has a kid-safe finish that safe for toddlers.

Explore our huge selection of maracas, shakers, and rattles.

Steel drums: A great introduction to percussion and notation

Steel drums, or steel pans as they’re sometimes called, are musical instruments originating from Trinidad and Tobago. The characteristic sound of the steel drums will be instantly recognizable to any child who’s seen Disney’s The Little Mermaid, as they supply the rhythm for ‘Under the Sea’. Most importantly, kids love to play it. The Panyard Jumbie Jam Deluxe Steel Drum Kit is the perfect instrument to introduce that love into your household.

The Jumbie Jam is an authentic steel drum that’s fun to play and easy to learn. You don't have to know how to read music; the notes on the drum and in the included songbook are clearly marked and make a great introduction to notation. The collapsible stand is height-adjustable for all sizes of players and tucks into the included carrying case. A beginners’ guide, songbook and a play-along CD containing multiple backing tracks for each song are also included. The Jumbie Jam will hold young players’ attention and it's authentic enough to actually produce a quality sound, making it a great choice for budding musician.

Panyard Jumbie Jam Deluxe Steel Drum Kit

The fun to play Panyard Jumbie Jam Deluxe Steel Drum Kit makes a great introduction to music notation and includes a height-adjustable stand and clearly marked notes on the head.

Browse our complete selection of steel drums.

Djembes: Starter drums ideal for learning rhythm skills

Few instruments are as fun and easy and rewarding to play as a djembe. The traditional djembe is a rope-tuned skin-covered goblet drum that comes to us from West Africa. Nothing beats this type of instrument for a hands-on experience, because it’s played with bare hands and produces a wide range of tones. The RhythmTech Rhythm Village Benkadi Club Series 9 in. Djembe is not only an attractive example of the instrument with its colorful 7" x 18" body, it’s also affordable and well built. The pre-tuned head requires no tuning and the body is constructed of PVC. 

RhythmTech Rhythm Village Benkadi Club Series 9 in. Djembe 17 x 8 in. Benkadi Burst

The RhythmTech Rhythm Village Benkadi Club Series 9 in. Djembe produces impressive tone and has solid, kid-friendly construction and visuals.

Browse our complete selection of djembes for kids or view our full selection of djembes.

Tambourines: Keep your tots tapping to the beat

The tambourine is a classic timekeeping mainstay that is sure to help instill the rudiments of rhythm and beat for any young player who handles one. Playing the Nino Double-Row Tambourine is a great way for kids to get a feel for this versatile instrument. Its double rows of well-anchored jingles, also known as zils produce plenty of bright sound. The 10" sturdy wooden framed Nino is a traditional tambourine that produces an easy-to-love jangly tone. With one of these around you may just break into a spontaneous family musical, Partridge Family style.

Nino Double-Row Tambourine

The Nino Double-Row Tambourine has a tough wooden frame and well anchored jingles making it very child-friendly.

Browse our complete selection of tambourines for kids or view our full selection of tambourines.

Bells: Let those rascals ring

Bell sets, commonly known by their German moniker glockenspiel, are actually percussion instruments. They are composed of a set of tuned metal plates arranged like a piano. On top of being one of our highest rated kids’ instruments, the First Note 25-Note (G-G) Bell Set is a terrific starter set for your young artist. It’s sturdily made, affordable and portable. The instrument is built into a durable carrying case and comes with mallets and note charts. The moment your children master their first complete melody, they are sure to be hooked on the joys of making music.

First Note 25-Note (G-G) Bell Set

The First Note 25-Note (G-G) Bell Set is built into its own carrying case, so in addition to being mobile, its easy to protect because it’s never uncovered unless you’re playing it.

Browse our complete selection of bells for kids.

Cymbals: The good kind of clashing

The cymbals most folks are familiar with are the crashes, rides or hi-hats that are usually part of drum kits, but the most exciting version for kids are of the handheld variety. Hohner Brass Cymbals are 5 inches in diameter and come with convenient handles. You can play this set one of two ways: by crashing them together, or by striking them with the included mallets—both equally satisfying. Cymbals are used in many settings, such as orchestras, percussion ensembles, jazz bands and marching bands to name a few, so introducing your child to these small starter cymbals that have a clean, clear voice is a great introduction to those activities.

Hohner Brass Cymbals

Hohner Brass Cymbals come with knobs affixed for crashing them, but also a set of mallets for striking them.

Browse our complete selection of cymbals for kids.

Recorders: The staple instrument of the young musician

Many of us have childhood memories of playing the recorder. “Hot Cross Buns” and other simple melodies offered a great introduction to pentatonic scales. As many music programs fold in our schools, we’d certainly be remiss if we didn’t allow our children to make recorder memories of their own. The Aulos Classroom Recorder Alto 3 Piece is a fantastic starter instrument to build those melodic skils. You may find a recorder for less, but spending a bit more on an instrument that is built better will pay dividends in its sound and playability.

Aulos recorders are known for their excellent intonation and ease of playing in all registers. The A709Bw is outstanding for students in a classroom or ensemble setting, or just playing for fun at home. They have a beautiful wood grain finish and are available in a variety of voicings ranging from piccolo and soprano to alto pitches, and come with a handy cleaning rod and durable carrying case.

Aulos Classroom Recorder Alto 3 Piece

The Aulos Classroom Recorder Alto 3 Piece English Woodgrain Finish A709Bw is more than just your garden variety recorder. It comes with its own carrying case and cleaning rod, and is well built for satisfying sound and playability.

Browse our complete selection of recorders for kids.

Still need help?

If after reading this guide you’d still like some advice on choosing the best beginner-level kid’s or classroom instruments, call one of our friendly and knowledgeable Gear Heads. We will help you find the right instrument to match your student's age and interests as well as your budget.