Should You Choose a Toy Ukulele or a Real Ukulele for a Child?
Article by Jennifer Hughes*
It’s a question every well-meaning parent, grandparent, aunt or uncle has pondered over since the ukulele became one of the most popular instruments for children. Should they choose a real ukulele over a toy ukulele for their little loved one?
There’s no hard and fast rule to this because each child is different. For instance, 7-year-old Jonah is of the right age to get started on playing ukulele but he may not take lessons seriously if he’s more interested in playing soccer. On the other hand, 5-year-old Clara may seem to young but she’s advanced for her age - she can read and write complete sentences and has a razor-sharp attention when it comes to receiving instructions.
Even children of the same age have different personalities, abilities and learning styles. So how do you know whether you should get a child a toy or a real instrument? Let’s consider the following points.
The child’s interest
Children will always find a way to let you know if they want something. If they see another child playing ukulele and they like how it sounds, they may express keen interest in playing the instrument as well.
See if the child’s interest goes away in a few weeks. If it doesn’t, and the child asks to watch ukulele videos and listen to ukulele music again and again, then it’s a good sign. In this case, it’s ideal to give the child the best beginner ukulele you can afford. It doesn’t have to be expensive - there are several ukulele brands such as Luna and Kala that offer quality instruments at a good price.
Why not test things out by giving him or her a toy? Well, giving a child who’s clearly interested in playing ukulele a toy version can only ruin their enjoyment and hinder their progress.
Imagine learning to play the G chord on a toy ukulele. The resulting sound may not even sound anywhere near the G chord. A toy may not stay in tune - it may not even be tuned at all! Toy ukuleles are often poorly built - they have thin plastic bodies, low-quality strings, uneven frets and flimsy tuners. In short, they’re unplayable. A child who really wants to play ukulele will quickly feel frustrated when they’re playing a toy and they may lose interest altogether.
The child’s developmental age
Kids as young as 3 years old can already learn to play musical instruments, but it’s recommended to wait a few more years for proper instruction. Then again, many children develop cognitive and physical abilities quickly, allowing them to learn faster. When choosing a ukulele for a child, consider his or her abilities with regard to learning basic concepts and employing fine motor skills that are needed to play the ukulele properly.
If you want to encourage a child to play or develop an interest in the ukulele, this is when you can get a toy. A toy ukulele would be a good starting point so the child can learn to hold the instrument and get familiar with how it makes sounds. Plus, you won’t have to worry if the uke gets banged around during playtime.
If, after several weeks or months the child begins to show a greater interest in playing the toy, then you can consider upgrading to a real beginner ukulele. A soprano ukulele, because it is the smallest of all ukulele bodies, is often the top choice for children learning to play.
Those are the main considerations when buying a ukulele for a child. Think about the child first and you’ll be able to determine whether to get a toy or a real ukulele. Let us know how your gift-giving goes!