Which stringed instrument should I learn to play?
When learning a stringed instrument, there are several factors that can go in to deciding which instrument you should study first. It is simple if you have a particular interest such as you love the violin but could never see yourself playing a guitar or vise versa. But what if you really want to know which instrument will suit you best. You can do a few simple tests to see which instrument might fit you best.
Answer these questions
For my age and gender are my hands small or large? Are my fingers long or short? Are my fingers wide/big or slender/skinny?
Are my arms long, average or short for my height?
Do I sing well in tune? (If you are not sure, sing for a musical friend of yours and watch their face (if they make faces gesturing up or down that is your clue that you may have difficulty with pitch)
Do I have a great sense of rhythm? (Can you clap along easily and find the beat or do your hands seem to be "off" from the rest of the crowd when clapping along) - you can try clapping along with a live concert on YouTube that shows an audience clapping. Can you stay with them?
Do you hear higher sounds better or lower sounds?
Which instrument best fits size/height characteristics above?
Students with large hands are suited for the bass, cello or guitar
Students with short fingers and large hands might enjoy the bass where students with short fingers and small hands might be better suited for the mandolin
Tall students with larger or longer fingers tend to be a great fit for the bass (electric or upright)
Smaller students with shorter fingers, slender fingers and shorter arms are better suited to begin on a violin or mandolin
Students with longer arms and fingers are better fitted for the banjo, guitar, bass or cello
*Side Note: I am short with short arms and long fingers for my size and enjoy playing all stringed instruments. When students are younger it can help to have an instrument that better fits their body size but INTEREST and ABILITY matter more than sizing and most bowed stringed instruments as well as guitars come in reduced or fractional sizes which can make body size/instrument size a non-issue.
Singing or hearing intonation
Bowed instruments usually come without frets (the fingerboard - where you place the fingers) must be aided by your ear (ability to hear the pitch) for you to play in tune (sound good)!
Fretless (banjo, bass)
Picked instruments usually come with frets (the tuning is done for you when you tune the instrument with it's pegs/tuners). If you have a hard time hearing the pitch/intonation of the musical notes fretted instruments may work better for you.
*I find that students who learn to play a stringed instrument improve their pitch as the learn to play the bowed or fretted instrument and sing along.
Rhythm and bowed vs picking instruments
If you can easily clap along (have a good sense of rhythm) a chording instrument may be better as you can sing and play along with an accompaniment
If you have a harder time finding the rhythm or beat of a song a melodic instrument may be better for you
Can you hear high or lower pitches better?
Low range instruments include (bass, cello)
Mid range instruments include (viola, guitar, banjo)
High range instruments include (mandolin, violin)
Final notes on this information
I find that it is best for students to learn the instrument that draws them in, the one they are intrigued with and would most love to learn to play. Ask yourself, which instrument can I see myself playing? I love playing all of the different instruments and find some a challenge and play others with ease but enjoy making music on all of them. I like to think of this information as more helpful if you don't have a draw to a particular instrument OR if you are having difficulty with the first instrument you begin to study. Many times students switch instruments and a whole new musical world opens up to them.