As a parent looking to spur your kids’ interest in music, you have the option of either buying them (real) musical instruments or musical toys. Either option has an upside and a downside to it.
Starting with the option of buying (real) musical instruments for the kids, the main advantage here is that early exposure to such instruments would tend to have the effect of making the kids very highly refined players of the said instruments. That way, you can get the opportunity to not only spur the kids’ interest in music, but also have them started on what may turn out to be a successful musical career. Many of us know the truthfulness of the fact that a person who is a very polished player of a given instrument ‘can never go hungry:’ there is always work for such polished players. And more often than not, such polished players turn out to be people who were exposed to the said instruments from a very young age.
Moreover, even where you are not that keen on getting your kid started on a musical career (but where you just want to enhance their appreciation for music), you come to realize that research has shown that early exposure to real musical instruments can enhance certain brain functions in kids. Kids who were exposed to instrumental playing sessions were, for instance, shown to develop far better spatial reasoning skills than those who didn’t get that benefit.
The downside to real musical instruments for kids is that, for one, they cost more than the musical toys. Moreover, the real musical instruments for kids are not suitable for all ages: there are kids whom you just have to expose to musical toys first (to spur their innate interest in music), before introducing them to the real instruments. Your kids’ cognitive and psychomotor (coordination) skills have to be reasonably well developed, before you can expect them to start learning how to play them meaningfully.
Turning to the musical toys, one advantage to them is that they cost much less than the real musical instruments. Provided your kids are within the age bracket in which they can relate to these toys (ideally the 3-6 years range), and you don’t have enough money to buy them real musical instruments, you will find the idea of exposing them to the musical toys better. Some of these musical toys actually give meaningful exposure to music – like the toy keyboards on which one can actually play melodies.
Yet there are some you could get for sums under $10. Moreover, you really have no other alternative than to use the musical toys, if your kids are below certain ages. Most kids under the age of four years can’t be reasonably expected to play real musical instruments.
The downside to the musical toys is that, when all is said and done, your kids will eventually outgrow them. That means that, if you are keen on hooking your kids to music, you will eventually have to graduate them to the real musical instruments for kids. There are also people who feel that the ‘exposure to music’ made possible by these musical toys is not really meaningful (as it is mostly fantasy play), and that parents are better of just waiting till their kids are old enough for them to be exposed to the real musical instruments for kids.