Approximately two days ago, an old friend of mine reconnected with me, asking if I thought that her five year old girl might be ready for violin lessons. After giving her my advice, it occurred to me that there must be many parents out there who are in the same boat! This post will hopefully help you to decide if your son or daughter is ready for private violin lessons yet. Please remember that you may apply these principles to any instrument.
How old is your child?
I have found that children are generally receptive to playing string instruments around age 5 or 6. They are mature enough to understand the concepts of following directions (often, anyway) and also understand the concepts of rewarding good work. Does this mean that children cannot start before age 5? Of course not! I would just suggest that for younger children, rather than focusing on playing, it is more important to learn about how to hold the instrument, what sounds it can make, and how to hold the bow. All of this takes time and the lessons must be supplemented with fun games and activities that are suitable for very young children. This is also a great chance to teach song, rhythm, and dance.
What about older children? It is never too late to start. Older children benefit from the fact that they feel a sense of control over the situation, often having chosen the instrument themselves. Older children, while often and usually having to catch up technically, also have the ability to move at a faster pace compared to their younger counterparts.
How independent is your child?
The Suzuki Method stresses the importance of daily practice at home with heavy parental involvement. This works great for some children but not for others. Parenting is a delicate balancing act. On the one hand, we parents want our children to be exposed to a number of wonderful things that the world has to offer. On the other hand, we often want our children to naturally want what we want. A child who, one day, finds the violin highly exciting, might get bored after the "honeymoon phase" when he or she realizes that there is a need to practice regularly. Yet, particularly if this child is talented, after a certain age (possibly around 10) the child might need his or her parents to teach the concept of sticking with a commitment, even when things get tough. I have seen students go through a rough patch where parents have stuck with the lessons and they have come out on the other side completely self-motivated. It can happen!
Another child, on the other hand, may never find practicing tedious because he or she naturally finds the instrument fun. It is even possible that this child may benefit from minimal parental involvement, since he or she is already driven from an inner desire to play.
Does your child pick up things easily?
Violin is a hard instrument but a sharp mind and good physical-mental synchronicity are very important for future and present success. Violin is all about the mind-body connection. If a child is naturally sluggish or naturally tense (I have seen both), these points will be additional challenges to learning. I believe that these are definitely surmountable and would never turn away a willing student, of course!
Perhaps Most Important - Does your child naturally gravitate toward music?
Most children are naturally musical. In fact, studies have shown that even very young babies respond to rhythm. As a child gets older, I believe that he or she will gravitate to the music that is most often played in his or her domain. In other words, if you as a parent listen to any type of music at home, your child will take it in by osmosis. Of course every child, like every adult, develops his or her own particular favorites. I strongly encourage parents of young children to nurture this aspect and, when old enough, teach your child how to play his or her favorite songs on a CD player just for him or her. As a child of the 80's, I had my own vinyl record player designed specifically for children. To this day, I remember the fascination I had playing record after record. In addition to hearing my parents play piano at home and my mother sing nursery rhymes, this was one of my first experiences of music education once I reached the age of awareness.
Daniel C. Broniatowski, D.M.A.
Maestro Musicians Academy
Parent tested, Child approved
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