Teaching very young students

July 9, 2007 at 03:56 AM · Hi guys. I just set up lessons with a new student who is very young. Almost 3 years old. She has shown an interest in music already and her mother would like to start her as soon as possible.

I'm excited about teaching her. We are starting with 15 minute lessons and we'll see how those go.

The youngest I have taught is age 5. Does anyone have good tips or advice on beginning a student this young? They will be calling me back this week to let me know if they were able to find a violin small enough for her...I suggested 1/16th size.


Jennifer S. Warren

Replies (23)

July 9, 2007 at 04:48 AM · I have taught a child this age before. I would say your biggest job is to guide the mother through this, to keep expectations reasonable, and to keep them both from burning out before age five. Is this her first child? Be very clear to her that it will go extremely slowly and that it's okay if the child does not stay on task always. Let the child explore whatever it is he or she is inclined to explore. That's part of being two.

If the child bows at the beginning and bows at the end of each practice and each lesson, you've done a great job and been very disciplined. Be ready to change activities instantly. If she's tired, sit down and do clapping or singing. If she's bouncing around, have a standing-up activity that involves a lot of body movement. She won't necessarily learn things in a given order, but if she's learning something, good.

Keep in mind, she doesn't know her numbers or letters well enough to manipulate them yet, is still learning to talk, has a hard time doing words and tunes simultaneously (nonsense syllables are great friends for singing), may understand things like rhythms well before having coordination to clap them.

Things have to be broken down to a grain of sand. Mom might need you to explain what grain of sand you are working on. For example, if you spend a whole lesson learning how to clap one clap together, this is still a legit lesson. Or a lesson learning how to position feet on the floor, that is part of the discipline aspect.

And there's always Music Together! I'd make it a prerequisite, actually, if they've never done anything like it. It's a lot, to expect a child to channel music through a complicated instrument like the violin, before she's learned how to channel it through her little body.

July 9, 2007 at 09:07 AM · Thank you, Laurie!!! This is the kind of information that is really helpful. I have never taken any child development course or anything...I don't have kids of my own....and my neice is almost six and still not what I would consider ready to start violin lessons if she wanted to.

But some kids are. I started when I was three. And I remember being so excited about it. Probably my first memories. And they are so clear!

Thanks again,


July 9, 2007 at 04:12 PM · Here's a link that might be helpful: http://www.got2twinkle.com/pages/PTClassinfo.htm

You can also get some ideas if you look through the discussions at the Suzuki Association website's chat forum.

Here are some pretwinkle activities from the Book 1 training I just completed. Violin & bow were separate activities-you could decide which to do first depending on the student. The first activity was to learn how to take a bow. A student might then learn how to go from rest position feet to playing position feet. Some bow activities- There is a train game that the kids really liked: the student holds the right hand palm up (that is the train station). The bow will slide along the middle joints of the right hand (the train track)The teacher slides the bow on its stick from the tip to the frog. The teacher helps shape the hand and then the hand is turned over. From this, you can do "elevators" up and down (with a pretend candy on the top that cannot fall off) or "stir soup" to work on circular motions-it may take her awhile not to move her whole body. Once the bow hold is going well, you can place a cloth on the student's left shoulder and begin helping the student with the first twinkle rhythm (you move the bow first, then the student tries it-my turn, your turn). You can also shake the child's right hand in rhythm-again, in a "my turn, your turn" way. For holding the violin, the parent/teacher lands the violin at first. The student will have the left arm crossed on her body. You can determine what sort of padding might be needed so the shoulder is not raised. Then help the student turn and drop the head. The goal is to have the student hold the violin with just the head for a set amount of time (like through a twinkle variation). If you are using Suzuki materials, she can start listening now. I've been working on materials for my school Suzuki class, but I haven't reviewed all my pretwinkle stuff yet. I'll probably have some stuff to add later. Hope that helps a little. Oh, she will probably need a 1/32. My youngest daughter, who just turned 4 and is average size, is on a 1/32 and is just getting ready for a 1/16. You could also consider using a box violin at first. At the institute I attended, while a 4 yr old was having his lesson, his mom had the 2 yr old brother on her lap and was sneaking in lots of little bow trains. The little brother also was already bowing some on his shoulder.

There is also some really good pretwinkle info in Sharpen Your Tools by Jennifer Burton and also the Their Rarely Too Young.. book by Kay Collier Sloane.

July 9, 2007 at 07:34 PM · Just remember that children that young understand a lot more than they can say, and some or all of what they say may need to be "translated" by Mom.

Also, watch their eyes. If there's a hint of frustration or you sense there is going to be an explosion of tears, change the subject or activity. You want the child going home from violin lessons with a smile on his face, not tears. One thing that works for me is telling a funny story so that they forget what it was they were mad about. Obviously I try not to let them get to the point of total anger, but occasionally it still happens. End the lesson and at the next one, things should be fine.

July 9, 2007 at 08:17 PM · Thank you guys so much!!!!

I have some questions about some of the mentioned activities (I've never heard of them before and need to clarify)...but a thunderstorm just began and I have to turn off the internet. I'll be back on asap.



July 9, 2007 at 08:28 PM · Hey--holler at me when the internet's back up.. ;)>

Al Gore, now Jennifer.

July 9, 2007 at 09:20 PM · I checked out some of those websites and got some good ideas.

Besides Twinkle and the Suzuki materials, are there any other methods to be used for small kids? (young).

What is the bow at the beginning and end of lesson for?

What are the "elevators up and down" is that holding the bow horizontal and moving the arm up and down?

I remember something I was taught with just the bow at the very beginning that was an air exercise with the bow at different angles (supposed to transfer over to the different angles of the strings for crossings) anyone know what that would have been?

Any elaboration on "stir soup"?


July 9, 2007 at 09:42 PM · Colourstrings is a European method with a Kodaly basis (lots of singing 1st). Each string is assigned a color at first. There is not too much info about in this country, though.

I would just do a search about preschool music and see if anything might be adaptable to your own use (moving to a pulse, stuff like that).

The bow at the beginning and end of lesson is for respect and as a signal for when it's time for the lesson to start.

"elevators up and down"-bow is vertical, with tip pointed up; the arm moves up and down

I remember something I was taught with just the bow at the very beginning that was an air exercise with the bow at different angles (supposed to transfer over to the different angles of the strings for crossings) anyone know what that would have been?-"windshield wipers"

"stir the soup"?-bow is held vertically, tip up. Pretend you are stirring the soup with the screw-either direction is ok, bigger and smaller circles of different speeds can be used.

You can do all of those bow motions with the song "The Wheels on the Bus".

July 9, 2007 at 09:53 PM · I think the bow is there to help teach the children to respect their teachers and other people, and also because it's fairly easy to do, and it's good practice since they should be doing it often as a performer.

July 10, 2007 at 04:21 AM · 15 minutes is a great idea. At that age, the violin is a toy, and that's how children learn.

July 9, 2007 at 10:40 PM · Greetings,

there is one thing I think which noone ha smentioned so far I guess.

I won`t teach three year olds- period. However, I am often asked to teach four year olds by very persistent parents. I prefer to start at five so I suggest to the parents that they follow one of two options. Either have the child to something like Eurythmics for children for a year (plenty of classes around) or, if they are really determined to begin then I ask the mother to begin as well. Thus the lesson becomes a three way play time. To what extent this is still considered a standard feature of the Suzuki approach I don`t know. I am not a Suzuki teacher in any sense. I learned this approach from my work in language education.



July 10, 2007 at 12:32 AM · Oh yes, the mother is definately going to be there! I like the way you call it three way playtime. I also love the idea of the violin as a grownup playtoy and to join in a way of communicating.

ALl these terms are helping, (rest position, play position, name the strings, etc).

I haven't taught younger than five for several reasons, too. But I want to teach her because I'm different than when I was teaching before. I have the space and time to devote to her lessons because I have very few students at the moment. And I've been exploring reasons that I am a violinist/violist. Why I don't give in to the fact that I'm so poor and could make more money doing something easier.

And I come back to those big phase years. THe very beginning. How I wanted to play and can remember so vividly the moment I was told I was allowed to start playing...then my first humbling experience...and the emotions...after just starting college. After graduating. You know all those milestone years where you are in turmoil about whether you should play or not. And those joyous years where it was all playing and fun and people and great times whether or not you were a phenomenal player or not.

And if this girl is showing a desire to play now, then I'm happy to be part of that experience for her and her family. If it doesn't work out, that is fine, too.

I am not a Suzuki teacher, either. There are aspects of the original bottom line philosophy that bother me. But many of the teaching methods for young children are helpful. And there are many good aspects of the method. I prefer to tailor the lessons to the child and not the child to the lesson. For a three year old, though... I'm eating up all these helpful ideas!!!!

And greatful for the help!


July 10, 2007 at 01:58 AM · Hi Jennifer,

I am so happy for this student! He is fortunate to have found you. Here are a few antecdotes you may find helpfu. Our son started at three and it was very challenging at times, but very worth the effort. I would have to agree with Buri, for real violin playing, 3 is young for most children and it takes an exceptional committment from the parents, teacher and student, however the advantage for the child is that they are taught to concentrate in an extraordinary way. They have the opportunity to think musically and can be musically "fearless" when other children are shy and scared. I took a one hour lesson and we let my son steal as much time as he felt like working. Some were long, some were short lessons.

We started our son in Orff classes and violin and they really compliment each other. I also did easy Solfege/Kodaly (spelling) with him at home. I think Orff or a more physical music class along those lines help balance out the fine motor skills with the gross motor skills. We did Orff exercises when he was bored of violin and switched back and forth. He liked Orff so much and still has friends he made in the class 6 years later! A 15 minute lessons seems ambitious for one so young so work with the parent more than the child to fill up the time.

We practiced 5-10 minutes 2 or three times a day. Practice is really stretching the definition. The earlier in the day the lesson, the better. They all need naps at this age and we need them to need naps! They need to copy things at this age. The beauty of this arrangement is the child never remembers a time they didn't play. Suzuki group lessons or any playing with other children really helps little ones stay interested.

One last thing...Have the parents commit to letting the child only play the violin if it is in tune. I drove to the teachers house to tune the instrument or drove to the violin store and the luthiers helped me tune it. I also, bought a digital piano instead of a real piano because they don't go out of tune. I am always surprised by kids who are allowed to play out of tune and it is a great disservice to them to let it go on without correcting it.

Please give us an update as you explore this new adventure.

July 10, 2007 at 01:23 AM · Greetings,

>Oh yes, the mother is definately going to be there!

But is part of the lesson going to be her learning the violin in front of the child? That was my point.

BTW Still not got a working computer for e-mail.



July 10, 2007 at 02:40 AM · My daughter started taking lessons two months before her 3rd birthday with suzuki classes... I think they were a half hour group with breaks and other games.

I can remember just having her practice bows and holding the instrument for about 5 minutes maybe everyday maybe not.. its been awhile.

I still come and sit in her lessons and she will soon bee 12 years old.. her teachers idea, but still since I love music I would rather be there than waiting in some van outside.

Start slow and go at the pace of the child.. some days are better than others attention-wise etc. I agree with the others as learning how to hold the violin should be stressed, but also having fun doing it will make her a long lasting student.

July 10, 2007 at 06:10 AM · When teaching very young children I like to turn everthing into a story so that each lesson the four friends (four strings) have some little adventure during which some aspect of violin playing can be practiced.Since young children love hearing the same story it is never boring if it is repeated many times as indeed it should be.I believe that Shirley Givens has written a method 'Advetures in Violinland' which runs along the same lines.The great advantage is that the childs imagination is awakened and they use the violin as a creative tool right from the beginning rather than just copying.Each child is different and some go so slowly at first that you wander if they will ever make any real progress and then suddenly 'Bingo' it all seems to come together.Its always a wonderful moment.

July 13, 2007 at 02:10 PM · Jennifer-

here is an outline of "pre-twinkle" activities that I compiled. Just about everything here would be adaptable to different ages of students and doesn't have to be strictly Suzuki.


July 13, 2007 at 03:57 PM · Pat I too grabbed these for my little nephews and nieces... Thank you.

The windshield wiper which I did as an adult actually, at least one version, is to do 180' motions with stick out in front--arm straight. I 'think' either my first teacher showed me this, or someone else.

[grins]some of the other little exercises aren't so age bound either Patricia, but then again I do signficant mountain gardens in a Mr. Miagai spirit--wipe it on, wipe it off..

July 14, 2007 at 10:19 PM · Isn't Shirley Givens' method kind of expensive though? I was looking at it, and it would cost me both legs to get all the books.

July 15, 2007 at 04:48 AM · Patricia, Thank you for that link. I wrote it down and will check it out (most likely print it out and put it ceremoniously in the folder I have started for such information). I haven't heard back from the parent and they didn't show for the lesson or return my call, so I'm not sure what the deal is. I'm sure all this information will come in handy at some point, though, as I am confident that I will have young-ish students soon, although maybe not SO young. Good ideas are good ideas, nevertheless...


Jennifer Warren

July 15, 2007 at 07:27 AM · Catherine, I used to think they were expensive, but they've saved me from pulling my hair out. When I think of all the money I've shelled out for my own personal repertoire, I don't think that asking a parent to spend $84 on a year's supply of violin educational materials is that much. Because you spend more, you get more. I love being able to give my students new things to work on every single week instead of getting stuck on something they aren't prepared to pass. Very thorough.

July 15, 2007 at 04:42 PM · Emily - I was looking around online at her method and before I buy them (or ask for them for Xmas, hah)

I just want to know - is this a "traditional" approach to violin playing? Do you like it? Is it fun to play & teach? WHat would you recommend to someone who had never taught it before?


July 16, 2007 at 07:00 AM · I recommend buying the books ahead of time so you can see where they're going. Otherwise, you may be surprised and unprepared.

I suppose it's "Traditional" (whatever that means). It teaches solfege and introduces the notes on the staff from the beginning, although the student doesn't necessarily need to know the names right from the get-go. It sets it up with the four strings being four different people (Grandpa, Daddy, Mommy, and Baby). They first learn the do re mi's built on the open strings, and it has great visuals and descriptions that are full of imagination and fun, while getting the point across to the student.

What I really like is that the first level has a book entirely devoted to becoming familiar with plucking rhythms on open strings, and then a book of plucking do-re-mi songs while you introduce the bow separately on open strings (with some nifty stories and exercises). There is an entire book devoted to bowing on open stings, and when the student has passed this book and the do-re-mi-plucking, they are ready to bow the do-re-mi songs. It is so difficult for a young student to use good technique if they try to do everything at once, and this book breaks it apart while keeping it entertaining and progressive at the same time.

By the end of level one, they know the entire scale up and down. They can play a G major, D major, and A major scale. They can follow the direction of the notes and sing the solfege, and they should be bowing simple songs fairly easily. They have practiced pattern drills, bowing rhythms, 4th finger exercises, string crossings, and even tone production.

Level Two introduces the skips. They learn the major triad and what the major and minor third skips sound like. They drill patterns, play duets, and even begin vibrato exercises (the vibrato book is a great tool). My favorite part about level two is that it contains well-written duets that are simple and enjoyable to hear.

I haven't gotten to teach level three yet, because I started using the books last year. I'll let you know what I think of them when I get there, though.

After a day of teaching, I often go about the house singing the words of the songs in the books.

"Do mi do mi skips over re..."

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