Desigining an instrument for teaching music to children

Using traditional acoustic instruments for teaching music to children imposes a number of technical issues. To produce a pleasing sound with them multiple things must happen simultaneously. The child has to read the note that they want to sound. They must remember and apply the fingering to play it. Then they must consider when to play it and how long for.

Depending on the instrument numerous additional challenges exist. If they are playing a keyboard they must control how hard they press the key and with which finger. Wind instruments demand the player use the correct breath pressure and embrasure. Strings require awareness of the bow or plectrum to play the correct string.

For the result to sound musical all of these must happen simultaneously. This is very challenging for a child new to music. There first results will not sound good which is very off-putting.

The best way to solve this problem is to provide an instrument that reduces these variables, allowing one aspect to be learned at a time. The recorder has been used for this due to it's simple fingering system. However playing that instrument still demands the player uses the correct breath pressure. Errors in fingering or the child blowing too had will cause the instrument to squeak. I've ran across many adults who have assumed they are incapable of playing music due to such experiences with the recorder in school.

Teaching an instrument to children in a group setting is inherently problematic. It is difficult for the teacher to correct every child's mistakes. If mistakes are not corrected the child is left with a problem and no clear solution. Worse the mistake will become ingrained in muscle memory, becoming self-perpetuating.

I believe that an electronic instrument is by far the best solution to this problem. Electronic instruments can be designed to be error tolerant, providing a hint to the child learning music instead of squealing horribly or going out of tune. Additionally they can truly isolate tasks: a keyboard can ignore key velocity for instance. This allows the child to focus exclusively on which note they are playing. Later as this task begins to enter there muscle memory, velocity can be enabled and expressive playing introduced.

Another significant concern when teaching music to children is the mechanics of the instrument itself. Children have smaller hands and playing an instrument designed for an adult will never be ergonomic. Electronic instruments also solve this problem as they are not limited by physics. The interface can be designed entirely around the players needs.

Once a child has grasped basics like sheet music, notes and rhythm they can move to another instrument. With this in hand it is much easier to adapt to a more technically demanding instrument. Every instrument in the western tradition was designed around the same basic ideas so it's not difficult to try others.