Forum - Banjo Ben Clark

Best Instrument for 12-Year-Old to Learn

Hi, I’m new to the forum!

Our younger (12yo) son wants to learn to play an instrument. His older brother (15yo) has been taking piano lessons for a few years … but the 12yo doesn’t seem drawn to it. At one time, he seemed interested in the guitar. More recently, he said he wanted to learn the banjo. This week, he’s talking about the mandolin. I have ZERO musical experience. (My wife learned to play the piano when she was young, but she doesn’t play it now.) I think he can be happy taking any of those paths, but if he’s likely to progress quicker and/or have fewer frustrations with one of these instruments, we’d like to encourage him in that direction.

Also, I’ve read some posts here that trying to get by with a “cheap” instrument can lead to a lot of frustration. Again, I have no musical experience, but the concept makes sense. So, perhaps a consideration is the availability of reasonable-quality beginner’s instruments in one category but not the others?

Any suggestions? Thoughts?

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There’s already a piano in the house, so no additional investment is a good thing, even though he’s not showing a whole lot of interest at this time.

Perhaps if his brother showed him a C, F, and G chord, he may become a bit more interested, because he’ll be able to play thousands of songs with just these three chords, and he won’t have to think about any of the black keys.

Another huge plus, is that if you learn the piano first, you can learn any instrument after. Just ask Ben.

Just a thought.


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A lot to consider there.

It’s not his age that should be considered so much as his interest in the instrument itself.

Sounds like he’s not committed to any specific instrument yet, so I’d suggest some investigation first. Do some listening together and see what he likes the sound of the best…watch some videos on youtube to see what each instrument does in different kinds of music, watch some of Ben’s lessons together. bring him to a music store and let him get the jinstruments he might be interested in into his hands (under supervision).

If you know anyone who plays (and you trust), they can be a great help when choosing a beginner instrument.

The main concern of a beginner’s instrument is that it is playable and tunable. There is plenty of availability of reasonably priced instruments out there, but how they are set up (string action, playing in tune, etc.) is important is important to how correctly and easily they can be played.

Don’t know where you’re located, but there might even be someone here on the site that is close enough to help out on some of this.

Hope this helps some…


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Howdy @davidwprewitt! As @fiddle_wood says, see if you can detect an instrument that he is drawn to more. Then, I want you to call @Jake down at my General Store and let him educate you on what a beginner needs to have in an instrument. It is very important, and you can trust Jake to shoot you straight.

To answer your questions, I think he’d take off on either…both are gonna be a blast for him! He may just play both, and there’s nothing wrong with that. And, you can find wonderful quality beginner-level instruments for both…again, you want to find someone you can trust, like Jake.

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Great advice from all.
This sounds a lot like myself when I started learning. I was drawn to the music, but not necessarily one instrument in particular. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as I have always felt that what someone learns on one adds to their overall knowledge and abilities as a musician. As such, I simultaneously learned mandolin, guitar, banjo, and bass as I was hit with the mood to. I realize that this is not possible for most people, as I was fortunate enough to have all these instruments around the house with my dad being a musician. Guitar is the instrument I ended up spending the most time with simply because the guitar I had was a better quality instrument than some of the others…that, and I heard Tony Rice for the first time. Haha. But it could’ve easily went either way. So on that note, the quality of the instrument and the setup is a major contributing factor to nurturing that interest. We do offer a good range and selection of instruments and they all come with a professional setup. If you would like to give me a call at 1-833-226-5623 I’d be glad to answer anymore questions you have in more detail.

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Looks like two themes; drawn to music and drawn to an instrument, I’ve known people in both categories. I was definitely in the later. After learning one instrument, the others came along. If I had to learn on something I wasn’t interested in (piano) I might have given up. We started with piano for our kids, but they all went in different directions from there. One is active (drawn to guitar, mando, uke) the other two just listen.

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My 2 cents… pianois always invaluable and is a solid “foundation” instrument. Ben… and many others have started there.

That said, INTEREST is the key. If he is not drawn to it, don’t force. If there is another interest, let him pursue that instrument and he may well just migrate to piano later… especially as someone rightly pointed out - it is already in your home.

For now… encourage him to gravitate and select HIS instrument.

Then, do just as Ben advises… let him talk with Jake to get a decent instrument. He’s great and will advise you well.

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A good start could be a dulcimer…

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Hey Dave -

A couple things I’m about to say is gonna really put a target on my back! :slight_smile:

First, For a kid about 12, I think a guitar is a great way to start. Lots of reasons for this, but mostly that it is pretty easy to get started and hear himself playing something resembling a song. My son is 11 - he officially started on piano, but lessons and practice were kind of a drudgery. The guitars were in the house - that’s what we did for FUN.

But therein lies problem - how do you make it fun? Well, for us, it was plying things he knows. Since he was baby I’ve played bluegrass in the car an in the house, so he knows it. After teaching him G C and D, the first thing I showed him was New River Train. Just a few practices he was able to play along with the song, and with me. The second one we did was Where the Soul of Man Never Dies - that was cool because he started singing - taking RIcky Skaggs to my Tony Rice. He LOVED that.

I once heard someone say… Piano makes perfect sense. It is logical and easy to “see” the music and theory. Mandolin (fiddle) is a little harder, but still makes sense. Guitar a little less so, but it is still pretty logical. Banjo can only be understood by the crazy. Hehe - sorry!

Regarding instruments… I don’t think you need anything special to learn on, as long as you can tune it. True, I think higher end instruments have better plyability and definitely better sound, but it’s not necessary nd so wht?. Go to the local music store and you can pick up a Yamaha or Mitchell acoustic for $150 that will play just fine. Or - check local Craigs List for something even cheaper.

Importnt thing is to get the instrument(s) in the house nd keep hmim exposed to music.

Good luck!

One more quick point, if it’s a stringed instrument such as a guitar, a good action is super important. Few things will cause a beginning guitar player to hang it up quicker than a guitar that plays lousy.

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Take him/ her down to the music store and watch reaction. Kids go through a lot of phases likes and dislikes, I have 5 grandchildren each with a different temperament.

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I agree and dis-agree. For a piano, a keyboard would be just fine I’d think. But if some thing does not sound good, hard to play, & constantly has to be tuned, a kid may get tired of it right quickly. Might be a good compromise to get something you and the kid can play that might be a little higher quality.

A base drum pedal for instance that bounces all over the place is almost unplayable. The cheap kids versions are like that. No comparison to a DW9000 pedal. My wife bought me a $200 Banjo and I spent more time tuning it, than practicing. I doubt I’d still be playing if I didn’t find something else. I am however very good at tuning a banjo now.

Also having a better tuned Banjo has decreased how often my 7 year old asks me to stop practicing because her barbies are trying to sleep. And that is worth a little extra money.

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