Forum - Banjo Ben Clark

Starting Kids in Music

One important lesson to learn from Ben’s last banjo contest on Deck the Halls is that we should start kids learning an instrument early. All three finalists were young guys. My kids are 7 and 4, and I want to get them started in music ASAP so they can end up being much better players than I am. What instrument would y’all recommend starting them on? Piano first, then move to strings later, or start them on strings first? Both my son and daughter are very interested in music and when I ask them what they want to play, my son says banjo and my daughter says piano or guitar. If I were to start them on strings I think I would get them a mandolin. What are yalls thoughts or experiences?

Great to hear they’re interested in music. Neither of my girls ever showed any interest even though they saw me playing all the time.

You can’t go wrong with piano. If there’s a specific instrument they’d like to try and you can afford to get them one of quality, then do that.

Something you may want to try (especially for the 4 y o) is a ukulele. It’s small enough for tiny hands and they have nylon strings so it’s easy on the fingers. The chords transfer to the guitar pretty easily… just 4 naturals down.

That’s exciting! I’ve always hoped to share music with my kids. I have a 1 year old. I got 1 more chance. :slight_smile:


I’ve been teaching my little girl piano for about a year and she likes it, though perhaps because Daddy likes it…? I got her a little guitar not long ago and she goes straight to it everyday. I think that if you can, have them play piano and at least learn something there, even if it’s not their main instrument. People ask me if kids should learn more than one instrument early. Do kids learn two languages early? Yes, and I think the same principle applies.


My 2cents. Never push a child to learn to play a musical instrument. When my kids were young I saw their friends parents putting way too much pressure on their kids to do well in an activity their child had no real interest in. It almost seemed like the parents were reliving their own childhood through their kids.

Definitely expose children to music at an early age and to a range of musical instruments. Let them choose which instrument sound they like best, always encourage them but never pressurize them to practice. Most kids love to sing and that is a good way to tell if a child has an ear for music and the potential to play a musical instrument.

Good advice all around. I think I’m gonna get my 7 yr old daughter piano lessons, and maybe wait a year for my 4 yo son. I think I will still get them a mandolin and let Ben teach them!

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Very good advice being given on this thread so far. I certainly agree with Archie about not forcing a child to take up an instrument. It’d be a waste of time and money and probably backfire on you anyway. My daughter (who is 28 now) was surrounded by music and really nice instruments growing up but never had the desire to play. It disappointed me because she had the talent but I never tried to make her. She turned out ok anyway and I’m very proud of her. Fortunately it seems your kids have a desire to play. I like Mark’s idea of a uke for the youngest one. Not saying a four year old couldn’t handle a mandolin or small guitar but starting out I’d pick an instrument that would be the easiest to play unless they were just dead against it. I’d buy the seven year old the instrument they were most interested in and make sure it was set-up well and easy to play. I would push for guitar but that’s just me. Whichever route you go you’re sure doing the right thing getting them started early especially since they have an interest in it.

I don’t know how you feel about new-fangled technology being used to learn music, but I’ve found this “game” to be a very useful tool in learning how to play songs on a digital piano.

And I understand there are now teachers that are using it as a teaching tool.

Hey I may buy the synthesia app for myself! I think I want them to have an in person teacher for piano. I am thankful that both my kids seem to love music. My daughter loves to sing, and my son loves to play with my banjo.

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That is REALLY cool. I have to admit to being a bit jealous. Music is such an integral part of my life that it kinda bums me out that I can’t share it with my kids.

And yeah, I agree with having someone in person there to help them develop good habits early on. Synthesia is a really cool app. My biggest problem is that I have so many other instruments I want to learn to play that the piano gets kicked to the back burner every time.

Just thought I share this,

I’m gonna rock the boat here. If I wasn’t forced to practice and continue lessons many (actually, most) years of my childhood, I would not be a musician today. I never liked it growing up. I had spurts of satisfaction, but overall I would rather have been playing baseball after school like the rest of the guys (oddly none of whom are pro baseball players, by the way). But, my mom saw God-given potential in me and recognized it, then encouraged me. When I didn’t want to, she forced me.

A couple years ago I presented her with a framed picture for Mother’s Day. It was a picture of me smiling with a mandolin around my neck, mid-song on the Grand Ole Opry stage. The note said: Dear Mom, thanks for not letting me quit. I love you.

There is a wrong way to do it, yes. If they don’t have talent or cannot progress, stop forcing them. If it’s destroying your relationship, you’re doing it wrong to begin with. But if you think your kid is never gonna want to quit taking lessons? Ha. That’s one in a million.



By the way, my dad was a farmer, outdoorsman, and horseman. He did not understand the value of what my mom wanted to make me do (she came from a family of well-known pianists). My dad, however, always supported her, even when he didn’t want to. He trusted her in what she saw in me. He put up with me practicing at 6AM before school right next to his bedroom after he’d worked all night and never said a negative word.

Before he died, he told me how often he wanted to tell my mom to let me quit and do what I wanted to do, or to let him sleep, but how thankful he was that he didn’t. So, I have my dad equally to thank. He was the boss of our family, no bones about it, but this was one of the issues he yielded to my mom’s wisdom.


If anybody on this forum ever complains about short fingers again, they’re going to get 10,000 virtual slaps!

I never “learned” to play piano, but I just picked it up. I took lessons for violin starting around 7 or 8. I played brass instruments in high school. I have probably played more guitar than all other instruments combined. Oddly enough, piano is how I “see” music. Intervals, chord shapes, whatever… it goes to piano in my mind. I think there is something important in the visual nature of a piano for taking mathematics and physics of sound and making sense of it all. I say this in support of learning piano (as someone who never formally learned it).

I also strongly support Mark and others who suggest ukes for youngsters. They may or may not latch on, but it is fun, easy and inexpensive. I have a 1930’s uke and a uke that cost less than a set of my favorite bass strings. Both play equally well. A blind sound test led everyone I tried including myself to mis-guess which was the “better” instrument. Try that with a 50 dollar guitar. I bought a uke for a friend’s kid… gateway instrument. He now has played guitar regularly for 3 years.

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I want my kids to like making music. They listen to music but are discouraged when something takes real effort. Without instant success both have defaulted to watching a screen. After small trials with ukulele, drums, and now strings, their interest is luke warm. I hear the arguments about forcing kids but with any small examination of how they are spending their time it is easy to see there is time to try something else other than TV/ internet. I will continue to think of music as an opportunity to do something together.

I can see points on both sides, but I agree mostly with the point that there is nothing wrong with forcing kids to do certain things that will help them in life. I was very much FORCED to work starting at a young age. My dad made me work with him every summer starting at age 10. I was also forced to use some of the money I earned to buy my school clothes. I never got to play sports even though I always wanted to. I am thankful now for my dad forcing me to do that, because my work ethic is better than most, and thank God I have never been unemployed. As parents my wife and I force our kids to do all sorts of things: eat vegetables, set the table. clean up after themselves, say their prayers,
read the Bible as a family everyday, feed the dog, etc, etc. we do these things because we know it’s good for them in the long run. Having said that, why not make them learn an instrument? What if one of our kids will be the next Banjo Ben, and they never know their potential because we let them choose to not pick up an instrument. Since I’ve had kids, my goal has always been to make them better than me, and that takes work. I know that if I get my kids an instrument instead of the latest toy craze, that it will bring them many many years of enjoyment, instead of 2 minuets of enjoyment out of the latest toy craze!

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I agree, and let me also restate that my mom wouldn’t have pressed if she didn’t recognize that I was progressing. She saw there was God-given talent there and the teachers I had counseled her to make me keep playing.

I do think there are many folks out there that try to live vicariously through their kids and put undue pressure on activities, even when there is no gift present. That’s not what I’m talking about, of course.


Just for a little perspective, my story comes from the opposite end of this spectrum. My mom has written in my baby book that at the age of 3, I could pick out the melody notes to a tune on my grandma’s piano, and then remember them the next time we visited. I was naturally drawn to instruments of all kinds, but my parents never took the initiative to get me in to lessons… or even buy me an instrument. In their defense, we were very poor.

At age 11, my grandparents bought me a Sears guitar and said “Learn to play that one and we’ll buy you a better one.” I was really excited to start with my Mel Bay book. I learned C and G7, but then came F. It was impossible to play on that guitar. Even 30 years later, I still couldn’t play an F on THAT guitar, but my family took it to mean I just wasn’t interested in music.

It wasn’t until age 13, knowing that I had blown my chance to get guitar lessons, but also knowing my mom loved bluegrass, that I asked her if I could take banjo lessons. They thought it was a waste of money, but agreed as long as I payed for half of everything. We bought a pawn shop banjo, which almost took me down the old Sears guitar path again. Fortunately, my banjo teacher said “He can’t learn on this” and got me hooked up with a decent banjo. I took 6 months worth of lessons and my teacher moved away.

Fast forward to August of 2016, when I finally continued my banjo learning right here with Ben. :slight_smile:

So, like Ben says, look for that natural gift, but don’t force it. On the other hand, don’t ignore it, either. The right guitar at age 11 could have literally changed the course of my life.


Mark, I appreciate that perspective. And this is also why I encourage parents to invest in a decent enough instrument to not inhibit learning. What’s amazing is that now you can do that cheaper than you ever could, I think, with these instruments they’re building.

No doubt. Someone here recently said they think we’re in a second golden age of instruments. I couldn’t agree more.

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