As a person with no children, but a friend of someone with an autistic child, I was thinking it would be cool to research and write about the best musical instrument for a child with autism.
Playing a musical instrument frees the mind, provides a distraction from daily life and enables you to be creative and challenge yourself in a rewarding way.
Therefore, based on those thoughts, sure playing or learning to play a musical instrument would be beneficial to a child with autism…
I researched this and presented my findings to my friend with the autistic daughter. She was delighted and wanted to explore some of the musical instruments further. Now I know what to get her for her birthday!
All children will differ, and whilst they may hate one sound or the feeling of playing one instrument, don’t be discouraged, as they may absolutely love playing a different instrument.
Here are the top 10 musical instruments that children with autism may find relaxing or enjoyable to play.
The Size of the Ukulele makes it really manageable and less frustrating to hold than a full sized guitar. Also, the fact that there are only four strings, makes it easy to place your fingers on the right string instead of having to work around 6 strings.
The Ukulele is excellent for working on hand / eye coordination and developing fine motor skills. Strumming the strings also helps to develop gross motor control.
A Ukulele produces a bright and happy sound and even when you hot a wrong note, it still doesn’t sound horrible. This is an ideal instrument for a child with autism to learn to play as they can be in full control and start playing immediately.
The child may be familiar with guitars from musicians and a ukulele is the perfect starting point for going on to develop an interest in the guitar later on.
This Martin Smith ukulele is available on Amazon, it is inexpensive and available in 6 different colours, including red, blue, black, pink, natural and with a Union Jack flag pattern. It comes with its own carry bag and can be played straight away out of the box.
Being able to choose their personal favourite colour might inspire the child to want to play the ukulele.
2. Hand Bells
There are a huge variety of hand bells available on the market, starting with a set of 8 and working up to a huge set that you can play full pieces of music with.
These colourful bells are perfect for helping children with autism develop their fine motor skills, they can also develop gross motor skills by picking the bells up and ringing them.
The set of bells above can be played by picking each bell up and ringing it, or by touching the top of a bell – this will cause it is chime.
I think this set of hand bells is great for children, as the colours enable you to translate music into colours, for learning quickly. There is also a layer of plastic on the outside of the bells which makes them more durable.
They can be found on Amazon, this a more expensive set than others, but they are the best quality and high coloured hand bells.
The keyboard is a great instrument for a child with autism to learn and to have fun with. The number of buttons may overwhelm them, but you will know whether or not this would be a problem.
A keyboard is something that you child can pull straight out of the box and start playing immediately.
If you colour code or apply the letter stickers to the keys, it will help them develop fine motor skills and concentration.
A keyboard is also another great choice of first instrument as it will provide a vast number of sampled instruments. You may find out through your child experimenting with keyboard sound that perhaps they really love the sound of bass instruments or the flute for example. This could encourage them to have an interest in exploring another new instrument.
The keyboard below is available on Amazon and is relatively inexpensive. It has a large number of pre recorded songs built in too, so your child can practice navigating through the menus to find their favourite songs.
If you think a full keyboard may overwhelm your child, you could always opt for a mini keyboard, they have about half the number of keys, are small and manageable and hardly feature any buttons or distracting menus.
4. Ocean Drum
An ocean drum may seem like an odd choice to recommend to a child with autism, but the sounds that can be produced by an ocean sounds drum can be both exciting and relaxing.
It is a great sensory item to have in the home and is very easy to pick up and play.
An ocean drum might be an ideal gift for a smaller child who may not have the patience to follow a colour or number coded chart to learn to play music.
The ocean drum below is a cheap and cheerful percussion instrument that could aid with relaxation, grounding and impulse control for an autistic child, as they contrast the sounds of crashing waves with the gentle white noise of sea foam bubbles.
5. Xylophone / Glockenspiel
A xylophone is a great little inexpensive musical instrument. It could help an autistic child with hand eye coordination and impulse control as they try to hit the individual bars,
A xylophone is usually made of wooden bars and a glockenspiel is made of metal bars. The xylophone produces a lower and more gentle sound than the glockenspiel which may be more easy to listen to for an autistic child.
Brightly coloured inexpensive xylophones and glockenspiels can be bought on Amazon for around £20 or less. the colours and letters help your child to independently copy the instructions and produce a tune.
Whilst the violin may be one of the hardest instruments to learn, your autistic child may absolutely love the challenge of learning to play it. If they are able to have lessons at school, they will learn the basics of how to hold the violin and bow and how to drag the bow across the strings.
Don’t worry too much about the finger placement, as many violin students will have little dot stickers stuck in the right place to tell the child where to put their fingers.
The feeling and concentration of playing a violin can provide a total escape from life and general goings on. Learning to play a violin is an excellent way to develop fine motor skills, gross motor skills, concentration, hand eye coordination and impulse control for a child with autism.
Below is a 1/2 sized violin for beginners, it contains everything your need to get going, this violin is available on Amazon and is very affordable.
A recorder is a fantastic to learn and develop breathing control for children with autism. It is a relatively simple instrument to play and can be bought in a wide variety or styles and colours.
Perfect for developing fine motor skills to create different tones, it is also a small and easy to manage instrument that requires minimal effort.
Some autistic children may not like the sound it makes, as it can be quite high pitched. However, the recorders below costs less than £10, and for that price, it might be worth a go.
Children who learnt to play the recorder stand an excellent chance of going on to play the flute, clarinet or any other woodwind instrument.
Learning to play the trumpet may be an excellent choice for older children with autism. The trumpet has a unique sound and helps to develop breathing control very quickly.
Some children may not like the bright and brassy sounds of the trumpet, so introduce them to classical music pieces with trumpets in first and get them to listen for the sounds of the trumpet to see if it sparks their imagination.
The trumpet only has three buttons and the changing of the notes is largely down the shape of the mouth and the pressure of the blowing, a great way to develop control and focus.
9. Tuned Percussion Tubes
This is a really fun and interesting looking instrument to play. Children can get a real thrill from creating a tune out of hitting the tubes. A great idea for developing rhythm and control for children with autism. The bright colours help to easily distinguish between tubes and the instrument can be played solo or as part of a group.
A really fun and simple instrument to play, tubes can provide a quick escape and focus for a child with autism to help to relax and be creative too.
The tubes below are available on Amazon and are favourited by musical educators around the world.
If you have more than one child, or just want to take part in the musical action yourself, you can each grab a tube and create music together!
Playing the bongos cam just be as simple as hitting them and enjoying the sound that is produced, however if a child can try to play along to music with them, they will develop stronger motor skills and hand eye coordination.
Learning to play the bongos or even just practicing on them is the perfect way to lay the foundations for playing a full drum kit later in life.
Investing in a set of bongos is a cheap and cheerful way to introduce your autistic child to percussion instruments and to the drums.
They don’t need any musical knowledge to be able to play them and won’t need to have lessons or place finger in difficult positions. However playing the bongos will help your child to develop a sense of rhythm and movement.
Bongos are so portable and easy to hold that they can play them standing up, sitting down, in any room of the house or in the garden, which may encourage them to play more.
I really hope this post helped, or inspired you in some way to introduce your autistic child to the idea of playing a musical instrument.
Learning to play an instrument develops not only fine motor skills but also gross motor skills as well as posture, concentration, relaxation, focus, coordination and creativity amongst many others.
Good luck to you and your child on their musical journey!