The Best First Instruments For Babies and Toddlers (And Tips To Keep Them Jamming)


I was lucky enough, while living in Denver, to have found (and attended) The Music Train’s music classes for kids. Raines and I had tried out several other music classes (Music Together, etc), but had never found ones that we loved. Raines, for example, draws a line at “shaking his sillies out” (even at age 2) and I could only handle so many renditions of “wheels on the bus” before wanting to throw myself under said bus.

Enter my friend Anya Jane and the Music Train.

From the first class, we both knew we had found something special. Anya and her guitar bring an energy (and, honestly, a cool factor) to music classes that is simply unparalleled in the world of kid’s music classes. Each of her music sessions are themed (we’re talking serious music genres: rock, jazz ‘n blues, latin, irish folk, etc.) and she uses a mix of regular adult songs that also appeal to kids (thank you for that, Anya)…as well as kid’s classics, re-done. I no longer daydream about playing in traffic when listening to her rendition of Wheels On the Bus done to a rock beat and (I think?) electric guitar.

Soooo….you can imagine my excitement when Anya agreed to write up something for us music-loving, rock-star wannabe mamas….THE primer on introducing your kiddos to music. Not only does she identify which instruments are best for each age…but she gives tips on how to introduce each one, and how to keep the whole family jammin’.  Here are her tips…

The Best First Instruments For Babies And Toddlers (And How To Introduce Them)

There are maracas and drums, kazoos and whistles, cow bells and keys and oh so many toy guitars…so what do you get your little one and at what age so that they can find their musical mojo? Bar none, the best musical gift you can give your kids is YOU!

Bar none, the best musical gift you can give your kids is YOU!”

Whatever, right? You only sing when the car windows are securely sealed, or in the shower when the neighbors have split town. Fear not, your child will judge not (at least until they hit 4th grade).

There’s this idea that music making is only for the elite few, the ones that cut the albums or come into the top ten on the latest reality show – not so! Music making is for everyone. Did you know that every child is born musical? That every child can learn to sing in tune and keep an accurate rhythm? Music is a language, the earlier the exposure and the richer the experiences the better!  Did you know that the average household has a repertoire of only 3-5 songs that they sing with their little ones?  Imagine if we only spoke 3-5 sentences to our kids in their first four years!?!?!  So here are some tried and true ways to help nurture your young ones musical development and have some fun in the process:

Tips For Nurturing A Love Of Music In Babies and Toddlers

  1. Regularly attend family music classes with your child! This is probably the number one thing you can do with your child from infant through pre-school.
  2. Listen to a variety of music by various artists, genres and cultures. Talk about the kind of music you are listening to or dancing and singing along to. If you can hear a specific instrument, point it out, imitate the sound. See if they can imitate it, too.
  3. Sing to and with your child…. in the car, when giving a bath, while putting to sleep, while cooking dinner. Sing your favorite Ramones song or Twinkle Twinkle or a song you learned in music class.
  4. Dance in the living room. Hold your little one and move with them. Rock out or gently cradle and sway.
  5. See live music together, attend family-friendly concerts. This gives kids a chance to see that music is made by people, not machines. Point out the different instruments.
  6. Hold a Jam Session. During my classes we dump out a big basket of rhythm instruments onto the floor, take a seat and let loose. You can create a basket like this at home! Put on some favorite songs and watch the magic begin. This is an awesome playdate idea.
  7. Play an instrument. Dust off the guitar that’s been sitting in its case. Strum the few chords you know. Don’t know any? Learn a couple! You can play over 1000 songs if you know only 3 chords!
  8. Can you do what I do? A game of imitating silly sounds (high, low, soft, loud, etc), claps, , stomping, animal noises. Keep it really simple for babies and younger ones.

So…what do you get your little ones and at what age so that they can find their musical mojo?  Here is a guide to several high quality and durable instruments that will be sure to delight your kiddos and inspire creativity – without driving you crazy!!

Music is a language, the earlier the exposure and the richer the experiences the better!  Did you know that the average household has a repertoire of only 3-5 songs that they sing with their little ones?  Imagine if we only spoke 3-5 sentences to our kids in their first four years!?!?!”

The Best Musical Instruments For Babies

These are all mouth friendly.

1. Horner Baby Shaker – This is perfect for tiny hands to hold and shake. A very gentle and soft sound from the colorful beads.  Perfect for drooling all over.  (Also part of this awesome set.)

2. Horner Rainmaker– This is a fun one to show your little ones… little beads cascade through a clear tube creating the sound of rain, or something close to it.

3. Remo Baby Drum –  Excellent quality and sound, small enough for tiny hands and an adorable gift, too!


The Best Musical Instruments for Toddlers


1. LP Rhythmix Chick-itas –  Just like the egg shakers but with a handle, so they become a mini maraca.  Same great quality and sound.  I like them because they are so easy to hold and fun to shake.

2. LP Rhythmix Egg Shakers –  My favorites are made by LP Rhythmix because they made such a great sound and are non-toxic.  In fact, they are directly from free range chickens.

SUGGESTED USE:  Play along to I Know a Chicken By Laurie Berkner.  We pretend like we are musical chickens and lay the eggs then play and sing along.  It’s a cool bluesy song that inspires lots of silliness and bawking.     

3.LP Rhythmix Triangle – Another score for LP Rhythmix.  The handle stays on (all the other brands I’ve tried it always falls off and runs away with my socks). It makes a lovely sound and the handle and striker are easy to grip.

SUGGESTED USE:  Sing Twinkle Twinkle and pretend the sound of the triangle is the sound of the twinkling stars

4. Slide Whistle It plays like a trombone.  You can play any song or make funny sound effects.

5. Remo Gathering Drum – You can call the village to dinner with this one!  This is a must-have drum with a rich variety of sound, depending on mallet, hand or finger actions.  It’s designed based on ceremonial drums used in many cultures. REMO Kids Drums have received the prestigious Oppenheimer Best Toy Award for product quality.  Unlike the Tymptone Tom Tom, this one makes some noise, but it’s a rich, deep sound.  You may just find you burnt dinner because you’ve lost yourself in a dance trance! The cool thing about this drum is every age loves to play, so it will keep its interest for many years.  Room for up 4-6 players (depending on person size), so it makes a fun play date activity.  There are also smaller versions of this one, as well as bongos and congas.

SUGGESTED USE:  Put the drum and the mallet in front of your child.  It’s a primal instinct to bang it!  Try it slow, fast, loud, soft, make the sound of rain with finger tips, scrape for the wind and bang for the thunder.   I have a trick to get everyone to stop banging….band loudly together for 10 seconds then throw your arms up in the air with a big whoooooooop sound and freeze there.  Then repeat.   

6. Bean Tambourine – The shape and size make it really easy to rattle or bang against your other hand…and who isn’t impressed by someone who can play the tambourine?!?!  Start ‘em now and you can say you knew them when…

7. Mahalo Ukulele U-50g –  It took me a while to find a really solid starter guitar for the toddler/preschool set.  I searched high and low and continued to find only junk.  Mostly they sounded bad, fell apart easily and were lacquered with toxic smelling paint.   After more research, I found what I was looking for!  Mahalo makes a great guitar, except for one minor detail…it’s actually a Ukulele!  Which simply means that it’s already a perfect size for little hands, and a solid instrument.

SUGGESTED USE:  Remember that this a toy for the kids.  At this age it’s about role playing, strumming, holding and building a relationship with the guitar.  When they are in elementary school start thinking about lessons, but until then let them play in their own way.  Also, you don’t need to worry about keeping it in tune, they aren’t going to bust out Stairway to Heaven anytime soon.    

8. Harmonica by Hohner In the key of C, has 10 holes and 20 reeds, a plastic body and stainless steel cover.  Many instruments need breath in order to create sound (including our voice).    This is a fun one that uses breath to make the music and helps young ones make a connection between the two.

SUGGESTED USE:  Model the playing technique for them.  Have kids pretend to blow out a candle or a bubble then have them put their lips around the instrument and blow the same way.  They’ll be delighted once they realize they can make the sound.   

9 & 10. Toy Horns by Botempi – I just recently purchased these for a Jazz class I taught for infant-through-4 year olds.  They were a big hit with the toddlers, preschoolers and parents.  They’re made by an Italian company with real keys that are color-coded and simulates real horn playing (you can play songs printed on the back of the box).  The sax even has a full scale. I highly recommend any of them.

SUGGESTED USE: Remember that at this age is more about the experiential and role playing.  Find a great Jazz song with horns in it, like  Ella Fitzgerald’s, Take the A-Train from her Pure Ella album or At the Woodchopper’s Ball from the Swing Party 2000 album.  Both can be found on Amazon or Itunes, and play along to it.  Have one person on maracas, another on the drum and have the kids take horn solos.   

11. Tymptone Tom-Tom: An amazing drum, an absolute favorite! Children can play as hard as they want without causing hearing damage!  It’s a little pricey but it’s a great quality instrument.


But THE most important thing to know is that the key to a child’s music growth and development during these early years is the active participation of a parent or caregiver – regardless of their musical ability! A little dose of music every day goes a long way to a life-long love of music.



Anya, I cannot thank you enough.  This list is wonderful, and the usage suggestions are exactly what we needed for an extra dose of inspiration!!