Help Teaching Very Young Kids

April 14, 2008 at 06:16 PM · I'm a mediocre violinist who hasn't played in 10 years, and I'm trying to teach my son and the neighbor's kiddo to play at a basic level before passing them on to someone better. They are 5 and 4, respectively. They have had three weeks of lessons total now.

Here is a video of a snippet of our last lesson:

A minute of the lesson

(Yep, I sound like a drill sergeant, but if I'm chirpy, they get giggly over it and forget what they're doing! My son's already loving it. Neighbor's kid is not so sure, since he's convinced that being forced to stand for 15 minutes together is sheer torture--never mind that immediately after the "exhausting" violin lesson, he runs and jumps around like a monkey.)

Both violins are in locations on their shoulders I'd normally correct, but holding the camera pretty much kept my interactions verbal this time. (They had placed their violins themselves from rest position moments before.) Usually, I work with both of them together for 5-7 minutes, then I do each one separately for a while, then I put them together again. Right now, my big thing when working together is listening and playing when I tell them to, without making extra sounds in between!

I know this isn't much to go on, but I'd like advice--what are the biggest problems you see/hear, what would you work on next, etc.

I want them to be firmly in Suzuki Book 2, if not 3, before I get a professional instructor, for various reasons. I'm not using a completely orthodox Suzuki approach--for example, I am going to use tapes on the fingerboards, and I do plan on teaching reading starting next year. My son is dyslexic, like me, so I don't want his progress hindered by his dyslexia, though! (In orchestra in school, *I* solved this problem by simply memorizing all the pieces within a week of starting to practice them--it always took me just a couple of hearings. By the time a performance rolled around, not only could I play the violin part, but I could do the viola and cello parts, too. :-P Eventually, I did become one of the better sight readers in the orchestra, but it took a long time.)

I've never taught *anyone* to play before, but I have a laundry list of things I want them to do well--mainly things that I was NOT taught properly. I want a proper bow hold, with a relaxed grip, rounded shape, flexibility, and bent pinky and thumb. I want them bowing using nice fluid strokes in the middle of the bow. I want the violins to be in the right place on their shoulders! I want them to use their elbows to change strings rather than bending at the wrist. I want them to stay near the bridge with their bows and to bow straight. I want them to look across their strings toward their scrolls--not at the ceiling or the wall. *g* I want a nice, straight left wrist. I want them to touch the strings--when we get to fingerings--with the tips of their fingers rather than flattening the pads against them.

Whew!

So, the biggest problems that I see:

Right now, my biggest struggles are with the younger one's bow hold. I've talked about holding the boy gently and have modeled with various delicate objects. I've had him make circles with his fingers. I've talked about the eye of the frog. I've said a dumb little rhyme about curling your pinky and thumb. I have him shake his hand out every time before he touches the bow. And YET he's always got the sucker in a stranglehold, with his fingers all pressed tightly together, and it's an ongoing battle to get him to put just his pinky up on the stick when he wants to try to hold the bow in a pinch with the thumb straight and all the fingers on the stick! ACK! If anyone can offer help--even how to get him to SPREAD his fingers, which would allow him to relax a bit--I'd be eternally grateful. I must be doing something right because the older one's grip is lovely for a kid that age. (At least at first!) Nothing seems to be working with the younger one, though.

I'm also struggling with getting the younger one to place his violin properly. The older one actually usually does it a lot better than in this video, but for the younger, what you see is the *best* you're going to get at this point. Every time he lifts his bow, he brings his violin to the bow instead of vice versa. I've modeled doing it right and doing it wrong, and he can see doing it wrong, but the only way I can stop him at this point is to hold the violin in place with one hand and his hips in place (so he can't twist his body under the violin!) with my knees and then have him set the bow. Ayiyi... Any suggestions would help me enormously here, too! My progress with him has been really slooooow.

My son's biggest problem at this point is getting clean contact with just one string when playing on A and D over the entire length of his bow stroke and, secondarily, keeping his bow stroke straight instead of going around the corner. He's mostly got a handle on the straightness, but he's struggling still with a clean contact with the strings. We've worked on correcting the elbow up when you're hitting a higher string than you should be and down when you're hitting a lower one, but he gets frustrated sometimes at his lack of control. He's making progress from one day to the next, so I think he'll get this pretty soon, but if anyone has a neat trick, I'm all ears.

Replies (29)

April 14, 2008 at 06:44 PM · that was hilarious,,esp when your son was rubbing his eye, i thought it was part of a bowing exercise, like peanut butter part 2...

i am sure there are a lot of great advices to come from teachers, my only comment is that i would not teach them at the same time. it can be distracting to your son esp if he is more advanced and interested. with one kid at a time, you probably can give more instruction.

April 14, 2008 at 06:47 PM · God bless teachers. I'd loose my mind.

Just this. Kids love individual attention and praise. I'd split them up and only put them together for recitals or larger groups. Do you play along to show and tell(and inspire)? My next life, I want a teacher parent. You rock!

April 14, 2008 at 07:16 PM · Yes, it was hilarious.. when Xander said "I had to do it".. I couldnt stop laughing myself.. reminded me of old days when my boys just started. Kudos to you. You have patience!

April 14, 2008 at 09:09 PM · This may sound a bit harsh, but for the record, I think it should be said.

You describe yourself as a 'mediocre' lapsed violinist and say you've never taught before. If you really want the best for your kid, why wouldn't you entrust him and his friend to qualified, experienced teachers? It takes a very special and highly-trained type of teacher to set kids up well, and, frankly, from your post and the video clip, you sound a little overwhelmed.

Basics are hard to teach well, and teachers who make a career out of doing it have my utmost respect. In your shoes, I'd really consider finding an experienced teacher who can complement your help and answer the questions you have about what next and how. Experienced teachers have a plan and know what they're looking to achieve and when - this is important.

I'm sorry if this sounds overly negative or condemning. You'll get a lot of different opinions on this thread, and I did want to make sure this one was voiced.

April 14, 2008 at 10:04 PM · Well, like I said, several reasons.

First of all, he'll be taking one lesson a week, and I'll being doing the teaching the rest of the time until he's independent, anyway.

Secondly, there are no good Suzuki violin instructors in the area, and like I said, my son's dyslexic. I don't want his love for the violin destroyed because he gets someone who thinks that 5 y-o is too young to start or who believes firmly that playing should be tied to reading from the get-go.

Thirdly, both the boys have issues with teachers to some extent. The neighbor's kid just doesn't like to be told what to do yet, period, under any circumstances. (He's s-l-o-w-l-y working around, but it's taking a while.) My DS is a bit different. He started begging for violin lessons from the age of just-turned-2. I caved after he turned three, and it was a mistake because the violin instructor--who was *very* competent but unused to a quirky kid like my son--didn't crack the whip enough. It sounds backwards, but nice instructors--in any area--who let him goof off get a kid who, frankly, goofs off. And then he doesn't have any fun because he's goofing off and not making progress and he gets frustrated. So he charmed the instructor and pretended that he just *couldn't* do things he very well could, and we wasted our money for a month and a half and he got irritated and bored of the violin. He cried when I told him he wasn't getting any more lessons for a long while, but lessons are a privilege that he was very easily able to understand, and he knew he was acting up during lessons (which carried over into practice with me) and it was a total waste. So the violin went away for two years. Once I have him in the right mindset, I can set him loose with the right person, and he'll do fabulously. But I have to get him beyond the let-me-see-what-I-can-get-away-with-by-being-cute stage. BTW, about eight minutes further in, when he was struggling a bit with making his bow go straight by using his elbow and not hitting the D while on the A but working very hard, he looked at me very seriously and said, "I love violin." After the first lesson when he was allowed to goof off last time, he regarded it as a chore. Now he's constantly clapping the Suzuki rhythms and telling his dad how much fun violin is. Huge change, and more of it has to the lessons than with him.

Finally, at the moment, I have NO MONEY. Our house is under contract, and if it sells, we will have some money for things like violin lessons. But right now? Food;s more important.

The video clip is a little crazy, I admit! The first 4 minutes or so when I have them together--before I separate them--is really like herding cats, though without a camera in my hands, it's usually better. Right now, my only goal is to get them to have non-horrific positions and to be able to *stop* when I say *stop* and *play* when I say *play*--and to play *together.* Xander's got that. David's...working on it. (He really had gotten better. The urge to make the violin squawk was completely overwhelming for the first week and a half. I really wish the camera hadn't given out then because I could have shown what happens when I work with each one-on-one. (They usually get a lot more praise then, too, because they are actually, you know, fixing things. They both have highly developed BS-o-meters, and if you give praise that isn't earned, they BOTH see just how much they can get away with!)

I play with them (when I'm not holding a camera!) about half the time, but I can hear what they're doing better when I don't, so I try to balance it.

April 14, 2008 at 10:58 PM · Gorgeous, and I congratulate you. For teaching and for posting video of it.

.boost up the excitement when they do do right. More than 'okay' - "that's great, that's just what I asked you to do" - a sticker or token for each 'great', on the chart it goes. If iot's wrong, get in there and hand over hand show them 'right', especially David. He is not going to figure this out by himself, you will need to intrude a bit into his personal space and his lacksadasical imitation, which is not accurate. This is a learnign skill that he needs for everything, not just violin.

.How about a mat, with FEET marked,- here is where you stand. {Maybe some blu-tac or superglue on those feet}. Do others know of something like that for where the violin goes?

.Routine - you probably already have that figured, but it may as well be mentioned. And make it a visual that both kids can see, rather than you knowing what's coming next. The whole violin and scratching away gets pretty exciting, and overwhelming, and its hard to remember what's next when you 5. they can have the card with the next thing they have to do, and match it to the chart, or something.

.I remember seeing little suzuki kids with their thumb under the frog initially, and I wonder if a little bit of something (squishy or furry or rubbery) around the frog might encourage soft holding. See if David knows how to do soft/squeeze in other contexts. Maybe getting him to squeeze as hard as he can for a few bows, then almost drop the bow for a few more strokes, so he really gets the difference. Usually kids squeeze items like pencils and lego blocks and stuff because they aren't getting enough tactile or proprioceptive feedback in a regular grip. He looks like that sort of kid to me.

.clapping and jumping the rhythm will meet some of the movement needs - could they do that first, before picking up the violins. And lots of time in between, if its not too disruptive.

.Man, David is just so needy of movement and touch, isnt he - slides agains the wall, wriggles, slides, and NO idea of what his body is doing. Can I suggest that he have less time with the instrument and more with feeling rhythm and body movement imitation. His system just isn't ready for formal instrument instruction, I don't think. Xander on the other hand is well and truly ready. David might actually do better if you can sit him on a gym ball or bean bag or even ask him to bounce at the same time as play.

.Although I'm a novice on violin and have never formally taught an isntrument, I'm in support of your apporach. There have been many a poster here who DID get what was expected to be good instruction from professional instructors, who still developed bad habits, who had bad experiences. While you might have to feel your way, you certainly understand your son better than any instructor who will see him for 30 minutes a week. And I don't know that David would gain any more from that sort of isolated experience than he will from your sessions. You're obviously not a fool, you have a great mix of humour and direction. and you have thought through some things that you want to achieve. And you're willing to ask for help. I really don't see the problem.

April 15, 2008 at 05:12 PM · I watched the tape and while I empathize with your situation, I sincerely believe you are in a bit over our head trying to teach two children with the experience you describe. Suzuki is not the only method and I would find an instructor for the kids or get one for yourself and work on what you want to teach. Get back to Suzuki later. If you can't afford lessons until your house is sold, why not at least buy some good CDs/etc. and study them a while before trying to eat the elephant in one bite.

Other methods can work while using the Suzuki books, and I wouldn't get too hung up on a Suzuki only approach if there are now qualified Suzuki teacher around. While you might think this is less than ideal, beggars can't be too choosey and anything that helps, helps!

Also, it seems trying to teach 2 at once in addition to your lack of teaching experience is over reaching. Separate the guys and let them go at their own pace. There is a big difference between 4 and 5. One of these boys has been alive approximately 20% logner than the other. That is a lot! Each child is an individual with strengths you can work with. If the little guy doesn't do what he is told, in a way you are wasting your time. At a minimum a child must accept instruction. Maybe he is not ready and would benefit from something like Orff class before violin. I hope it works out. Good Luck!

April 15, 2008 at 06:20 PM · If you'll teach them individually, instead of in a class of two, you'll reap the following benefits:

1. Less Valium consumed by you.

2. Mr. A will not be distracted by Mr. B.

3. Mr. B will not be distracted by Mr. A.

4. Both Mr. A and Mr. B will be able to *hear* themselves!!

5. Both Mr. A and Mr. B will receive your full attention.

April 15, 2008 at 07:20 PM · Wow! My first response is that you need to get a teacher ASAP, Even then, you will be working with your son one on one in daily practice, but you will have important guidance from someone very experienced. From your goals, it sounds like you would be able to identify a good teacher and this puts you ahead of many parents.

My second response is that you are trying to do WAY too many things all at once. Each of these things (relaxed, flexible bow hold, straight bow, relaxed left hand, smooth bow changes, smooth string crossings, etc...) take years of careful shaping, and even very accomplished players regularly revisit these. An experienced teacher knows what to "let go" for now and how much to insist on. I recall our excellent teacher allowing the violin to be played like a tie (although she and I would move it to the correct place when we could do it without distracting the playing) while she worked on more pressing matters. In the end both my sons learned to play with a beautiful posture and relaxed, flexible hands. Her patience paid off.

Given that you are set on teaching them for now, I have some concrete recommendations:

Definitely, I would work with them each separately and in a quiet space apart from distraction. You should set a specific time aside each day for this. An ordered approach and a quiet space should help them center themselves.

I would use a mat (or piece of cardboard marked with an outline of their feet in "playing position". This will keep their feet in one spot. When they begin to wander off, the lesson or practice should be over. Period. Aim for 5 minutes at first. The biggest thing to "teach" at this point is the idea that playing the violin requires a peaceful, careful, attentive person. If they can be this attentive person for a minute, that is great, don't continue to press on when they are only half paying attention. You have lots of time - so do not feel the need to rush.

You need to require them to learn and hold a "rest position" so that they aren't noodling as you are explaining or demonstrating something.

They need to learn that every thing they play on the violin should be played with care and intention. If they are not ready for this step, then I would work without the violin on learning rhythms, pre-music reading and pre-theory games. There are great books of fun pre-music reading games that you can use. You have plenty of time. There is no rush.

When the violin and bow are out, your little player needs to be centered. The violin and bow need to be put away the minute they are no-longer in the careful attentive mode. It was suggested to me once, that I use several short practices with my then 6 year old. He definitely did not like this because he felt that he never got away from the violin practice. I think that it is better to keep the one time set aside as a "special" time. Always stop before your child gets to the wilting stage. Never let on that you wished for him to go a bit longer. Just show your enthusiastic appreciation for his hard work.

Work with a simulated violin and especially a simulated bow.

You can make a sponge violin with a paint stirrer and a paint sponge and use this for learning how to get the violin up into playing position. They can work on balancing the sponge under their chin as they move about. Dowels can be used for bow hold games. I'm sure you know the following bow exercise and rhyme: "Up like a rocket. Down like the rain. Back and Forth like a choo-choo train. Around and Around like a great big sun. Check your pinkie. Check your thumb." They can crawl like a spider up the dowel and back down again. They can place a dowel or a pencil on a table then try to pick it up by curling in the axis fingers. This develops the "shock absorbing" ability of the bow hand, the relaxed, flexible axis (second and third) fingers. The bow exercises can be done any time during the day apart from the practice or lesson.

Passive listening to music (especially the Suzuki repertoire), while doing something quiet like playing with legos or drawing or eating is very important. The Suzuki repertoire is sequenced specifically for ear training purposes up to book four. The listening is far more important than the actual hands on the violin at this stage. Moving to music is also important and fun. You might read up a bit on Dalcroze Eurythmics (I hope I spelled it right) for ideas here, but use your sense of fun and imagination. I once saw a wonderful class where about a dozen or more 3,4 and 5 years olds were held spell-bound by little pieces of mesh cloth and the Barber Adagio for Strings. They could puff on the strip of cloth so that it would rise into the air and drift back down.

I truly believe that a parent can develop talents in their young children that will bring joy to them throughout their lives. This being said, if you are not a trained teacher or violinist, you would do well to seek out expert advice and to read a lot.

Good luck!

Jennifer

April 16, 2008 at 02:26 AM · Sorry, I didn't mean to double post!

April 16, 2008 at 04:13 AM · Recording lessons is a good idea, but for your sanity, do invest in a tripod! :)

April 16, 2008 at 04:38 AM · Thanks, everybody! I'm setting up a tripod, and I'll set it up for Xander's individual lesson--tomorrow, if I can. Then you'll see more real TEACHING and less cat-herding. *g*

My laundry list isn't things I'm working on all at once--I haven't mentioned most! They're just what I want to work toward. Final goals.

Thanks so much for the suggestion of the mat!!!! I will try it tomorrow. I think that will help David a lot--if he doesn't collapse into a puddle on the floor because it's "too hard." I'm a lot better at getting David to do things than most people are. (I'm teaching most other subjects to him--all but PE, art, and part of reading. Right now, violin is my HUGE challenge with him.) I can get him to do most things *alone* with violin--when he's with Xander, though, he takes every opportunity and RUNS with it. Hence the cat herding.

>I remember seeing little suzuki kids with their thumb under the frog initially, and I wonder if a little bit of something (squishy or furry or rubbery) around the frog might encourage soft holding. See if David knows how to do soft/squeeze in other contexts. Maybe getting him to squeeze as hard as he can for a few bows, then almost drop the bow for a few more strokes, so he really gets the difference. Usually kids squeeze items like pencils and lego blocks and stuff because they aren't getting enough tactile or proprioceptive feedback in a regular grip. He looks like that sort of kid to me.

Thanks! I'll try some of those things! I do have the thumb under the frog right now.

>.clapping and jumping the rhythm will meet some of the movement needs - could they do that first, before picking up the violins. And lots of time in between, if its not too disruptive.

I do clapping first, but there's no time in between. They have some free play while I tune, then clapping, then playing.

>.Man, David is just so needy of movement and touch, isnt he - slides agains the wall, wriggles, slides, and NO idea of what his body is doing. Can I suggest that he have less time with the instrument and more with feeling rhythm and body movement imitation.

Mostly he's annoyed that I'm restricting his ability to do things his way in his time. :-/ This is his Great Campaign to Fight Back. During singing, he'll sing with us, sway on time, etc. He can clap syllables and chants rhymes well--usually better than Xander, in fact. His handwriting is great for his age--again, better than Xander's. His drawing skills are way above his age level. But he holds his pencil Really. Hard. and presses down very hard, too. He'll sit for half and hour and listen to a story book quietly, too, easily.

> David might actually do better if you can sit him on a gym ball or bean bag or even ask him to bounce at the same time as play.

I have an exercise ball. His biggest point of contention is being made to stand. That might help a lot.

--

BTW, this was only a segment of the lesson. Before they touched the violins, we clapped rhythms. Then they had bows only--set hold, choose different actions (up, down, around, back and forth, etc.--they take turns deciding what they want all of us to do, since it's more fun than the rhyme for them) and then checking position again. Then they go into rest position. Next, they bow. Then they get into playing position. THEN they start playing. They play for about 3-4 minutes together, and then I kick David out of the room to go play while I work alone with Xander for 10-20 minutes. Then I work with David alone until I lose him--5-10 minutes, max. Then I put them together again for 3-5 minutes for two different plucking activities.

I like the idea of having them get into rest position at every pause--the reset time for David would take forever, though.

April 16, 2008 at 05:17 AM · When I arrive early for my violin lessons or while I am packing up my stuff I often have the pleasure to get a glimpse of my teacher teaching another student who is a little boy, perhaps 3 or 4 years old.

I thought it may be interesting to you if I describe some of what I observed when my teacher taught the little fellow ...

First, she is very forgiving with the little boy, only focusing on one thing at a time, never asking two things at once. However, she *always* insists on one basic thing: "watch yourself in the mirror". My teacher's studio has a very large mirror on the wall. When the little boy has his lesson after mine, he walks straight to the mirror, adjusts himself and his little violin and starts playing. I noticed that his posture and the way he holds the violin is always correct. I think the mirror is a very helpful thing.

The little boy has been practising twinkle star for the last 2 months or so and he performed it last week at my teacher's annual recital. It is always very very scratchy but I have never heard my teacher demand the boy to try to make a nice sound. I believe she will do that much much later when the basic skills are there.

Another interesting thing is the fact that my teacher often guides the bow arm. She would push and pull his arm up and down while he is bowing so as to show him how to bow.

Last but not least, I have never seen her asking the boy to do monotone one note exercises. They always seem to be playing some melody, some nursery rhyme. And I have never seen the boy disinterested. I assumed that little kids like him will be taught this way so they don't get bored.

During the recital last week it was very interesting to see the boy perform his twinkle star. Whenever he had to reposition his left hand, for example when crossing strings, he would just stop, then take all the time in the world to prepare for the next note before he continued. As a result there were very long pauses in his play, BUT he did not make any mistake !!! :-) It was very funny, very cute and very inspiring. I believe that my teacher might have taught him to play it this way to make sure he gets through the piece. But even if it was "his own idea" it fits very well into the tolerant forgiving way I have seen my teacher teach the boy. When watching your video, comparing your style with my observations above, I had the impression that you might be a little too strict and expect too many things to be right at once.

Anyway, good luck.

April 16, 2008 at 12:04 PM · For the tight bow hold. I noticed that David's hand is too spread out, especially where the index finger is concerned. I suggest using corn pads (Dr. Scholls) to mark the thumb and the pinkie. These pads have little holes where a finger tip or thumb tip can go. This will keep the hand back on the bow and also encourage the pinkie to be rounded.

April 16, 2008 at 12:40 PM · Please don't take this post as harsh or mean, but something to consider with your violin teaching endeavor is this:

How are you going to get these children all the way through Suzuki Book 3?

I sympathize with your financial plight. I would guess that many professional musicians would too, as we tend to be card-carrying members of the Working Class. I understand a tight budget. I have also have/had many students whose parents are not wealthy. There are many things you could do to afford an experienced professional violin teacher:

-See if your child and the neighbor child can split a private lesson. That cuts the cost in 1/2.

-Work out a barter system with a teacher. I have known teachers that accepted yard work, cleaning service, laundry, car repair, baby sitting, etc in lieu of payment.

-Ask for help from Grandparents. I have/had many students that get their lessons paid for by Grandma and Grandpa. It is a lovely gift to give to a child.

-An 8 hour shift at Starbucks on the weekends would cover lesson, violin, and music costs.

Again, I don't want to sound overtly mean, but since you describe yourself as a "mediocre" violinist, then why are you teaching violin? I thought the whole point of homeschooling was to do better than the professionals, not worse. I teach home schooled children myself, and have noticed that every Mom (and it has been all Moms so far, for me) has said that home schooling is the most difficult thing she has ever done. Period. Why burden yourself with a difficult subject you are not prepared to teach well?

Best to you.

April 17, 2008 at 12:39 AM · I have been teaching professionally for about 10 years and am a Suzuki teacher. I would like to offer a few suggestions:

- These boys are very young. You sound frustrated in your message that they can't seem to focus during a 15 minute lesson. In my experience, depending on the child, 15 minutes can be a very long and intense time. Someone else had mentioned that when the child wanders off, the lesson is over. I would go one step further and say end the lesson before the child loses focus. Leave them wanting more. A typical lesson for a 4 year old for me is between 3-10 minutes long. I like to see them twice a week.

- Work on one, maybe two things per lesson. If you are working on bow hold, do only that. Have the student make 10 great bow holds, clap the rhythms and end the lesson. Small children are working out basic motor skills as well as the violin playing skills you want them to learn.

- I think having the boys together is great, but try working with one boy for 1 or 2 minutes, then switch, and finally end with a game together.

- Be patient with their pace of progress. The younger the child, the slower he goes!

- I know money is always an issue, but the formative years are the most challenging to teach and demand the most experience from a teacher. I feel any idiot who can play can teach an advanced lesson, but to start a little one requires great skill. If you insist on teaching them yourself, at least read some books on early childhood education, specifically about the Suzuki method (which, by the way, is not technique specific. I introduce note reading pretty early and I use tapes from the beginning. It is a philosophy more than a method)

Some suggestions:

To Learn with Love by William Starr

You're Never to Old and Rarely Too Young to Twinkle by Kay Collier Sloane

Between Parent and Teacher by Susan Kempter

How Muscles Learn by Susan Kempter

and, of course, the books written by Dr. Suzuki himself.

Good luck!

April 17, 2008 at 02:13 AM · In my experience parents have too much "invested" in their own children to act well as their primary music teachers.There often are too many other family agendas going on.

Right now I only have one "little violin student." We started in September, when she was 5 years old, and she had her 6th birthdeay in December. Right now we are moving to the 10th piecee in Suzuki Book 1. To me this is phenomenal progress. She is very smart, has been reading English since she was 4 and is showing progress in sighreading music. We had a 55 minute lesson yesterday, with no real break. I could not believe it. She repeated the D major scale again and again, attempting to keep all her fingers down on the way up so she could just lift them one at a time to go down. Whe has been attentive like this from the beginning.

She gets daily help from her mother, but with the mother on the piano, since she knows nothing about string instruments (although I have taught her two older sons). I have known this little girl since she was a month old, and she has wanted to play violin since before she was 2. It paid off to delay the start.

I use the Suzuki books, and move the kids to reading music if and when I can - but do not rush them, so I've had some good-playing shaky readers half-way through Book 2.

As far as technique (actually posture) is concerned, I don't make a fetish of it. I know from experience that bad left hand position will be improved in two stages: first when they start to use the 4th finger and next when the get to 3rd position. I used to push proper, hand posture, but it can be unnecessarily discouraging.

The bow hand can be learned quite quickly - as ther little boy in black (in the video) shows. His hold looks OK (I'm sure it needs some work) and he can play a big bold stroke.

Young violinists often hold the bow overly stiffy - watch some videos of the 10-year old Sarah Chang.

I think this can be overcome by teach9ing the child, whose hold looks reasonably good to work with the balance of the bow in the fingers, bending all the fingers, and following the "springy hold" idea the Menuhin wrote about.

I would not want to teach two boys of such disparate approaches in the same room at the same time. If I had to teach them bowth, I would teach them separately and then bring them together for "duet sessions."

April 17, 2008 at 12:57 PM · I second the suggestion to read the book How Muscles Learn by Susan Kempter. My sons were lucky to study with her when we lived in Albuquerque. The other book I found helpful when my boys were beginning book 2 was Teaching from the Balance Point.

Just something to look out for: One of the trickiest things for inexperienced teachers is to pace the pieces and skills appropriately. It takes real skill to know what to demand in the area of polish, intonation, sound, and technical mastery before moving on to the next piece. The temptation is to move too fast, which can have fairly long-lasting negative effects, (persistently inaccurate intonation being one.) I heard someone say once that young children are like expensive race cars, without drivers. Their brains are so quick. They just need careful direction. It is tough to know what level of mastery you can expect of a 4-year-old or 5-year-old. This is where a teacher who has seen hundreds of 4 and 5-year-olds has an advantage.

I once had a Suzuki teacher say that a young child can learn the violin, but that you had to be prepared to do it in baby steps and have faith that it is paying off in ways you might not see for a while. As an example of this, I started my sons both at three years old. For months and months my youngest son didn't get past the bow in the exercise I give you below. He would squat rather than bend at the waist. Not to be funny, mind you, but because he couldn't figure it out. We listened to the Suzuki CDs a lot and trusted the teacher. By May he was playing AE1E of Twinkle, but couldn't get his third finger back over to the A string to come back down with 321A. It took him at least two years to get through Suzuki Vol. 1. I understand that this is a typical pace. I can definitely see now that he was making lots of progress in his understanding of music, busy getting his wiring in place, although we couldn't see it. The slow pace allowed everything to be learned thoroughly. In the process, he got a very solid foundation. By the way, he has just turned 14 and has an awesome sound, perfect pitch, and is currently playing the Bach sonata no. 1, two Paganini caprices, "Obsession" from the Ysaye Sonatas, Zapateado, the Labirynth by Locatelli and the Khachaturian violin concerto. He has a full recital coming up soon. He has also recently composed a string quartet and is working on a sonata for violin and piano and is orchestrating one of the Debussy piano works for orchestra. So, a slow start is not an indication of lack of ability or lack of intelligence. The message: Take your time. Do it in baby steps.

I also wanted to suggest a routine to use with the mat.

First outline their feet in a natural standing position, with toes pointed slightly out. Then take the left foot and step it forward a bit into a natural "playing" stance. Outline this foot in a different color. Without the violin at first, have the child step into the rest position and stop. In the Suzuki method you would have them bow to you at this point. Then have them step the left foot into the playing position. Have them return to the rest position. This should be done several times before adding the violin. They should step into playing position and then raise the violin under the chin. Try this without the violin bow at first, then add the violin bow. You can show how they can bend their knees in playing position and sway side to side, while still staying in the same location on the mat. This type of routine begins a lesson in an organized, predictable way and helps to set the tone of careful attentiveness. Any time they are not playing, ask them to get back into rest position (violin tucked under the arm, bow dangling from the right index finger), while you speak or demonstrate.

One last thought. This is a plug for encouraging a calm, centered approach to the violin. I once observed a wonderful Suzuki teacher working with a frisky group of 6 and 7 year old boys over a week. Every day she would say, "I want you to be thoughtful violinists." I think they came to embrace this in themselves. In my opinion, this is the most important idea to convey early on. Even with advanced players it is an important idea. Beautiful playing is a deliberate act, requiring thoughtful planning and thoughtful followthrough. Sensitivity to style, fluency and a naturalness are important as well, but playing should never be reckless.

April 17, 2008 at 01:18 PM · there have been some wonderful and helpful technical posts. i just want point out something else:

many on this site may take it for granted seeing a teaching setting. however, to people out there with things to do, places to go, getting a violin practice going is not an easy thing. it takes a lot of dedication and effort. so i want give liang 2 thumbs up for being there for the kids.

April 23, 2008 at 04:29 AM · >Just something to look out for: One of the trickiest things for inexperienced teachers is to pace the pieces and skills appropriately. It takes real skill to know what to demand in the area of polish, intonation, sound, and technical mastery before moving on to the next piece. The temptation is to move too fast, which can have fairly long-lasting negative effects, (persistently inaccurate intonation being one.) I heard someone say once that young children are like expensive race cars, without drivers. Their brains are so quick. They just need careful direction. It is tough to know what level of mastery you can expect of a 4-year-old or 5-year-old. This is where a teacher who has seen hundreds of 4 and 5-year-olds has an advantage.

Certainly! I've YouTubed every video of Suzuki graduation recitals for levels 1-3 that I can find. It is very interesting to me the range of quality that teachers will accept. I am aiming for what the nicest of the youngsters are doing--the youngest students are almost always lacking a certain level of control that's natural to older students, but they can be taught to sound much nicer and to have much better control than many older students who are passed on. If I'm going to err, it will be on the side of analness. My teachers erred in the other direction, and I know what a disaster that can be. My stiff, ugly right hand still carries memories of that!

I am not going to move beyond the rhythms and string-changing until they can each do the rhythms well, producing a good sound with solid contact with the strings with a flat bow. The bow must stay parallel to the bridge, and they must be using the center to tip of the bow rather than the frog (where both of them instantly gravitate now). They must produce a good quality tone, too. Then I will graduate them to basic fingerings, and only once they have tolerable intonation and are able to play something like Hot Cross Buns with good fluency will they be able to do Twinkle.

Hopefully, I'll be able to find a good teacher for them by the time they finish Twinkle. BUT--and this is a BIG BUT--the teacher will have them once a week. I will have them both four times a week, and if I get off my backside and stop being so lazy on the weekends, I will have Xander six days a week. So most of the instruction, no matter how much of a cue I'm taking from the teacher, will come through me. I've got to be able to handle this at some level!

>For the tight bow hold. I noticed that David's hand is too spread out, especially where the index finger is concerned. I suggest using corn pads (Dr. Scholls) to mark the thumb and the pinkie. These pads have little holes where a finger tip or thumb tip can go. This will keep the hand back on the bow and also encourage the pinkie to be rounded.

I had this on the first bow I had him using, and it was a disaster, which is weird because it worked beautifully for my DS. It just blew his mind and caused him to contort his hand in all sorts of positions. Though you might be talking about my DS--his fingers are too spread at the moment because when they aren't right now, his thumb rolls under. I've slowly been moving the index finger back a tiny amount at a time so as not to trigger the thumb roll. We practice "pouring out a cup" to get the right shape, but I think he has hand strength issues at the moment--which is to be expected!

I've got a little fuzzy pompom, and I'm now having him do exercises holding it between different fingers and his thumb. He can do a soft grip with his whole hand, but WOW--as soon as you isolate it down to a finger, his grip turns crushing. The pompom is helping, though, already.

>However, she *always* insists on one basic thing: "watch yourself in the mirror".

I have a mirror--I might try that.

>It is always very very scratchy but I have never heard my teacher demand the boy to try to make a nice sound. I believe she will do that much much later when the basic skills are there.

David's scratchiness comes from applying about ten times the force needed and using only a half inch of the bow. These are very, very fundamental problems. We talk a LOT about that in individual lessons, but it's like nothing sticks from day to day. At the end of practice on Mon, I'll have him around the middle of the bow, making small but respectable strokes and not pushing on the bow so hard that the stick touches the hair. The next day? POOF! It's gone.

>I think having the boys together is great, but try working with one boy for 1 or 2 minutes, then switch, and finally end with a game together.

I've switched to putting them together at the end instead of the beginning, and the difference is PHENOMENAL. I'm not sure why! But David doesn't wander off, and Xander doesn't turn the violin into a gun. *g*

I don't mean to sound impatient at them--I'm mostly impatient at myself. Everything else, I can do very well. Xander's reading at a 6th grade level--he's only in first grade math (technically, he'd be in Kindergarten starting in September), but that's because I had him do two entire Kindergarten math programs and just plain didn't spend as much time on it since he has CAPD and dyslexia and I was concentrating so much on those problems during the first year. David's already trucking through Kindy math and reading, too, and with my background, science and history are in the bag--and I also majored in Spanish, so I'm set there! This is the one thing that currently I stink at teaching, and even when I get a teacher (house closing soon--woohoo!) I still need to be able to hold up my end of it. (Actually, I can't do art worth anything, either--art history, yes; drawing technique, HAH!--but David's mom is an artist, so she's doing that--hooray!)

I own Nurtured by Love, BTW!

>I would not want to teach two boys of such disparate approaches in the same room at the same time. If I had to teach them bowth, I would teach them separately and then bring them together for "duet sessions."

That's what this was an attempt of--I was trying not to correct anything that wasn't terribly interfering with their ability to produce the sounds on beat. It works MUCH better at the end. It's very short there. I have them play usually two rhythms, one on E and one on G. Then I have them play a song where they bow on each string three times in turn, E to G, with a break for resetting the bow in between. Then there's a quick plucking song with the right hand and then the left hand. (EEE down to DDD... and A-E-A, if you know them.) I don't think David can consciously move his left pinky at this point, so I'm not picky about how he's making the sounds, but I think the pompom exercises are helping him grow awareness. I had no idea someone could just not know how to move a finger!!!!

>As far as technique (actually posture) is concerned, I don't make a fetish of it. I know from experience that bad left hand position will be improved in two stages: first when they start to use the 4th finger and next when the get to 3rd position. I used to push proper, hand posture, but it can be unnecessarily discouraging.

>The bow hand can be learned quite quickly - as ther little boy in black (in the video) shows. His hold looks OK (I'm sure it needs some work) and he can play a big bold stroke.

>I think this can be overcome by teach9ing the child, whose hold looks reasonably good to work with the balance of the bow in the fingers, bending all the fingers, and following the "springy hold" idea the Menuhin wrote about.

Yes! That's exactly what we're working on. To get that springy hold, Xander (the boy in black) needs a bit more curve in his first knuckles, which he seems to get from the idea of a cup shape/C shape. He's really bowing around the corner in that one, so that's what we're working on now because that's a habit that's nightmarish to break. (Don't ask how I know!) A LOT of teachers seem to let the littlest ones go on to Book 2 without correcting that, but Xander can handle it now, and David can't get a decent bow stroke at all right now because he goes SO far around the corner. Argh.

>In my experience parents have too much "invested" in their own children to act well as their primary music teachers.There often are too many other family agendas going on.

It's a struggle to teach your own kids anything until you can figure out how to hang up your ego at the door. *g* It IS much easier to teach other people's kids--anything. It's not "personal" with them. But that's something I've had to get over long ago, with speech therapy for anything else!

Xander is really coming along. I've watched the lessons of other little kids, and he's moving much faster than all the ones I've sat in on. And that's really the main reason I'm worried about him! *g* I want to make sure I can meet his needs--the reason I said possibly as far as Book 3 is because of how fast he's coming along. He can usually handle 30 minute lessons pretty easily. (I stop when he's drooping or once he really gets something, whichever comes first.) David's burned out after 5-10 minutes.

I will check out How Muscles Learn!

>As an example of this, I started my sons both at three years old. For months and months my youngest son didn't get past the bow in the exercise I give you below. He would squat rather than bend at the waist. Not to be funny, mind you, but because he couldn't figure it out.

Xander had bowing down at his first lesson when he had just barely turned three. He had a bow hold better than the 5-y-o little boy whose lesson was before his by two weeks. He also wanted to goof off constantly when he WAS very capable of paying attention and following directions, so the lessons went away for two years. (He could clap the rhythms fine but pretended not to--that sort of thing.)

I have received several VERY helpful private messages, and I thank the board for them. I have also received one childish and snotty message, which I reproduce here:

David Wilson (Spidermanct@aol.com) sent this message to you via

Violinist.com:oh please! is this a joke??? you're so unqualified to teach. You're doing

them more harm than good.

If you're going to be nasty, please have the courage to do it in public. I will expose cowards.

It sounds severe unless you know him--he actually had a woman convinced, when he was 3.5, that he couldn't talk when he played with her 6-y-o son every week because if he was reeeeeeeeeeally cute and acted reeeeeeeeeeeeeally dumb, he could get her to do anything. *g* (She nearly wet her pants when he finally decided to speak to her like a normal person.) He was playing mind games with strangers to get presents out of them at 10 months--he had a teacher convinced, in the afternoon Kindergarten/pre-K program he was in when he was three, that he couldn't write his name when he'd been writing it just fine for the previous two months. He did it gradually enough that she didn't realize that she'd been taken until I pointed it out. So games like that have to have consequences with him, otherwise he keeps playing them to EVERYONE'S detriment. I never have gotten him to explain why ge does it at all, since he freely admits that he has more fun doing interesting and challenging things. *sighs*

April 23, 2008 at 05:22 AM · Oh, I do want to add that the manipulative issues with my DS are pretty solidly in the past right now. He's learned to take a real pride in his accomplishments and to actually work at things to get a reward--I'm so proud of him I could burst. :-) An appreciation of hard work is 9/10ths of what you need to become an accomplished person, and the more that he learns, the more he discovers the joy in learning itself, which thrills me to no end.

Right now, I am uploading a one-on-one lesson that is a whole lot more typical--one with me and Xander alone. I had him doing the claps that day because I wanted to point out the speed of Ice-Cream-shh-Cone--we don't usually do those any more typically because he's got them down. He also almost completely lost his ability to do the rhythms correctly or keep the bow on just one string while he was concentrating on his elbow--this is not what he normally sounds like! I didn't want to come down on that very hard when concentrating on just the elbow, and as I discovered at the end of class, me just saying the rhythm aloud fixed most of it, giving him the spare brain power to work on the elbow.

I don't know how much YouTube will crop from it, since it's almost 13 minutes long, but if I need to, I'll cut it in portions and upload the last bit. That was a short lesson day--Xander was really tired.

In a while, I'll post the first part of one with me and David. My camera ran out of space only a little through, though, so there isn't much to it. I'll try to get a full one later, and you'll see how much more I struggle.

April 23, 2008 at 12:45 PM · in the ideal setting, kids should be taught the best tech the earliest possible. in reality, we end up doing what we can.

i can imagine many teachers find it frustrating to correct other people's mistakes. in a way, that is what being a teacher is about. imagine people walk into a lawyer/doctor/luthier's office with no issues:)

i think the key point here is still exposure through which kids feel empowered by the violin experience. from that angle, liang and her kids are perfectly on the right track.

April 23, 2008 at 02:59 PM · The first lessons are, in some ways the most important a violinist will ever have. Will the teacher instill joyful associations, rather than negative ones? Will he present the violin as something to be touched with the greatest sensitivity and ease? Will he show that feelings may be expressed by various ways of bowing an open string? Will he present violin playing as following orders from someone else, or as making aesthetic choices which most personally delight the violinist himself? All of these profoundly important concepts can begin to take form in the very first lessons.

May 21, 2008 at 07:03 PM · I had a teacher who used an egg carton as "violin #2" for help with proper bowing.

Have the child tuck the carton up-side-down under the chin. Stroke a stick (or up-side-down bow) between the egg cups. This ensures that the bow is drawn straight. Very useful for getting the right feel for wrist movement, and hand and arm placement. (Of course, make sure set up is correct)

When I learned to hold the bow, my teacher had me relax my hand and pretend to twist a doorknob. The natural fall of the fingers and hand when turned palm-down was a very close approximation of proper bow hold. Slip the bow in place and adjust accordingly.

:o)

May 22, 2008 at 09:19 AM · Teaching can be tough - especially when results are desired.

No offence, but you need help to become a teacher. You can try to get ideas from this forum, but nothing can replace the situational knowledge and experience a good teacher can pass on to you.

Among the many professional experiences I have is a teaching certificate and orch experience (not violin at that time), and no way does this help me trying to teach my young daughter on violin. Music perhaps, but instrument no.

I could foresee the difficulties and found a pro teacher for her from day 1. Am very glad I did, as I learned the violin with her, and spent my time reinforcing what the teacher tried to teach. This was a humbling experience, truly, to experience learning at her level. It made me a better parent, I think.

As a parent, trying to reinforce what a pro teacher is doing is hard enough, but actual teaching from parent to child goes only so far. Kids have a natural tendency to be independent, or rebel, or whatever, and this definitely creates a barrier. The timing of this barrier comes surprisingly quickly.

I am not saying to give up, but YOU need reinforcement from a real-life teacher (not a virtual one).

A wise person once joked with me..... why do grandparents and grandchildren get along so well together? .... because they have a common adversary!

anyway, best of luck.

June 14, 2008 at 04:13 AM · I'll be honest and it's nothing against you personally. You have a nice idea, but I think you are hurting them more than helping. Kids are sponges at that age, which I'm sure you already know. Any teaching that's wrong, they will pick up the habit and run with it. It's alot harder to correct down the line. If you don't have the teaching expereince, or the knowledge of basic violin principles, you shouldn't teach. Especially Suzuki method. I wouldn't send any children you who were interested in Suzuki to someone who wasn't certified. If you don't have those teachers in your area, traditional is not a bad way to go. The style of traditional teaching has changed alot through the years. I personally like it better because it relies less on rotary skills. It's a personal preference. But please, either put the child in real lessons, or wait until you have the means to do so.

July 14, 2008 at 03:23 PM · I just wanted to thank G. Liang for starting this discussion thread. It has been very useful to me. I am planning to start teaching violin to my 5 year-old daughter, and possibly a friend's daughter as well. My situation is similar to G. Liang's, as I am a "lapsed" violinist. We live in a rural area with no string teachers around--it's the equivalent of a musical desert island. I am certainly not the ideal teacher, but I'm all she's got, and she is begging me to teach her. Thank you to everyone for the great advice!

July 15, 2008 at 11:05 AM · Me too, I just found this thread. I was teaching two kids for a while also, my daughter and her friend, as a supplement to what they were learning in school, but the friend quit at the end of the school year and it was probably for the best. The friend never practiced on her own and the difference between the two of them in skill level was getting quite difficult to bridge.

I had and continue to have a lot of doubts about teaching my daughter because I'm not a professional either, and my goal has always been to pass her on to a professional when she says she's ready. She too has personality "issues", not the same ones as the son in this thread, but ones that make it hard for her to accept certain types of instruction from a stranger, and she just doesn't seem to respond to certain motivators that other kids respond well to.

We tried a Suzuki teacher first, when she was 6, and it didn't go well. Then we auditioned for another teacher, who had a very encouraging and affirming manner, but my daughter played pretty poorly at the try-out lesson, out of tune and without spirit, and the teacher rejected her. I never told her that--I just said the other teacher didn't have space--because I think it would have hurt her feelings, which were at a real low point by then. She played the way she was feeling, and I don't think it was fair to blame her for that. Maybe some day, if channeled well, that transparency in her playing will be an asset.

More than 2 years after the end of that experience she still talks about how her first teacher was "mean." She lost a lot of confidence from that bad fit and I believe that "bad habit" is worse than anything technical she might develop with me.

In any case, it was actually my own teacher who made me feel better about my teaching my daughter. She started her own daughter and taught her "on and off" for two years before handing her off to someone else. In particular, she sympathized with the "on and off" part of my experience and knows my playing well enough to say that she thinks I can do the job without doing harm or teaching bad habits, at least at this level.

So I want to offer some encouragement. I think it's a brave and noble thing you're doing. Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

August 28, 2008 at 06:05 PM · There are a lot of really good suggestions already, but I'll offer you a few of mine.

One thing to keep in mind is that 4 and 5 are just at the beginning of when a child is usually ready for formal instruction (i.e. where you correct behaviors rather than guide them). Therefore, keep the expectations in check.

Also, try to find activities which either separate the tasks into smaller amounts. In fact, they don't even need to involve the instrument to be useful. Children need movement to understand rhythm. They also need to learn about high and low pitch, loud and soft volume, etc. Have them explore these elements. The more you can 'disguise' the lesson into little games, the better.

Finally, I do agree that working one on one is probably best. But, if you're going to have them both at the same time, find things that they can do together. Again, use activities that mask the real teaching...spider crawling a bow hold up and down a stick as a race, for example. There are also activities which are less competitive, if that suits you better.

As an experiment, I gave two or three lessons to my daughter and her friend (who will both be 4 in September). I didn't correct them on posture, because that would be pointless. However, I did model it and they generally picked it up. I didn't give ANY instruction on how to hold a bow. However, I did model it and they at least got the correct end of it on their own. In 'guitar position', I had them pluck the D string as I sang patterns in D (major, and then separately, minor). Then, they plucked the A string as I sang patterns on A7. This got them used to not only the high and low aspect of pitch, but also to a tonic-dominant relationship which they will need later. After I do each pattern, there is a small pause and then they repeat the string plucks for audiation. (This means that they will mentally recall the pattern, but not necessarily perform it.) Children will naturally audiate if you just give them the chance to do it. At this age, I don't ask for a vocal response.

I had them hold their bows straight up and pretend that there was an egg up on top that we didn't want to drop (forcing them to keep it straight up). They had to make big circles and other shapes with their hand while still keeping the 'egg' safe. (This makes them explore the space with their bows and quickly shows them that their wrist needs to move.) They did this while I sang rhythm patterns in quarters and eighths, leaving an equal amount of space in between pattern so that they could audiate. (I don't ask them to audiate, I just give them the opportunity to do it.)

Later, I do the patterns with the bows again, but instead of flowing movements, they turn their hands into bunnies and hop to the pulse of the rhythm. Again, I leave room for audiation.

This, to me, is much more important than reaching a certain Suzuki book.

I would recommend that you generally do the following:

Context - teach them rote songs, but give them something specifically physical to do during them that may or may not necessarily involve the instrument or bow

Content - separate activities into either rhythm patterns (no pitch) or tonal (no rhythm beyond a steady pulse), and give them something specifically physical to do during them that may or may not necessarily involve the instrument or bow

Incidentally, while the lessons were successful with my daughter and her friend, I told my wife and the other mother that what we were doing was essentially a musical playdate because that age was too young to enforce regular practice. Based upon that perspective, we have all agreed to suspend the 'lessons' for the time being. If we were to restart them, I would have my wife (who is not a musician) conduct the practice sessions so that they didn't seem like just more lessons.

This discussion has been archived and is no longer accepting responses.

Facebook Twitter YouTube Instagram Email

Violinist.com is made possible by...

Shar Music
Shar Music

Yamaha Silent Violin
Yamaha Silent Violin

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

Find a Summer Music Program
Find a Summer Music Program

Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases

Violinist.com Business Directory
Violinist.com Business Directory

Violinist.com Guide to Online Learning
Violinist.com Guide to Online Learning

Dominant Pro Strings

Antonio Strad Violin

Bay Fine Strings Violin Shop

Bobelock Cases

Fiddlerman.com

Fiddlershop

Los Angeles Violin Shop

Nazareth Gevorkian Violins

Violin-Strings.com

Metzler Violin Shop

Leatherwood Bespoke Rosin

Warchal

Barenreiter

Johnson String Instrument and Carriage House Violins

Potter Violins

String Masters

Bein & Company

Annapolis Bows & Violins

Laurie's Books

Discover the best of Violinist.com in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews.

Violinist.com Interviews Volume 1
Violinist.com Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn

Violinist.com Interviews Volume 2
Violinist.com Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine

Subscribe