Teaching a 2 1/2 year old!!!

January 11, 2008 at 10:25 PM · I will be teaching a two and half year old! What is your experience/advice? Any fun games or tricks to keep their attention?

Replies (40)

January 11, 2008 at 10:29 PM · My daughter was 2 and 1/2 when she started violin and all I can really remember was that we would only spend about 5 minutes a day practicing. Most of it would be holding the violin (on carpet) or the Suzuki bow.

I remember she got many praises and candy for doing the things her teacher wanted to do. She didn't start with twinkle, but an open string song.

Good luck, attention spands for young ones is hard to do.

January 11, 2008 at 10:37 PM · pretty much you will be practicing for them. As you are beginning to give them a sense of comfort with the instrument. The younger the better.

January 11, 2008 at 10:26 PM · Yes, I've taught students this young. Here are a bunch of songs, exercises etc. to help. I'm using them with first-graders but certainly you can modify for a two-year-old.

At the moment I will not accept anyone younger than five, with the occasional exception of a mature four-year-old.

Have a very in-depth meeting with the parent in which you explain the likelihood of being on a piece such as "Twinkle" and short skill songs leading up to "Twinkle" until the child is four or five. Make sure the parent's expectations are reasonable. Is the child a first child?

Music Together is a fantastic program for babies and toddlers, and it dovetails quite nicely with starting an instrument later. Or, they can do it at the same time as starting violin. It's also a nice program for parents bonding with kids, because you do it together. Nice to get them channeling music through their little bodies before you expect them to channel it through something as frustrating as a violin. I've had students who did Music Together then the violin; they have progressed rapidly, happily, easily -- without exception so far.

I just have to add this: watch for high levels of frustration. If the parent spanks the child to get the child to practice, that means the violin is causing an abusive situation. You can always stop and start later.

Age five is a great age for just about anyone to start violin.


January 11, 2008 at 11:40 PM · I started when I was three and a half. My teacher had this funny little hand puppet, a fluffy, floppy white dog named Wolfgang, who did a lot of the talking for her. Really, he was an excellent and charming teacher. :)

January 12, 2008 at 03:28 PM · I started a couple of 3-yr-olds, but both were younger sibs of kids who were playing before the younger was even thought of. Try butter boxes or foam violins for posture and wooden spoons for bow grip development. Do singing and movement games, and "planting" where kids place feet on a placemat in playing position and stay there for a few seconds. Build this up to where they can stand there and listen to/sing a little song. Play some tunes that you will teach over perhaps two or three years for the child & parent at every lesson. If the parent is insistent that it is only violin lessons if the child has a violin and is playing on it (with the bow), get away fast!! A ten or 15-minute lesson is plenty, great if there is a group or 2 or 3 kids who do music as nursery-school stuff and take turns. 5 minutes of practice is more than enough. Playing vln. music a lot in the house or the car, w/o worrying whether the child is actively listening is good. Sue

January 13, 2008 at 12:34 AM · jo d, this link may provide you with some info on developmental milestones for kids of different ages, so to give you some ball park on what to expect...http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/child/toddlers2.htm

as far as i am concerned, a 2 year old still looks and bounces like a meatball. i would not be very concerned about violin playing at that age, but focus instead on enhancing the kid's affinity to music and raising the kid's self esteem through music appreciation/making.

depending on your background,,,how good you are with very young kids when they don't behave:), it will be as challenging as it is interesting. any babysitting experiences in the past?:)

i hope the kids have fun loving, goal-oriented but realistic parents to make the experience worthwhile for everyone. it is important to be open minded and communicate your plans/feedback with the parents often and that they really understand and agree with your assessment:)

January 13, 2008 at 12:46 AM · That's right. You can't teach him violin at this age. But give him listening tests. Make him identify what movement of Symphonie Fantastique he's hearing, for example. He will hold up a certain number of fingers. And have him be able to tell the difference between something by Haydn and Mozart. If he gets 100% then reward him with a trip to the opera.

January 13, 2008 at 01:46 AM · Jim...you either have a weird sense of humor or some very strange ideas about music education.

Some rudimentary ear-training (singing) exercises are probably a good idea--pitch-matching, short melodic fragment call-and-response type things, etc. I don't pretend to know anything about teaching methods but it seems to me that those would be good things to do just for general musicianship at that age.

January 13, 2008 at 02:12 AM · Mozart writes long, extended syncopations, Haydn never does. And this mysterious figure crops up in Mozart time and time again 7 1 3 6 2 1 7 1. I've always wondered what that is. Haydn doesn't do it. Now back to regularly scheduled programming.

January 13, 2008 at 03:19 PM · It might be a good idea to think about why you might wish to teach violin to a 2 1/2 year old. What is it that you might gain by starting so young that you would not get if you were to wait a year or so to start?

The most important thing you can do as a violin teacher and the most important thing the child's parents can do is to help the child feel like a musical person. You should be helping the parents to observe and communicate to the child all the ways they show musical affinity. I used to tell my sons "I knew you were a musical being from the very beginning." I would then relate very specific observations and stories from their toddlerhood that would back up my claim. The parents and the child need to REALLY know that the child has the ability to learn music. This will give them the patience and persistence required for the long journey. They do not need to be impatient or concerned with the progress of other children as compared with their own because they are watching talent unfold beautifully in their own child.

In my experience a 3 year old can certainly learn the violin. Very young children are precisely who the Suzuki method is designed for. One of the advantages is ear training which seems to come naturally with repeated listening of the simple Suzuki tunes. In my experience the ear training happens even if the child is not yet playing or singing the tunes or even appearing to listen to the tunes. The second advantage is that the child gains a comfort level with the otherwise uncomfortable instrument. This requires five minutes a day or less of balancing the instrument on the shoulder, standing on a mat marked with their foot outlines in "playing position", holding the bow and later moving the bow in rhythm patterns like "peanut butter crackers" and "down wiggle up wiggle". The fourth and maybe most important is the development of a routine of practicing every day at the same time. Later the child will not remember a time when they did not play the violin or a time when they did not practice every day.

Perhaps you won't mind if I share some tricks I used with my own three year olds that were helpful. Always stop the practice or lesson BEFORE the child wilts even if it is just a few minutes of practice. NEVER let yourself appear disappointed with what seems like inattention or a short attention span. Say something encouraging like "What a wonderful job you did today!" or "What a big boy/girl you are! Look how long you were able to concentrate!" The advantage of working with very young children is that they really want to please their parents and will respond to their parent's enthusiasm.

Rewards work wonders! I would ask my boys to make a list of little rewards. They would be things like "decide what we are having for dinner", "play with a toy that takes Mommy's help" ... I wrote these on little slips of paper and placed them in a basket. Whenever they felt they had done an especially good job they could draw out one of the rewards. They were rather tough judges of their own behavior so sometimes I would have to say " You did such a good job, I think you really deserve a reward today!"

Try to give feedback in fun, noncritical ways. I used little finger puppets so that I could give some cues nonverbally. Things like "pianissimo", "smooth", "big", or "stand tall" can be given simply by holding up a mouse or an elephant or "posture pony" finger puppet.

Pre-music reading can start right away. We played lots of simple games involving dynamics or pattern recognition. There is a game called "Blue Jello" where popsicle sticks and washers serve as notes and can be placed on the floor in different rhythmic patterns. The child can then try to clap the pattern they or you have created. You can make a set of cards with the letter names of notes written on them and make a long snake of notes in repeated patterns. The game is to guess what note would come next or what note is missing. As soon as the child can recognize letters, he/she can play this game. We also played a little game where we would crouch close to the ground and whisper "pianissimo", we would come up just a bit and whisper "piano" then higher and whisper " piano" etc until we jumped up and shouted "fortissimo!"

We also attended lots of concerts. My sons would often fall asleep at intermission, but I felt it was a successful trip if they enjoyed some of the program. As with practicing, the trick is to leave the concert before the child becomes restless or inattentive.

From my experience, you can start some three-year-olds in September and they can be playing Twinkle by Christmas, and Bach Gavotte by May. You can start other three-year-olds in September and they can be just becoming comfortable with coming back down to the A string in the second half of the first phrase of Twinkle in May. This does not mean that the first child is inherently more talented than the second. What is happening in the brain is not often obvious and this is more important in the long run than precocious fine motor skills. You just need to have faith that the work you are doing with the child is important. I guarantee that if you are patient and the parents are patient, the positive effects of your work will show up eventually.

The majority of your lesson time should be devoted to teaching the parent how to work with the child. They will need to know exactly what to look for in the way of a good, relaxed bow hand and proper position with the violin on the shoulder. They will need to understand that this is a long process and they will not necessarily see progress for a year or more, although progress is certainly occurring in the brain.

As a parent observing the process, the violin "project" had the immediate effect of relieving the frustration my son had stemming from his desire to create real, adult-like products. I felt that violin gave him the vocabulary to express himself. For a child like him, 2 1/2 or three might be the ideal time to undertake violin. If this is the case with the young student coming your way, you have a chance to do something very important for his/her happiness.

Good luck!


January 14, 2008 at 01:45 AM · Nice post Jennifer.

January 15, 2008 at 07:06 AM · Great posts.

Our children started very young (3). We had a really good time! We used their little imaginations the most. They can be quite dramatic and I should have video taped more. We reviewed a simple point from the lesson and then let them pretend to be the teacher. I would pretend to be an uncooperative student and they would boss me around and explain the "lesson". I would get in big trouble and they would be very strict teachers. The would fix my posture, make me stand up straight, fix my hands etc. I would mess it up on purpose and they always could tell me what was wrong. We also played, "Hide and Bow Seek". They had to hold their bow while one of us hid and then come and find us. You need two adults for this. Also, they were allowed to wear costumes and be their favorite characters. I use to say things like, "Can you try it again and pretend your Midori/Perlman/Batman/Blue/Dora?" or..."How do you think (insert favorite character name here) would do this part if they wanted it to be really great?" It is very cute so have your camera ready. I used real people or made up animals and characters. I also let our pets come in to listen or watch quite often.

The other posts are great though. If they can repeat little bits and do them well they have fun and are pretty happy. This is slow going though. Work after a nap or early in the morning. If they are tired, hungry, forget it! Try 3 - five minute sessions per day, or less. Later they won't remember a time they didn't play music. Children this age like Orff as well. Our group and fun in Orff and could really move around.

January 18, 2008 at 08:29 AM · Thanks to all of you who responded.

Laurie, he is not the only child and has a younger sister.

I had a great lesson with the toddler!

As expected, the boy had a short attention span (5-10 mins). I tried to do things to catch his attention, such as playing for him, showing him how to pluck the strings, and clapping the rhythm from Twinkle. He was eager to play. About 20 minutes into the lesson, I decided to show him how to play the open strings. But all he did was grabbing the bow and crouching the strings! (He's been watching Andre Rieu and trying to imitate him!) Both him and the parents were frustrated about not getting a decent sound. Without my help, he would start crushing and crouching again. I don't think they get concepts such as bow grip, bow pressure, and the alike. So I told the parents to help him make a nice sound whenever he would practice. It's hard when they don't get you but I think by showing them correct basics(rhythm, melody, posture), over time it will gradually becomes their habits.

Please tell me your thoughts and anything I could be doing in the future lessons.

January 18, 2008 at 01:25 PM · Try imagining stroking a cat.If you have one at hand even better.The reproduce the sensation on the violin.

January 18, 2008 at 01:42 PM · You have your own answer to what happened there- 20 minutes(!!)into a first lesson was probably not a good time to "go for it" with the bow and a toddler. Back way off. If needed, have his parents take the bow out of the case and hide it. Or you keep it for a few weeks :) You might look for issues of the Suzuki Association of America with articles specifically about teaching very young children, and read some books written by expert Suzuki teachers/teacher-trainers. Sue

January 18, 2008 at 02:11 PM · JoD, wow, you were pretty patient and brave:)

just curious,,,what are the parents like, in terms of their background in music, expectation out of the embryo, why violin, why now?

January 18, 2008 at 05:38 PM · My daughter started Suzuki at 1-1/2 years of age. Her first "violin" was a mini Kleanex box with a paint stirring stick as the "neck". I forget what the bow was (it was 27 years ago). Her first lesson was how to hold the violin under her arm, how to put it to her chin, how to take it down and tuck it under her arm again, and how to bow--all without dropping anything. The first week was great until the neighbor girl across the street showed her how to fall over! Then it took two more weeks to get her to do it right again. Ah, memories!

January 29, 2008 at 01:53 AM · A teacher I know who has an excellent public school program does not even let his students take the bow home until they can hold it properly (they also get a candy bar when they can do it!).

January 29, 2008 at 03:07 AM · 2 1/2 years old! LOL that's absurd, the parents need mental help.

January 30, 2008 at 12:28 AM · This is certainly not my area of expertise. My pedagogic interest is to work with serious students at the high intermediate level and above, and help them toward achieving their self-motivated professional - or professional level - goals.

That said, it seems to me that while there are exceptions, why not leave the poor little kid alone? Just expose him to music for a while, and let him be a toddler. Even Heifetz, whose father was a professional violinist, didn't begin until the ripe old age of 3!

August 5, 2010 at 02:53 AM ·

Oh, I am one of those parents you talk about here that needs mental help.:) I am bringing my 2 year old toddler for an interview with Suzuki teachers to see if she is ready for formal music lessons end of this month. Why now? Why not?





August 5, 2010 at 08:37 AM ·

 @Jim Miller ;

That 7 1 3 6 2 1 71 is a Da Vinci code and shows that Mozart was a member of the Illuminati, a secret organization that controls all classical music, and has branches all over the world. You do not need to wonder any more.

August 5, 2010 at 09:31 AM ·

I don't understand exactly what the motivation is here?  I can understand exposing a 2.5 yr old to music as a part of many sensory inputs but why, specifically the violin?  Its pretty obvious that this is not the choice of the child - then its the choice of hte parent.  I see that it could be a generous thought - wishing to give your child something that gave the parent much pleasure - but I'm worried that the real motivation is to condition the child to do something that they might not otherwise elect to do at an older age with, perhaps, the hope that they will have a head start and become a violin super-star. 

IMO If you want your child to have music in their lives when they are older then the best (and maybe only way, short of mechanical conditioning)  to do it is to listen to music and play instruments yourselves - that is listen and enjoy.  A child will immitate the pleasures of its parents but will too often rebel a the same pleasures that are imposed on it, whatever the age you start...

August 5, 2010 at 09:33 AM ·

Jim and Dion - how did you get my phone number?

August 5, 2010 at 10:52 AM ·

Jim cracked the code and his Profile was removed!  I'm afraid ....very afraid. Certain members are lurking on V.com, then they try to disguise the code as phone numbers. 

August 5, 2010 at 12:50 PM ·

 I began to play the violin at the age of 4.  It was my choice, my parents had taken me to the symphony and I wanted to play.  Unfortunately, I was in a very „abusive” situation.


I do NOT think that this means it is child abuse to teach a very young child the violin!  Having both been a child, and worked with children, I think that teaching very young children to play can be a very positive thing.  I don‘t think you need to worry about ACCIDENTALLY abusing your students.


Not abusing a child is pretty easy.  You make sure:


- You give the child many bits of encouragements, rewards and compliments.


- Say „Oopsies” in a playful voice when they make a mistake rather than scolding them.


- Know when your child or student is tired before they do to prevent frustration/break downs.

If your student begins to tire after 5 minutes, take a break!  I‘m not terribly experienced with 2 and a half year olds.. But certainly by 3, you can tell when a child is getting frustrated by:


* The way they shuffle their feet.


* The way they breath, sometimes you can hear it becoming sort of high pitched(Note that can be a sign of asmah, which comes out in small children under stress and in the heat.)


* The frequency with which they are making mistakes.


* Their speech becoming more rapid, or high pitched.


* Twitching  becoming more frequent(most children twitch, but they become more and more twitchy...)


* Basic intuition on your part.


* Furrowed eye brows...


* ect.


- Know when your child or student is tired before they do to prevent frustration/break downs.


- Know when your child or student is tired before they do to prevent frustration/break downs.


- Don‘t physically tyrannize your child or student.  (A general rule for not committing accidentally child abuse, is to not do anything to the child that you wouldn‘t do to an adult.  For example, if you wouldn‘t give your wife a bare bottom spanking, than don‘t give one to your child...)


- Don‘t take a 3 year old to the symphony and expect them to sit quietly through it without needing to use the rest room!


These things are obvious.


I don‘t think that you should be afraid to try teaching a 2 and a half year old to play.  Just be sure you‘re not an idiot when it comes to children in other regards.

August 5, 2010 at 01:10 PM ·

But what would you say if I told you I was teaching my 2.5 yr old neurophysiology - would the natural response not be ;why not teach her/him how to enjoy nature and the wonder of animals first?   And what would you surmise about my intent?

August 5, 2010 at 01:28 PM ·

@Timothy ;

I gave my child a bare bottom spanking should I first have givin it to my wife? 

August 5, 2010 at 08:08 PM ·

  @Dion I personally don't think you should be giving anyone bare bottom spankings.  However, I don't think that this act is particularly traumatizing for the child.  I don't think you harm anything more than the relationship between you and the child.  I think that it humiliates the child, makes them resent you...  It certainly doesn't breed respect for you.   Personally, as soon as I was old enough to fight back I was uncontrollable.  My parents where not people I respected, but tyrants to be overthrown.

As I have grown older, I do not fight with my parents.  But I see them as week individuals who did not know how to raise children.  I don't think I will ever see my parents as "wise" and/or "loving".  That doesn't make them "bad people", but it's certainly a pitty.

August 6, 2010 at 01:04 AM ·


I chose specifically the violin, because I find the violin is a very beautiful instrument, the music is just beautiful. Violin and piano are good foundation for beginners in music and so they can pick up other musical instruments later. Also, here in where I live, our apartment is very small, it will be very crammed if we put a piano, + violin has "points" if you want to get into good school. Also, I would like her to play in the school orchestra. Yes, it is definitely my choice and not that of my 2 year old. Is it very selfish of me to plan and consider these points?  A selfish part of me, wished we could play the violin together. She pay the 1st violin and I play the 2nd. Why start now? I want her to play the violin , not practise the violin. See it as a fun toy , and not make a conscious effort to practise.  At least not in her early years.  If she starts formal Suzuki lesson, now, she only needs to attend class 30 minutes a week. I dont intend to make her practise at home, normally she takes out the violin on her own accord and imitate me playing the violin. Anyway, the Suzuki teacher has yet to accept her. She herself begins violin lesson at the age of 2, which is why she feels it is possible. It is very very hard to find a good Suzuki teacher. If she say yes,, then, probably she has the confident and experience to teach very young children, if she says no, then , well, we'll do one more semester of Kindermusik. Actually, I am still struggling whether to go interview or do one more semester of Kindermusik.

August 6, 2010 at 01:27 AM ·

Don't get me wrong - I think the goal is a noble one.  however, I also think you are making the same mistake that umpteen parents have before (think family business :o ) where you surmise that if the child is exposed to something early on it will adopt it.  My experience is that you really have very little control over what your little one will be - except by example.  Think back to your own parents - what do you do that they did?  The most common is the same christmas and the same taste in music. 

Besides, speaking from experience it is far, far, far, far, more important to establish a communicative relationship with your child than any specific activity.  Think of them not as something that you create but as a rare flower of unkown kind that is growing in your home.  Its for you as the adult to discover the wonders of the flower, not to make it an image of anything that came before or of your own wishes....

August 6, 2010 at 01:34 AM ·

There is a very interesting book called The Right Instrument For Your Child.  It deals with the personality types among other traits that tend to work well for certain instruments. I find that it is far more important for children to come to love and  enjoy music and appreciate how basic and important a part of every civilization it has been through the ages. Exposure to music is fundamental. Choosing to play the violin is wonderful but just in case it isn't a good fit,  I would recommend still being involved with music in some way. If your curious about the book,   you can check the following links:



August 6, 2010 at 03:23 AM ·

Ronald  & Elise,

Thanks for your well meaning advices. Do you mind if I quote what you wrote in my blog?


August 6, 2010 at 06:10 AM ·

Fine with me. Good luck!

August 6, 2010 at 06:43 AM ·

Tis an honour ;)


August 6, 2010 at 02:48 PM ·


does your child want to learn the violin? it seems it is your choice, but does he agree?

My son asked at 3 to learn the cello.  Since then he is in relationship with the cello.  there has been no problem.  If they want to learn, let them learn, otherwise, maybe wait another year.

If he loves music he will ask to learn!

good luck


August 8, 2010 at 02:02 PM ·

My daughter started asking to play the violin when she was about 2. We didn't start her on violin lessons until she turned 4 though.

I considered teaching her myself, but followed the advice of a friend of mine who teaches suzuki cello and went with a suzuki instructor. I was even considering taking suzuki teacher training classes, but my suzuki cello friend advised against it. Too early for a parent to do it - very likely better wait until she turns 7 in this case is what she said.

Lessons went well to start, as did practicing. After about 4 lessons she hit a wall and started wanting to do things contrary to what she was learning in lessons, just for fun. Some crying, rolling around on the floor, etc ensued. ;)

My suzuki cello friend said it was all perfectly normal, and very typical for little kids. She recommended a really excellent book called by Edmund Sprunger called "Helping Parents Practice", or something like that.

In the end, I had to greatly reduce my expectations for my daughter's practice. If she practices 5 minutes, great. If she holds the bow, but bends her thumb (and doesn't bend her pinky, nor draws a straight line) then GREAT! Isn't that a lovely thumb that she has!!

If she doesn't want to pick up the violin, but just wants to clap, then "Are you sure you don't want to play a little bit of the open strings to the beat of kitty kitty cat cat. No?, okay, we can clap, instead today."

Things are going much better and she is making some progress....

August 8, 2010 at 08:24 PM ·

 Terry,  reading your post made me very happy.  I wish my own mother had read that book.  I hope you have lots of fun together in your child friendly practices.

August 8, 2010 at 09:31 PM ·

Thanks Timothy. I'm glad that you enjoyed the post. It is still a challenge with my daughter - she likes practicing with my wife more than me in general - but it is overall going pretty well. It's a continuously evolving process that has its ups and downs, but lately a few more ups than downs. :) Terry

August 8, 2010 at 10:33 PM ·

 http://foothillsuzukistrings.org/2009/07/18/new-classes-and-new-concepts/ This is an interesting litte toy I just found...  Maybe more expensive than a cleenex box with holes and a stick running through it...

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