What is the best age to start violin lessons?
This is a question that I am asked time and time again and one that I cannot answer either quickly or accurately without knowing you, your child or the ins and outs of your everyday lives.
In the following article, I’m going to discuss my experiences with teaching very young beginners, and in particular, what you need to consider before enrolling your young child into violin lessons.
Starting Young – The Story Of Jessica And Taylan
About a month ago, I met with Jennie and Andrew who’s little boy had only just turned 3. Taylan was a cute little guy who loved dinosaurs and monster trucks. His parents had both learned piano when they were in high school and wanted Taylan to start formal violin lessons as soon as possible.
Jessica, one of my current 12-year-old students also came for an introductory lesson at the tender age of 3. She was extremely shy and a completely different child to the confident and competent young violinist I continue to work with today. Jessica’s mum, Cathy wasn’t musical in any way but wanted to give Jessica the best chance of musical success in later years.
Both Jessica and Taylan presented as intelligent and full of potential and although I began lessons with Jessica a week after meeting her, I advised Taylan’s parents to look into a kindergarten music or dance class and come back to me in a year or so.
So why the difference? What was it about Jessica that made me feel that she was ‘ready’ to start. There are so many factors that go into my decision to take on a new student and these are very rarely linked to age.
Are We Ready? The Essential Checklist
While I’m sure you’ve considered your child’s readiness for learning the violin, have you considered whether you and your family are ready to support a young student? Here are the five essential questions you should ask yourself before enrolling your young child in violin lessons:
- Am I aware of the hidden costs of learning an instrument?
- Can I commit to being a violin parent?
- Is my child mentally ready?
- Do I have the patience to work through difficult and/or boring patches?
- Have I found the right teacher?
Although each of these questions is pertinent if you have a child of any age, they are particularly important for the parents of a young student who will need far more support and external motivation than an older beginner.
The Hidden ‘Costs’ Of Learning An Instrument
When you enroll your child in violin lessons, there is an obvious financial commitment which accompanies the weekly class. Very few parents are surprised by this but do, however, seem surprised by the other, often more significant commitment of time and
energy which must be invested in order for adequate progress to occur.
Young children cannot take responsibility for their learning; they need a committed and motivated adult to work with them every day. If you cannot provide this, then starting before the age of 7 or 8 is not a good idea.
No matter the age that you begin your violin journey, you’re going to need to invest time into attending lessons and practicing each day. For potential young beginners, I always ask which parent will be responsible for supervising daily practice. Not only do children need reminding about their practice commitment, but in the first 6 months at least (longer for very young students) an adult is required to ensure that correct technique is being observed and practice is goal oriented and purposeful.
Can You Commit To Being A Violin Parent?
When I met with three-year-old Jessica, I discovered that Cathy was a stay at home mum with no other children. She was able to commit to attending lessons on a weekly basis and then supervise daily practice to ensure that Jessica was playing in a way that would help, rather than hinder her developing technique.
Jennie and Andrew, on the other hand, were parents not only to Taylan, but also to a pair of 10-month-old girls. To attend lessons, Jennie would need to bring the twins who would no doubt need attention and care during the lesson. As well as distracting Taylan, they would distract Jennie from listening and participating.
Neither Jennie nor Andrew were in a position to concentrate fully during Taylan’s lessons and therefore would not have been able to knowledgeably guide his practice sessions at home.
Very young children need a lot of assistance during their lessons and during their practice. While a good teacher will enforce correct technique, this is not enough if it is not followed up at home. To practice alone in the beginning stages is often detrimental to secure technical development and can do more harm than good.
If you are not able to attend lessons regularly and assist your child with daily practice, it is best to wait until your child is older and more mature to begin formal lessons.
In my experience, most children are able to learn and practice independently by the time they are about 8. If you’re looking to start before this, you need to be 100% involved until a secure foundation is achieved.
Is Your Child Mentally Ready?
It doesn’t matter if they’re 3 or 5 or 10, if your child is not mentally ready to begin formal lessons, you’re best to wait. My beginner lessons usually go for 20 – 30 minutes and consist of three main areas of study:
- A pattern of the week – usually one of the Suzuki bowing patterns that we use for scales, Twinkles and open string work
- Exercises – Two to three little exercises for either the bow or left hand
- A fun piece – usually one of the Suzuki pieces until the student’s technique has developed sufficiently to start reading
I am not a Suzuki teacher per se but I do use and recommend elements of the method, especially for my beginners. If your child finds it hard to concentrate or keep to a task for more than a few minutes, sticking them in a structured violin lesson will probably go further to ruin their love of music than it will to encourage and motivate them to want to become great.
Becoming a wonderful violinist requires passion and LOVE for your instrument. I’ve seen many children grow to hate the violin because their parents push them too hard or expect too much of them too soon.
Before you commence structured and ongoing lessons, make a judgment whether your child is likely to cope with daily practice and weekly lessons. If you think they’ll struggle, I’d advise you to wait.
Have I Found The Right Teacher?
A great violinist is not necessarily a great teacher and a great teacher may not have the patience or understanding to work with very little children.
My first three year old student was my own daughter, Olivia. In hindsight, I can see that I expected far too much of her and did not take into account her decreased ability to concentrate and retain information. Although Olivia is now a wonderful musician, she did not benefit greatly through her early start.
There are many wonderful teachers who don’t take students below the age of 6 or 7; it’s important to ensure that a potential teacher has experience working with very young students.
Upon meeting, ensure that the teacher engages with your child and makes them feel comfortable; will your child want to come and visit this person each week? Will they want to impress them with their progression and improvement?
Do I Have The Patience?
Learning any instrument is rarely a complete walk in the park; everyone has lazy days and times when they want to give up. As adults, we can see the benefits of sticking with a task and working through obstacles; children often cannot.
During the beginner stages, there are so many ruts to get stuck in and hills to climb. If your child is very young, you’re going to need to climb those hills and navigate those ruts also.
When they to bend their bowing thumb for the millionth time, you’ll patiently help them remember. When practice seems like the worst thing in the world, you’ll encourage and motivate.
Young children often take longer to learn the basics but to ensure strong technique, you’re going to need to be committed and motivated with and for your child.
Do you have the patience to work through these difficult and boring stages?
Is My Child Too Young To Start?
An early start can mean earlier progression but this isn’t always the case. Jessica is now working on her grade seven exam program and will present as a very competent student. Would she have been at the same standard had she started as a 5 or 6-year-old? We’ll never know.
Jessica MAY have benefited through her lengthened exposure to the violin but again, we will never know.
As parents, you will have a good idea of whether your child is mentally ready to begin. Guidance from an experienced teacher will also assist with your decision.
Although I do take on a number of 3 and 4-year-old students, I often find that a later start will be more suitable for the child and their family.
Done properly, an early start can have many benefits, so if you have thought carefully about, and can answer yes to each of the six questions I’ve asked above, Go for it!
If, however you still need some thinking time or if I’ve posed any problems here, you may want to wait until your child is ready to take on more of the responsibility themselves.
Whatever you choose, best of luck and remember that if you ever have any questions or need a hand with anything, leave a question in the comment section below and I’ll get back to you
Founder of myviolinbff.com