Taking piano lesson to improve violin playing?

August 9, 2009 at 01:15 AM ·

My 8 years old boy is trained under Suzuki system and he is a very keen learner, according to his violin teacher, he progresses very well in two and half years time. This morning his teacher suddenly said that for a keen learner like him she strongly recommends that it is time (he is Book 2 Suzuki) for him to take up second instrument, and she specifically said that he should learn piano which could help tremendously his violin playing. Well, I am very much dilemma, as my son says that he only likes and only wants to play violin. I feel like if I force him to learn piano it is not right at all, but then that is his violin teacher’s advices!

May I ask you – will it make a difference, if a child practises 45 minutes on violin and 15 minutes on piano compared to the scenario if the child practise 60 minutes violin only? If his main objective is to play the violin well?

We have no plan to ask him to play the second instrument, if not because of the teacher’s advice. As parents, we rather like to spend our resources & time to bring him to travel, attending concerts, plan other activities related to music to expand his perspective on music.

Can anyone advise, should he take up a piano lesson so that his violin playing can progress better?


Replies (27)

August 9, 2009 at 03:06 AM ·

Just an idea but It might be a good idea if you could play notes on the keyboard to help your son play with the right intonation, instead of making him play the keyboard.

I don't think that requires training, just buy a cheap $20~30 second hand MIDI keyboard from somebody and you can just play simple notes and help him match it on his violin. Make a game out of it to! Perhaps he will grow to want to try it, he'll play around with the keyboard for sure. who doesn't like hitting the keys from time to time?

It might also help if you could try sing along with the Keyboard and try match the pitch with your voice, I'm not really sure if this kind of training is done in kids though.

Best wishs

August 9, 2009 at 03:11 AM ·

I started off as a pianist, and then I play violin almost as my primary instrument now.

Yes it does help, but it's more like helping your son in musically rather than his violin playing. Piano is, dare I say, like a basic of music. Many other instrument players (maybe except percussions) will at least know a little bit about piano.

Moreover, if your son want to do something else with music especially talking about using modern technology (keyboards/midi/digital audio workstation etc) it's all about keyboard playing/reading (say, piano roll in digital audio workstation). I can imagine if a violinist only know about violin but know nothing about other instruments, it can be quite boring when he/she want to expand the enjoyment of music. I was a music arranger/composer in the pop music scene, nowadays I occasionally sequence my own midi backing musics for my violin playing, rather than need to hire somebody to do it for me which can expensive.

One of my friend who's a very good sax/clarinet player, who hated piano so much, end up learning the piano as he find it's very important to learn.

August 9, 2009 at 07:10 AM ·

Piano is a great instrument to learn for any musician. In your son's case, I'd look at it not as "adding an instrument" but rather using it as a musical tool to help develop his understanding of the practical applications of music theory.

However, I disagree with the concept of playing passages (many notes) against the piano for the "right" intonation (although seeking a single reference pitch is fine). This is the same case with singers...a piano, tempered with all half steps being equal, is not actually "in tune" for the purposes of creating interval relationships that sound good with instruments that can adjust pitch in fine detail. Ask anyone who sings in a barbershop quartet, or plays string quartets...a C# in the key of A major is *not* the same note in the key of F# major (or D Major, or any other key). In this case, drone scales work far better in training the ear to recognize, create, and adjust those interval relationships.


August 9, 2009 at 08:35 AM ·

Hi Penny,

Hmm, I am one of those moms that don't make my kids play instruments if they don't want to.  My son, now 15, began violin almost 9 years ago.  He wanted to take piano around age 8 or 9 so my mom agreed to teach him.  (He was also a Suzuki violin student at the time) After about 6 months, he wanted to quit.  My mom was too demanding; she taught him like my sister, who was a pianist, and that's not what he needed.  He was, and is, a quick study on the violin but definitely lacked ability to concentrate and my mom didn't recognize this.  I'm sorry I chose to do it this way as he has not wanted to study piano formally since then.

However, I do think he will want to take piano at our local college within the next few years because he seems to be getting more immersed in music of every kind as I do believe kids can still learn piano as older students and still benefit from it.

 Meanwhile, he knows how to read piano music somewhat and play chords, etc, and he'll work out song compositions on the piano (we were given a nice one for free-horray!).  He wants to take guitar at the college this year and I support him.  Yes, I know formal piano would be very good for him but at this age, he has to make that decision himself.

My recommendation might be to encourage your son to try it to see if he might like it but you might allow him to back out if it's not working.....but that's just one mom's opinion. :-)

August 9, 2009 at 01:02 PM ·

 Many great violinists of the past could play the piano with some facility. Kreisler could have had a xareer as a pianist (many say) and Heifetz could accompany students in Auer's master classes. 

My own mentor on the violin is a very accomplished pianist (his first instrument) and the profound benefit of accomplishment on the piano is fully evident in him.

While only the truly talented can succeed on two instruments, even knowing some basic piano is a great help. 

August 9, 2009 at 01:04 PM ·

I have to disagree with his teacher.  Piano is a great instrument to start on.  It is a lot easier to make a good sound early on.  But learning any instrument requires a lot of time and dedication.  By taking time away from violin to learn piano, it will just reduce his ability to master the violin.  There may be some anxilliary benefits as other suggest, but I believe they are minor.  The only way it will benefit IMO is if he continues to put in the same amount of time on violin and ADDS ADDITIONAL time for piano.

Final point.  I have played violin for many years.  2-3 years ago, I started learning a little piano to keep up with my son who was learning piano at the time.  To be honest, I haven't noticed any benefit in my violin playing that I would attribute to time in front of the piano.  Just my 2 cents, I hope it helps.




August 9, 2009 at 06:22 PM ·

Many thanks for all of you to contribute your views on the matter. After reading these, I have an idea that knowing piano is certainly helpful to expand his musical knowledge, but consistent with my initial thinking - I am still not sure to let him taking up formal lessons. I am thinking about someone gives him a crash course from time to time (like in school holiday) and let him plays the piano by himself in the term time. May be it is just a wild idea, do you all think that this is all right?  

August 9, 2009 at 06:40 PM ·

I would highly suggest your son learns to play the piano.  Violinist are not taught very much music theory but knowing and understanding the piano keyboard will help him with his violin playing and to understand music theory.

This is not to say he needs to become a great pianist, only that by learning the piano he will be a well-rounded musician.  My children learned piano before they took up other instruments and I was told by their music teachers that they excelled on other instruments because of their piano foundation. 

August 9, 2009 at 08:48 PM ·

Apart from the ability to play the piano itself, which will always be a benefit, there are two benefits I can think of: consciousness of phrasing, and awareness of harmony. Sounds like a thoughtful teacher! I wish I had not waited to study the piano until I was 39 years old ;) .

August 9, 2009 at 10:09 PM ·

I agree with several things:

1) Piano playing will not necessarily help violin playing, but overall musicianship and theory/harmonic understanding.  There are other ways to get at the same goals, however.

2) Tuning to the piano has limited usefulness.  drone scales or tunes(played against tonic, for  example) are much more helpful.  Or playing against piano chords can be more helpful.

3) As a violin teacher, I do wish I had more piano skill and value what I have.  That would be something of good value for him to pick up.  However, your judgment as a parent as to when he's ready to benefit the most from it is probably better than just doing it because he has the ability to at this point.  May bge he could try it and you could see if it is good for him now or not!

August 9, 2009 at 10:12 PM ·

Also--different suzuki teachers teach differently--you may want to consider where he's at as far as music reading skills.  Depending on that, some piano curricula may be a frustration.  Suzuki students "tend" to be more aurally trained but less notationally trained, and some piano curricula are geared exactly the opposite way.  And yes, that is a philosophical teaching discusison in and of itself but probably not one that's relelvant to your situation--just thought I'd mention it so you can be aware of that factor.

August 9, 2009 at 10:34 PM ·

Yes, I have no doubt about the thoughtfulness of the teacher and she is highly admired by her students too. Thanks for all your input, now I understand that the piano learning will improve my son's overall musicianship and theory/harmonic understanding. However, lengthy discussion with him this evening ended with more dillemmas for me!  

He has asked me why should he learn other music instrument? Well, I explained what I learned from all of you but he said that he loves to play his violin and it is the only music instrument that he is interested in, that he prefers to play it anytime but no other instrument. Indeed it is so easy to feel about his passion in violin (always practise happily and love to face a challenge learning a new song, at the same time enjoy playing the old songs, listen intensely to classical musics and read/discuss composers' stories)  that make me feel very bad about diverting his focus!

Kathryn, you mentioned that there are some other ways to achieve overall musicianship and theory/harmonic understanding, can you elaborate? By how?



August 10, 2009 at 12:03 AM ·

One of my violin students studies piano as well, and the main differences I notice are that she sight reads well, and catches on to new pieces quickly. Playing piano doesn't seem to have improved her violin technique per se; just exposed her to more music in general.

Personally, I kind of wish I had had some basic piano training when I was younger. It would have helped a lot with my theory classes in college, and I wish that I could accompany my violin students on the piano. I'm sure I can still learn the basics, but its just a matter of having the time to devote to it.


August 10, 2009 at 01:52 AM ·

You should ask the teacher exactly why she wants your son to study piano.

My experience with students who also play piano is that many of them have trouble transferring the kins of fingering you must do on the piano (whack every note) to the violin where the left-hand fingers do not articulate notes the same way.

So here I have piano kids, who can read music, but can't transfer it to a musical appreciation of their violin playing. So I say "they play the violin like they play the piano." And while it works just fine on piano, it's not good on the violin.

On the other hand, if a child learns how western notation works on a piano, that  is certainly a help to violin playing and if the mind can be expanded enough to become articulate on both instruments - it is really wonderful.

If a child can retain violin ability and also learn to be an excellent pianist and a fine sight reader on both instruments, it is a treasure beyond price. I know a few people (amateurs) like that - they sure are great - and very useful to have around).


August 10, 2009 at 05:37 AM ·

i think this is an extremely tricky issue where there is no one clear answer... there are so many factors to consider...

first of all the child is 8... from what we know, he loves playing the violin and getting him to practice does not seem to be an issue.. that's great... but then how seriously does he really take it? what does he want out of it? what do you want out of it?

does he want to be a professional classical musician? just a hobby? a composer? non-classical violinist? what do plans do you have for him? these are things that the child himself probably wouldn't be able to answer, and at this age, he shouldn't have to...

then again, I'll have to quote Michael Jackson who once told reporters that should his kids ever wish to pursue music as a career, he would never force his kids to train/practice the way his father tortured him... but THEN he went on to admit that if his dad had never pushed him the way he did, he would never have achieved stardom....

another example is the Chinese.... I'm sure most peopel have seen the documentaries on the olympics, how strict the training regiment is for the young athletes... and boy do they produce results... but at the price of their childhood...

so it's an extremely delicate situation to which there is no answer..

sometimes, the child has the innate drive to practice extremely hard... sometimes he/she has to be pushed but their might be a price to pay depending on how the child handles it emotionally over the years...

anyway all this to say there is no one right answer.... as others have said piano playing can definitely help the child musically speaking... but then again so can a number of other things (learning to improvise, learning guitar, learning drums, etc...)

if he were to learn piano, should he learn classical music? or should he learn how to build chords and sightread charts/scores?

the problem with a fair number of piano teachers (or teachers of any classical instrument) is that they try to teach their students to be virtuoso performers.... if your son only needed to learn the basics (how to play chords or how to accompany), these kinds of lessons would be useless...

there's an interesting story in the dorothy delay (i'm sure everyone knows here but she's a world famous violin teacher) biography  where one boy auditionned for her and tried to impress her by showing that he could play the piano just as well as the violin.... Dorothy was not inthe least bit impressed and felt the boy should concentrate on just one instrument...

from a strict classical performance point of view, i suppose she's right... but from a very general music industry point of view, the more you know, the better....





August 10, 2009 at 09:58 AM ·

Dennis, you speak out everything that's in my mind at the moment, especially about what we we want for him, or what does he want for himself! 

August 11, 2009 at 04:17 AM ·

My violin skills did not transfer to the piano at all.  I was terrible at it, and after two or three years of study, still am.  I don't believe it had the slightest bearing on my grasp of theory either...but perhaps that's just me.

Too bad; accompanists are much in demand.

August 11, 2009 at 06:13 AM ·

 Hm, can't help but think that it *really* depends on the kid (heh, not that that answer would help you).  Piano can be good to understand theory and experiment with phrasing (cause it's generally easier to do that on piano than violin, given the initial easier technical demands).  But some kids take to it better than others!  And *that* may be the determining factor for how much it helps him.  I agree with whoever said you can get a cheap keyboard, etc.  And also, is there a piano CD lying around?  Exposure can develop an interest in something, if it's not already there.

Personally.... the kids that I have that played piano first.... can grasp certain concepts better.  Certainly note-reading, rhythm, the concept of technique and awareness of isolating movements, and also, to an extent, phrasing.  Not all of them even have theory training from piano though!  But.... how much of this comes from just having had music lessons before and how much from the piano itself?  There are so many factors, too many to say!

Well.... there are professionals who can play the piano and also ones who can't... so long as he finds the process fun, I guess you really can't go wrong either way.

August 11, 2009 at 01:15 PM ·


Part of the answer to your wuestion comes from a violin teacher's perspective.  I try, and am succeeding more and more although I don't have it all figured out yet, to build into my teaching a bit of a theory/harmony curriculum that, while I do soemtimes use the piano as a visual, mostly I am teaching the harmonic and structural relationships of music based on aural and visual helps and translating it directly onto the violin.  Piano is the easiest instrument to help visualize musical structure, but I want my students to be able to understand it in their minds and ears and feel it on their violins even if they don't get piano training.  There's no easy way for me to explain all my methods, although if they ever get refined enough to help others maybe we'll see about publishing :)  And I'm sure there are others out there who are doing the same.

Hopefully more helpful, some bridges to a larger musical understanding could be

1) listening to all types of music (that's a given,. probably  :) )

2) playing duets/chamber music

3) taking a community music or general music class--if well taught, this can really help develop listening skills/overall musical understanding

4) I'm going to bet that his teacher will also incorporate more of the broader "musical experience" in the lessons.  You may want to ask if, when (s)he thinks he's ready, they can maybe even lengthen his lesson a bit to add some theory, music history, more of the braoder context.

That's off the top of my head, there are probably other things too.  Piano is a great one, it really is, especially when taught by someone who knows where you're going with it, and it will be very enriching if he does that, but hopefully this helps you see some other avenues too!

August 11, 2009 at 01:18 PM ·

Oooh, I forgot some of my favorites!


--orchestra!  A youth orchestra will help him grow in musicianshio and definitely SIGHTREADING!  :)

--fiddling or improvisation training--not all teachers like this--I love it for the freedom, musical/structural understading, and FUN that it is :)

August 11, 2009 at 02:31 PM ·

I play the piano as well as the violin (in fact, I think I play the piano better) and it certainly helped me. As many people said, not technically but I definitely owe my good sightreading skills to the piano. I also think that it's much easier to learn about harmony when you play the piano.

August 11, 2009 at 10:40 PM ·

Interesting dilemma.  I kind of messed around with piano whenever we visited my grandma, (we didn't have a piano at home at that time,) and I did so before I started violin.  But when, after a few years of violin I was also told by a teacher that I should learn piano - having to conform to all the fingerings and co-ordinate 2 hands to do the same kind of things (unlike on the violin) I absolutely HATED my piano lessons and they really put me off music for a while.  In fact I have to confess to actually deliberately sabotaging and failing a piano exam just to wind up and completely annoy my piano teacher.

He's only 8, loads of time to start piano if say, he decides to later on.  He loves violin - let him continue to love it - maybe if possible you might get a cheap electronic keyboard to have in the house so if he wants to noodle around on it - he has that opportunity available.  But if I was his mom, I'd be so happy that he obviously enjoys his violin studies and works hard, that I'd not force him into piano at this point when he has no real interest.

August 12, 2009 at 05:26 AM ·


My son is in almost identical situation as yours. He is 8, taking lessons from the Suzuki program for 2.5 years, and two weeks ago his teacher asked him to take some piano lessons. The cause in our case is clear though: to improve sight-reading and to "learn" the notes.

Background: About two months ago, I noticed that my son's sight-reading was not good enough. Worse yet, he could read and play notes on the violin but when I stopped him and asked him what was the note he just played (do, rei, mi, etc.), he would have to pause for a second before giving an answer. Likewise, if I ask him to play a particular note, say, C#, he would hesitate for a second. That is, he can link notes to his fingerboard but not necessarily know the notes.

I brought the issue to the teacher, and she said the problem can be mitigated if he takes some piano lessons. It can be classical or jazz, doesn't matter, and taking lessons for a few months may be enough.

So, I guess there exists different reasons why taking piano lessons would help violin playing, and improving sight-reading is one of them.

August 12, 2009 at 08:50 AM · Thanks, Kathryn, will do what you suggested, indeed he has been interested and played in school orchestra since a year ago, he also joined local holiday orchestra programmes from time to time. Henry, he has no problem in sight-reading as the teacher realised that this is the common problem in Suzuki system and my son has been taught to read music with supplement materials long time ago. I think the teacher wishes that he can learn piano as second instrument formally but not for a few months lessons. But yes, Andrew, I will ask the teacher exactly why she wants my son to study piano, although from this discussion forum I got some ideas about her good intentions. I am convinced that it is a good thing to do for him, but I also realise that his “royalty” and “interest” towards violin is rather special and it is a delicate matter to against his will to study piano. I have decided to buy a reasonable price digital piano for him to play as a toy and see if he is interested to ask for lessons, exactly just like what you suggested, Rosalind. Many thanks again for all your kind contributions, I really appreciate the discussion.

August 12, 2009 at 12:48 PM ·

Maybe he will decide one day to start piano by choice.  My son (13) has beeen playing cello for 10 years and started piano lessons last years on his demands, and continue this years.  He wants a second instrument (the organ) knows that everyone in music knows a bit of piano and I think he is old enough to realize by himself the benefit.  Maybe you just wait a bit...but each kid are different.

Good luck

August 13, 2009 at 02:23 PM ·


My son took piano starting at 7 years old. It has helped tremendously. The trick is to manage the teachers expectations. My son was focused on violin and composition. I ran into a music professor and he told me after hearing my son's compositions that he would benefit from going through the Bartok Microcosmos books 1-4. I told my son's teacher that I wanted him to study Microcosmos and the Bartok folk series and they worked on that for about a year. The teacher however wanted him to also do work in the Faber series which many teachers use these days. Anyway, we quit the lessons and I am helping them through Microcosmos 1-2. It is great for sight reading. As my guys have a hard time with counting these books have been invaluable for their reading skills and interest in composition. Also for orchestra and ensemble playing later on you need to know the other clefs.Not everyone ends up a soloist.

August 13, 2009 at 07:11 PM ·

Hi J,

Those were the books that my mom was using with my son (my sister, the professional musician, had used these when she was little) but it was really hard for him at age 8 and I beleive her expectations were too high. (both my parents were professional musicians, too) He was a Suzuki student at the time and though he played in a strings ensemble from the age of 7 on, sight reading was a challenge until about age 13.  I definitely think it depends on the teacher and their approach. 

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