Guiding a child with talent

September 21, 2008 at 07:17 PM · I often find myself wondering how teachers manage those precocious children who pick things up quickly - I commented to my teacher that I'd be terrified if in that situation, as there's so much potential to balls it up.

Judy Kang, for instance /a> .

As she was still a child its reasonable to assume she still needed a teacher - if nothing else, to prevent injury, but also to guide her into maturity as a player as she developed. but what would a teacher teach? Do you go on to Bach and Beethoven because she can technically manage it, is there stuff that she is actually doing incorrectly, even though she is able to meet the demands of the piece, so at least you could be shaping correct and efficient playing?

Also, just on the subject of Judy Kang, how come she wasn't catapulted into that child prodigy stratosphere - was it a conscious choice to give her a childhood or was it one of those weird circumstance things? She still plays (thank goodness), judging by the comments on youtube videos.

I've realised something else about child players players (if you look at little Sarah Chang and Maxim Vengerov) - as kids they don't do so much emoting with their body. They play without that self consciousness. It pleases me.

Replies (20)

September 22, 2008 at 03:25 AM · i feel differently about the so called talented kids with respect to their aptitude in string instruments. the illusion is that while most kids seemingly lag behind, a few make playing look easy.

the formula is rather simple: to make it look easy, work hard, get good guidance and if the kid can be easily inspired, all the easier.

i don't presume to know if all kids can reach equally very far given the opportunities. i think most kids have not been given the opportunities to fully explore their potentials (to be given a violin very early means close to nothing without considering other factors).

apparently yoyo ma performed a difficult bach piece in public at a very early age and wowed everyone. the genius, if there is such a thing, belongs to his father who taught yoyo one bar a day for a year. while we marvel at yoyo ma the incredible genius of today, the foundation was laid long time ago, bar by bar, at a speed that is digestable by anyone, except not everyone has had that good a fortune to be positioned in such a good environment. in a sense, yoyo ma is the lucky by-product of a successful home educational system which is missing in most homes as far as nurturing classical musicians is concerned.

with due respect, i have never heard of judy kang until this thread. she is probably one of the hundreds of the very talented young artists that some of us have never heard of. so many whistling trees in the forest,,,who to listen to because they all sound so good?

to play violin well at a very early age is achievable with a plan. advanced students need every bit of teaching/advice like others, probably more so because they move faster thus at a higher risk of contracting tech diseases.

now, to become a success for life in violin is a very different story,,,it is beyond human intervention. perlman called that a "miracle".

to me, to use vengerov/perlman/hahn, etc as a role model to inspire young people to become a prof violinist may work well for a few, very few; for many others it is perhaps one of the most dangerous if not irresponsible things that adults can do. many students end up utterly unprepared to lead a balanced life if violin god does not smile at them. groomed to succeed but not prepared to fail, like driving your ferrari at high speed without a seatbelt, like a general sending his foot soldiers into a battle with no plan.

i wish all the youngsters and their parents the best luck because that is truly the only thing they need. it is indeed a thorny dilemma to parents with talented kids---how can they not push the kids further if they have already shown that much talent? except talent does not necessarily mean interest and it may not be that easy to assess true interest that early.

may be it is different with music, but we rarely see parents pushing kids to become a doctor because they don't mind the sight of blood at the age of 5 and for that matter, to be a lawyer because they love to argue...

September 22, 2008 at 07:09 AM · "we rarely see parents pushing kids to become a doctor because they don't mind the sight of blood at the age of 5 and for that matter, to be a lawyer because they love to argue..."

He He. So very Al of you, Al. Its obvious whyTHAT doesn't happen - cadavers are too big, they're not allowed to play with matches so they can't light their own bunsen burner, the lecturn is twice their height, their not allowed to play with knives so using a scalpel is illegal...

I guess I wans't thinking so much about the origin of that early development (we have discussed that here before I know) but more what you do as a teacher when it lands in your lap. In your case, Al, you moved and deposited your daughter with a new teacher and from what I recall that teacher was able to find things to correct and so continue on the developmental path at whatever pace seems appropriate for now. What about in 5 years time when she'll be all of 13, and if that technique has been corrected, then what will a teacher do with her?

September 22, 2008 at 11:43 AM · sharelle, you just gave some people ideas of making some mini bursen burners...:)

i think my kid is decidedly different because we don't think she has the disposition to go for music pro, or put it another way, she may have stronger affinity for something else or other things. there is no need for our family to live out vacariously through her violin. posting on excessively is already worth the ticket:)

having said that, i believe just because you are not pro bound does not mean you can slack off or take it easy. the intensity should be there, which is a lesson by itself. the only difference i see is the amt of time devoted to horning the skills. pro bound kids may need to gradually increase hours of practice daily, to cover the large curriculum in a shorter span; we just have to spread it much wider and squeeze more out of the minutes by focusing and planning the practice more. but, as long as we aim and do get a little better everyday, all is good. really, 2 hundred years later, who cares...

if any kids become good with practice/guidance under the current regimen, i think it will be a judgement call if the teacher has enough depth to continue the proper guidance, or consider switching teachers. i think usually it becomes quite apparent by then. i know of families moving to new locations just to be close to certain teacher/facility both in music and in sports. not for the faint of heart,,,

September 22, 2008 at 01:39 PM · A violin teacher friend of mine, (my son's former teacher), was meditating on the question of talent. He said that he thinks a truly talented child is one who has an agenda of their own regarding the violin that compels them to spend lots of time exploring. It is the child who finds the violin and the musical possibilities to be unendingly fascinating. He said that when you work with a talented child he or she is a "little colleague". This type of child brings the results of his/her own independent thinking to each lesson so that the lesson becomes a dialogue. For him, the time spent with a talented student is pure joy! This has nothing to do with the child, (or the parent aspiring for the child), to become a Perlman or even a professional musician or even the best in their city. It has to do with a contagious enthusiasm and a curiosity focussed on making music with a particular instrument.

What I do know is that certain children inspire certain teachers and certain parents to devote an unusual energy to their growth as musicians. For my teacher friend, it is the intelligent, curious and patient child who inspires him to go to extreme lengths. I have seen some pedagogues become most excited by the child who plays with a special energy and a precociously big sound. I have seen other teachers value highly the child who plays with accuracy and fast fingers. I personally am most captivated by a player who plays with such conviction that I think to myself, "Yes, that is how it goes! Now, I understand what the composer was saying!" So, in my opinion, the gifted child is really a gifted child/parent/teacher complex. The trick for a parent of an unusually talented child is to find the teacher who can recognize and value their child's particular talent.

The traits that lead a musician to a successful career are broader than those which make a child an impressive player. Eventually the precocious players find that their peers catch up. They have to find an individual voice, a special quality to their playing that sets them apart from the crowd. More basic than this is that in adulthood, you have to produce without someone telling you how to do it.

As families choose later teachers for their gifted musician the questions become: What does the teacher value? What is their ultimate goal? Do their methods consistently support the ultimate goal of independence?

September 22, 2008 at 02:15 PM · concur with jennifer's comments...

a talented child finds the violin, BUT, it is jennifer who finds her sons those appropriate and inspiring teachers... so the complex of kid, teacher and parents makes a lot of sense in putting the kid in the right place at the right time if you are pro bound.

on having learnt all the techs under the sun in no time,,,once i was at a recital in which a master level graduate of the famous music school in ny played a bach solo piece. not as impressive as i would like to see as it turned out. her tone was not that glorious and full. problem? her bowing was sloppy, not exactly straight and in good contact with the strings, esp near the tip. now, one would have expected that after 15 hard years of playing and learning that one would have taken care of fundamentals like that, that she can more than teach that stuff. but the fact is this can happen to anyone at any time, if attention to simple details is overlooked. often we need another pair of eyes/ears to keep us honest.

instead of fearing what to do with tougher pieces to come, we should continue to be paranoid about the basics. it all comes back down to the fundamentals learned in the first year,,,

September 22, 2008 at 05:02 PM · "once i was at a recital in which a master level graduate of the famous music school in ny played a bach solo piece. not as impressive as i would like to see as it turned out. her tone was not that glorious and full. problem? her bowing was sloppy, not exactly straight and in good contact with the strings, esp near the tip. now, one would have expected that after 15 hard years of playing and learning that one would have taken care of fundamentals like that, that she can more than teach that stuff. but the fact is this can happen to anyone at any time, if attention to simple details is overlooked. often we need another pair of eyes/ears to keep us honest."

I think that making an example out of one student does not serve your point well. The problem with today's violin afficionados is that they expect to hear someone play the violin and have it sound like a recording - clean, and airbrushed like a glossy magazine. Although I cannot speak for the student's performance, I'm willing to bet that she wasn't as bad as you describe. In person up close and personal a violin should sound like a piece of wood with stings on it, not like an edited CD.

On the other hand I was CMing an opera this weekend and most of the players were students of "the big school" and I've gotta say... very dissappointing experience. Most did not know how to listen or blend or adjust within the ensemble. They could sure all play their instruments well, but it takes much more than that to be a good musician. Experience teaches you the sixth sense of musicianship which they all seemed to lack.

September 22, 2008 at 05:52 PM · Excellent Point Marina, Al, and all the others:

I think it is important to consider a child's temperment. Intense kids do everything with a lot of intensity including music, playing, brain surgery some day...Who knows what they will choose to do. Al, while many children do not have the opportunity of the big schools, I agree, many who do still do not realize their potential so that is hardly a bell weather indicator of realizing potential. So who is to say in the end? I like the post about finding the teacher to inspire, and agree with that point of view. I am fatalistic in that I believe if you are true to your temperment, work hard, and keep an inquiring mind, tommorrow often takes care of itself. As far as prodigious students mentioned, those come along once or twice in a generation, and very often I notice the parents are professional musicians. That can't hurt. Fruit falls close to the tree. So it seems that some have the opportunity to be heard when their tree falls in the forest. It is rare for these types of students to have a mom who is a nurse and a dad who is an insurance man.

It will be interesting to see how the internet music distribution model will change the virtuoso recording artist career track. I will be watching how that evolves in an increasingly populist music environment.

As prior post mention, being a soloist is a very different thing than blending with an ensemble. It takes a lot of experience and is more of a conversation than a solo off a CD. I read recently that recording engineers have software to finely adjust intonation on notes to keep recording sessions less expensive. Instead of re-recording a piece, they can tweek notes that are not perfect. Hardly what happens in a live recital or performance as Marina's post suggests.

September 22, 2008 at 06:14 PM · j, good points, esp about engineers being able to perfect imperfect notes--may be hope for me after all...:)

like your take on temperament which ties in with EQ, to find learning fun, even joyful, so hard work is not hard. what i meant by opportunities are not the run of the mill formalities in terms of exposure to good music school or even good teachers. i meant to have an environment very early on that is nurturing intellectually and emotionally, before school starts, before violin lessons. bell's parents are not musicians if i am not mistaken, but ?psychologists. i think a lot of work needs to be done by the parents, or the grandparents or uncle or aunt or even a neighbor to get the average kid psychologically ready, to help modulate the temperament that is conducive to vigorous learning of something new, to help learn about stress and other emotions and ways to handle them appropriately, etc. if an adult has issues dealing with setbacks, the violin kid may have similar experiences.

"It will be interesting to see how the internet music distribution model will change the virtuoso recording artist career track." bingo,,give j a cigar!

marina, i think it is cool to look at the same thing from different angles and develop points of view that may be seemingly opposing. the point i was making is that, through that particular example, even very advanced students need to constantly pay attention to tech details, or the bow may slip over to the fingerboard and produce poor sound. good musicians probably do not need to take physics 102 in college but still need to respect the laws. not the school's fault, not the audience's fault, not my fault, not marina's fault:) may be the fault of not enough self-awareness.

September 22, 2008 at 06:29 PM · Self-awareness is the only thing that can guide you to becoming a better violinist.

September 22, 2008 at 06:43 PM · A number of factors come into play if a child becomes a great player.

1. talent. without talent, a child can become good, but not great.

2. internal drive (or desire/motivation). this comes totally from within. without drive, talent dies. this I believe is possibly the most important. With drive, the next two can sometime be overcome.

3. Opportunity. This is what parents can do by finding a good teacher, violin, etc.

4. Encouragement

these four elements, that when they come together, result in players like Perlman, Chang, Midori, etc.

I have seen a number of times (not just in violin) where one of the 4 elements is missing, resulting in mediocrity to quitting.

September 22, 2008 at 08:11 PM · Al, yes there is hope for us in the studio I suppose!

I agree Marina. You have to be conscious to know what you are doing, let alone improve what you are doing. That is in anything and music certainly. I see many kids get to advanced pieces and really don't seem to understand what they are doing. The young and talented hopefully evolve into the old and self aware. Don't you think? Now the young, talented, AND self-aware...that would be a noble goal for a young player.

September 22, 2008 at 09:37 PM · 'They play without that self consciousness. It pleases me.'


I'm scareddddddd

September 22, 2008 at 11:01 PM · Scared of me being pleased? Am I THAT bipolar!

Sharelle promises not to go psychotic in her pleasure.

September 23, 2008 at 10:19 PM · i think D meant that he is scared that they play without that self consciousness which pleases sharelle, not that he is scared that it pleases sharelle that they play without that self consciousness...:)

psychotic or not, aussies please get along and set examples for north americans:).

September 24, 2008 at 01:17 PM · "How would you advise a mother who is pregnant with her fifth child based on the following facts: Her husband has syphilis. She has tuberculosis. Their first child was born blind. Their second child died. Their third child was born deaf. Their fourth child had tuberculosis. Would you advise the mother for an abortion? Oops! If you said yes, you would have just killed the great composer Ludwig van Beethoven! We cannot know what God has in mind for every individual..."

"The born-genius myth is a common one, easy and fun to write about it. But are we ready to confront the more nuanced truth? In his 2005 biography of Beethoven, Edmund Morris paints a sober portrait of a genius in slow, steady formation. His intensive training started early (before age 5), had dark psychological overtones, and reads almost like a recipe for extraordinary ability. Any modern researcher from today's study of expertise would recognize the elements immediately.

Ludwig's early training was ruthless and exhaustive, driven by his tyrannical father Johann who was disappointed in his own achievements. Starting at age 4 or 5, Johann made his eldest son his special project, forcing him to practice constantly. "Neighbors of the Beethovens," Morris writes, "recall seeing a small boy 'standing on front of the clavier and weeping.' He was so short he had to climb a footstool to reach the keys. If he hesitated, his father beat him. When he was allowed off, it was only to have a violin thrust into his hands, or musical theory drummed into his head. There were few days when he was not flogged, or locked up in the cellar. Johann also deprived him of sleep, waking him at midnight for more hours of practice."

September 27, 2008 at 04:46 AM · al,

The price of centuries-enduring greatness?

September 27, 2008 at 12:37 PM · so it seems. it has always been my assertion that with violin playing, there may be people born with more finely defined and developed nerve/muscle controls, better imagination, better cognition, etc, but, to reach the stage of being called a genius, it is due to something simple, tedious and possibly painful: hard work.

less hard if you work smart or find joy in the process, but hard nonetheless.

the only exception will be the minority afflicted with psychiatric disorders who seem to cruise the medium of music with apparent ease. i am not sure if that is a role model for the rest of us.

September 27, 2008 at 11:34 PM · Genius redefines a discipline in my opinion. The area of study (violin, physics, chess) is never studied the same way again after a genius contributes. Mozart, Bach, Fisher, Einstein, Bach... It is not clear but most genius seems to be recognized for it's full contribution only after the person dies and there is some perspective that determines if their contribution is a lasting one. Einstein for example impacted how people define the study of science.

I make a distinction between genius and prodigious as you describe Al. Prodigies seem more to be individuals who reach a high degree of accomplishment at very young age due to some environmental or inherited predisposition, but do not necessarily change the discipline or redefine the discipline. They just get more time and attention due to the novelty of their young age and the dexterity you describe.

If you listen to music played by a young prodigy as an adult, very often they are difficult to distinguish from those who did not emerge at a young age but are equally skilled. By the same token, if you listen to a child play very well, and are not aware they are a child, the novelty is removed. That is how I sort out the whole cumundrun. Mozart for example was a prodigy and a genius as we now know centuries after the fact. Bartok or Gershwin are are not known for being highly accomplished at a young age, so in my opinion accomplishing a high level of skill at a young age does not preclude others from reaching the same level albiet older. The novelty of accomplishment at a young age provides a window of opportunity perhaps unavailable to others. It is no doubt fun to watch youngsters who are accomplished, but it is difficult to differentiate many of them as adults which takes nothing away from their fine playing or compositions and other accomplishments. One thing though...They can gain a lot of experience which might make them more fluent and poised in their discipline which is benefitial no doubt if they identify and take advantage of the opportunities that may come along. Look at Midori. She emerged as a teacher with her foundation and was able to leverage her celebrity into a fine legacy for herself. Did she redefine playing music like Bach or Mozart. We can't know in our lifetime as she is still evolving within the context of a specific point in time.

September 27, 2008 at 11:50 PM · j, great post. i follow what you say because of your reasonable and clear definition. often, people tend to be more liberal, if you will, to dish out high hats to individuals they adore. prodigy this and genius that...a little silly to me. on that, to me, stradivari, paganini and heifetz stand out in the violin field because their existence led to true paradigm shifts instead of fads.

yes, your mention of the midori progression makes sense. making $ is fine, making a name for self is also ok, but those with vision eventually turn to something to make a difference for the future.

September 27, 2008 at 11:29 PM · Yes Al, Those you mention set the bar for all who came after in their genre. Refresh and check out my Midori example.

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