Activities for very young child starting violin?

February 17, 2017 at 05:31 PM · This forum has been so helpful to me as a non-violinist for answering questions to my google questions that I decided to join and ask a question directly. I've read all the threads on this forum relating to children under age 6 playing violin. I'm including a lot of information so you can decide for yourself how much of "that mom" I am. :giggle:

I was feeling desperate for ways to occupy my 21 month old son. I pulled out a 1/16 violin I had bought for my older son (now 9). My older son lasted about 5 minutes with violin. He was uncoordinated and never took to it. I figured Baby could use it for a toy.

My older son showed Baby a violin DVD and Baby grabbed the violin and put it up on his shoulder the way the DVD demonstrated. :shock: Baby has become obsessed with violin since!

My mother was a Suzuki piano teacher. I've read "The Suzuki Violinist" several times recently. We listen to Book 1 CD during the day whenever myself or my older son aren't practicing out instruments (piano, flute, trumpet). I'm a competent musician, but not on stringed instruments!

Baby places his feet on a footprint template.

He can point to the parts of the violin by name.

He can put the violin into rest position and onto his shoulder. I do hand-over-hand guiding.

I started showing him the Suzuki beginner bow hold. He puts his thumb on a sticker and doesn't grab it in a fist. I figure that's pretty good for now? When he starts moving the bow, he tightens his grip, so I'm doing hand-over-hand and starting over when his grip gets tighter.

He "practices" several times per day for 1 - 5 minutes.

My goal is to keep him occupied day-today at home. He has been more calm, playing more independently, and dramatically fewer tantrums since starting violin. I'm hoping to find a way to continually add new mini-skills to keep him entertained and busy.

My expectation is that if he were to stay interested and continue, to age 3, for example, that he will be as capable as an average 3 year old who starts lessons.

My concern (and question) is how do I find enough pre-twinkle activities to keep him busy?

P.S. The 1/16 is way to big for him. I'm planning to get a 1/64 for him if I feel confident enough in my ability to keep showing him developmentally appropriate violin skills in the next year.

Replies (21)

February 17, 2017 at 06:55 PM · I would suggest finding a Suzuki teacher. Since you are not familiar with the instrument, it would be a bad idea to keep teaching him yourself, and he would develop bad habits. If you can't find one, or a more open-minded traditional teacher, a general music appreciation class involving movement, singing, and small percussion instruments would be the next best thing. It doesn't sound like you are one of "those" moms. You exposed him to it and the method, and he seems to enjoy it. If he progresses fast, I would even let him tackle an easy tune or two. Just continue to follow is lead when it comes to interest.

February 17, 2017 at 11:07 PM · I contacted a teacher who didn't respond (and I'm not surprised, it sounds admittedly crazy!). I emailed another studio with 3 Suzuki violin teachers, so I'm hoping maybe one of them would entertain the idea.

My 9-year-old son's piano teacher is willing to take Baby for piano lessons this fall. Piano is my instrument, so I don't feel that it's necessary, but it's a possibility.

Maybe a violin teacher would consider taking him at age 3 if I say "he has taken piano lessons for a year, here's a video of a lesson."?

February 18, 2017 at 06:31 PM · You could lie about his age. It's been done routinely in the other direction, and is probably considered traditional now.

I wouldn't recommend taking the first teacher you find willing to teach your child, but trying to ensure that that teacher has both the ability to teach and support a very young child -- this is a skill in itself, and strong foundational knowledge which would give your child good instruction in the fundamentals. I'd also suggest going to the local Suzuki and other concerts as a good way to hear how other kids are doing and through them their teachers.

Finally, I'd suggest getting violin lessons for yourself as another way for you to learn more about all this. While this is not as beneficial as for a parent with no musical background at all, it's a great way for you to learn about the process for yourself. If you're on the way to becoming 'that mom', you might as well be the best informed one.

February 18, 2017 at 07:06 PM · Well as a mother with no real violin backround and with a kid that started just before her 3 year birthday, I think I might give some good input on this one, of course only opinions but I guess that is what you want, right?

First of all, stop right now if you dont really know how the mechanics of violin playing work. Never ever give a violin to a child without proper instruction. The one thing I ve noticed during this year is that habits get stucked, they really do, you have to get everything proper the first go, if you want speedy learning, the more wrong positions you teach, the more work there is later on, and especially if the child seems talented, dont make it harder for him or her to learn the violin. You really have to know what you do with violin and in order for that to happen you need a good teacher AND you need to learn the mechanics along the way. If the child seems talented, you have to set the bar higher in terms of what is a good posture for example, it is more fruitfull in the end. Im a pianist and have learned so much during this year, but being a pianist I have a certain eye to the things, if you have no musical high backround it is extremely easy to think something looks great when in fact it is lousy.

Secondly the first half a year was very difficult, until my girl was 3 1/2. She did progress very fast from the beginning, but the lessons were really difficult, all the teaching had to be done basically at home and I had to come up with large amounts of motivational ideas at home to make it all happen. And though we managed I am not sure I would say its a good idea to anyone who has not any ideas about teaching, you have to have some kind of knowing how to teach a small child to the teach one, even if its your own. The teacher told us what and how to play but still at home it was up to me to get the goals done,

21 months is not even 2 years, the baby has to be a prodigy for anyone to be able to teach her real violin playing with a real violin right now. There just hast o be more growing to be done first, If he of she is a prodigy, it is up to you to know, but if you are not convinced wait until 2 and 6 months at least and if it is a boy over 3 years for sure. And why? Because there needs to be some growing done before lessons and consistance home practise can be done, because it has to be done consistently and every day and there is a lot to deal, it is nothing to do with talent, just growing up as a human being.

What I would do is immerse the baby in classical music, we surely did, and take some group music classes with a good teacher. Play violin music during day sleep and when shes at table sitting, play good youtube classical music videos instead of cartoons, classical radio in the car. but lock the violin up if you want him or her to be a violinist. Get a cardboard violin, but you dont really need even that violin, my girl played with every stick and spoon until and after her lessons began.


Read about teaching perfect pitch and teaching pitch memory and see what you think about that. We started 2 months ago and if one wants to teach it you have to start young. But it is a controversial issue and there are no garanties, some dont think its a good idea, but see what you think yourself, it depends also where you live in the world, our teacher thinks it good, but again, that is not something to be done in the lesson but at home.

February 18, 2017 at 08:47 PM · I read your thread about teaching pitch memory! Thanks for posting, there was a lot more to it than I expected! I had heard the idea before and had started at it just for something to do. I don't know if he's learning pitches, but he DID learn to find the D key on the piano after 4 sessions. Was not expecting that!

I am seriously considering violin lessons for myself. I have a 4/4 violin, but I need to send it to a luthier for a repair.

I had prodigious musical ability, but my parents - as music teachers - didn't want to push me. I only had 6 years of lessons on piano and self taught flute and oboe. I ended up with carpal tunnel syndrome and dequervain's tenosynovitis, and muscle imbalance that cause pain in my jaw too. In hindsight, quite a lot more pushing would have served me very well (and I wanted it at the time too.) My 9 year old son's late start to music is because I couldn't bear to let him touch the piano without correct posture. I stopped lessons with his trumpet teacher because that teacher was letting bad physical/posture slide. My family is full of musicians and pretty much every one has repetitive use injuries from music. :/

February 18, 2017 at 08:55 PM · Baby's favorite thing is digital screens, which makes takes photos or videos of him difficult. He throws a tantrum over wanting to see the screen. :rolleyes: I managed to get a little video of violin practice last week. He was less than cooperative and pouting about the camera. He ran off to go see the screen after a minute.

My mom is my best resource at the moment. She sat through Suzuki violin/viola/cello lessons with 4 kids. She watched the video and told me to back up to be in-line with his shoulder so he can see me more easily when he is holding the violin.

February 19, 2017 at 03:29 AM · I started my son on Suzuki piano, and violin a year later. His teacher was pleased with his learning and joked that he should make all his students start with a year of piano. But I also started piano with my son, and violin a year after, and while the piano would have helped to some degree because some of the repertoire is the same, I don't think it really did much for the violin playing because the particular challenges are different -- the particular challenge of the piano -- playing separate lines on each hand -- was felt pretty early and diverged the learning.

I had thought when I started my son on piano though that the human voice is the most natural instrument and the best mechanism for musical expression, as the generation of a note, unlike on the piano, has to be felt, and had also started my son on singing lessons at the same time as the piano. We didn't continue it when starting the violin as three music lessons would have been too much, but I think that working on singing probably did more to help his violin playing, at least in terms of intonation, which is a particular challenge of the violin, than did the piano.

My son's teacher gave me a copy of The Suzuki Violinist, and checking that now, I'm surprised to see the mechanical strictures which are placed on very young children, including the foot placement guides. A redeeming and saving grace is that practices for children so young is limited to 5 minutes or less a session. My son didn't start as young, and his teacher didn't place such restrictions on him -- to the contrary, he's allowed to move around when he feels it, and I find it hard to imagine small children not moving.

I also find it surprising, especially given the 'mother-tongue' title, that Suzuki didn't promote vocal music teaching. Actually I can hardly imagine that he didn't, and presume now that he mentioned it sometimes at least as a supplementary teaching technique.

Music is one of the rare things we do which has intrinsic value. We don't have to justify music in terms of anything else -- when you can make music, do we really have to earn money from it, or have that get us a better paying job? We can make music! Kids might have enough imagination to get by with cardboard violins for a time, but I cringe at the notion. Let them make music.

February 19, 2017 at 07:04 AM · Well Anneliese Im going to writemy home practise ideas for you, but I still think the baby is at the moment too young, good idea to take lessons yourself.

I showed my girl a lot of violin videos, there is a lot of them, we started with small girls playing and then gradually went towards better quality of tone, a real huge amount of videos of youngster palying have really terrible technique and sound quality but there are some that are ok. There is also youtube videos of violin music of frozen and other movies that is really great. At first the home practise was 30 seconds to 1 minute and then she got to watch a violin video and this repeated 2-5 times and that was it. Then sometimes she got stickers and now she gets to watch short cartoon after practise, which is now about 5 minutes 3 times. A lot of hands on practise with your hands guiding, small children just dont usually take verbal instructions so well. You mould the hand positions by hand and give the rhymes with you hand on the bow too.

The point I made in the practise was to reward only when the thing we are doing is succcessfull, I do not reward for just playing only for learning. But the goals have to be very small and you have to think and change them a long the way. And this is why you have to think in advance what you want to get done. Think think and think. Think outside the box.

Then you have to be calm always, only positive encouragement, like rewarding, never ever negative punishment. I let her jump around and move alot in between the small practise sessions and we certainly have no feet pictures in the ground, I think its inhumane to require a very young child to stand in one place during practise. The position has to be right but it doesnt need to be always on the same point of the carpet. We have played in different rooms, on chairs and tables, standing in her bed.

Always be happy when she touches the violin, have it so that she can take it herself, encourage her to play her own pieces. And you need to have a good contact with the child throuout the day to make a successfull practise session, if you have not been the practise just doesnt work. And when it is time to play befor going out, it is her choise whether to practise but if she doesnt then we dont go out or go shopping for example. And you havo stick to the rules always. Keep what you say but think carefully what you say ;)

And we have no television open, it is only after violin each small practise she gets to watch cartoon for about 10 minutes and that is period. we have classical music playing no backround television, period. In fact we dont own a television but instead she watches cartoon on ipad. I think watching television a lot is the most retarding practise one can do, the big screen is a magnet to kids and they stop making other more usefull things, telly also takes a lot of time.

Now if she likes pictures, have pictures of players that change and then good backround violin music. And a lot of that daily. while suzuki record is important I think you need to have other violin music as well. We watch it together too and we all show awe to the players.

And finally she swims twice a week with us and goes to a fun excersize class, it is really important to have good muscle power in order to be able to play violin without pain, the posture is so unnatural.

Singing is good, but you can be really musically talented and not be able to sing, because singing is alot about throat muscle control and if that just isnt there it is very hard. I know Im musical and not a good singer, not even fairly good lol

And about stopping the lesson because the teacher lets the child play in a bad position, I dont understand that at all with small children, because when teaching small kids it is the parent that lets the practise be done in a bad position or not, not the teacher. Of course the teacher has to tell you both what the correct position is and there are good and bad teachers, but beyound that it is not the teachers fault. It is preferable to start when young because then the parent has a bigger role naturally and bad positions are the killers for sure. Even playing the piano is a lot of mechanics and with poor mechanics come physical ailments much easier. Just my opinion of course :)

February 19, 2017 at 10:53 AM · And then i watched your youtube link.

First I think the foot prints are for a larger child, I think he stands very well just when he puts the feet himself, you are correcting them to be too wide for his size. This is good example that when one is teaching someone who does not fit into the model of teaching one has to change almost everyhing. Then you are making him twist too much to the left I think Making a bad habit of twisting, this is an example what I wrote about teaching bad habits. And believe me bad habits form all the time and half the practise time is correcting them lol

What I would say is get clases yourself, start watching good violinists on youtube yourself too and observe your child what kind of mechanics he has. To see how the position and setup is good for him. There is lot to decide, to play with a shoulder rest or not, what angle of violin is best for him and so on. And for that you need a teacher, but you need to be observant yourself too to see if things are going the right way. Playing violin is so so much more difficult than piano.

But I think he is too young and starting now will not be beneficial to him, the teachers do not know how to teach a child this young and as you are not a violinist yourself you do not know either. Immeersion and pitch training :) Just my opinion and please tell us how it goes later on :)

February 19, 2017 at 05:19 PM · My thought is that his chronological age is irrelevant. You need to look at which developmental milestones he has hit, and how they pertain to violin playing. Of course, different teachers will have different opinions on what is needed to start, and some are very conservative. You certainly don't have to be 6, in my opinion. Children simply develop at different rates, and your child may be ready. If you find a teacher willing to take an average 3 year old, and your son has hit the relevant milestones, make your case based on this. It doesn't hurt to try. The worst case scenario is that either the teacher says no, or that he doesn't take to the instruction. Also, keep in mind that there has to be a first time for everything. These teachers once didn't know how to teach, and they had to learn by simply trying to teach different kinds of students. There was a first 4 year old, and a first 3 year old at some point in time. Your son may be the first 21 month old.

February 19, 2017 at 06:28 PM · In my opinion, as a former part time teacher from about 1964 to around 2010, I think it is frustrating for all involved to attempt to teach someone who is too young to make progress.

During the last years that I taught, three of my students were in one family. The baby was one year old and came along for the ride with their mother when the older of her 2 brothers started cello lessons and we went to select his first rental cello. A couple of years later, when her Number 2 brother started violin lessons she expressed a wish to play the violin. We held off for a while, but I finally bought her a VSO (a non-playing cardboard violin and bow) so she could learn to treat a violin with care.

My prior experience with a 5-year old beginning cello student had been frustrating for both of us. After a certain amount of progress he actually started to get worse from lesson to lesson, Fortunately, for both of us his family moved away about then.

After that experience I vowed to myself that I would not start any student less than 6 years old. But I finally relented with the little girl and when she reached her 5th birthday we started lessons, actually renting a decent little violin from Ifshin Violins. She made decent progress until she and her mother took a long trip abroad and never resumed lessons due to family difficulties.

ANYWAY - When I started that 5 year old girl it was with the condition that her mother would also take the lesson and work with her daughter every day. This worked for a few months until the child did better than her mother, so the mother could be out of the loop. I suggest this approach with a child that young.

I know that very young children can succeed in music. I received my first violin as a 4th birthday present and started lessons 6 months later, with my parents' hope they might begin to tolerate the sounds I made. The community orchestra I played in for over 30 years accompanied 6 year old Anne Akiko Meyers when she performed Vivaldi's A minor Concerto, and the next year when she partnered in performance of the Bach Double Concerto. (Because "Annie Meyers" first teacher was still in our community and our orchestra, Annie came back when she was 12 and performed the Mendelssohn with us - after she had done it with the LA Phil.) All this was during my 20 year stint as CM of that orchestra and from the start you could tell Annie was really going to be something - what a bow arm!

But it is important that the learning experience not place insurmountable obstacles in the child's way. A very sensitive teacher is required. Even a child who will never develop into the kind of virtuoso that Anne Akiko Meyers has become (and was from an early age) can have a wonderful, music-enriched life if the teaching method is adjusted to the child.

Perhaps I should point out that this little girl was encouraged in music from birth and was present for every one of her 2 brothers' weekly lessons until she started her own. "Soon, soon," I would encourage.

February 19, 2017 at 06:52 PM · Lieschen, I rather agree that chronological age is not very relevant. Neither of my kids is developing neurotypically.

Maria, than you very much for your feedback. It never occurred to me to *not* do footprints, because footprints are supposedly "the right way" to teach young children. I am curious what would happen if I abandon them and check up with a video in a week to see if his posture has changed.

February 19, 2017 at 07:06 PM · Buy him an inexpensive Yamaha keyboard (<$100) to play with. That's what I did with my daughter when she was around 2 years old. Ear training is much more important at that age, and a keyboard does not require an elaborate placing or hand-eye coordination. Play a popular children's song to him on the keyboard for inspiration.

Also expose him to a wide range of beautiful music, but at a much lower volume than adults are used to. Young ears could be very sensitive.

February 20, 2017 at 07:28 PM · My son has a Fisher-Price elephant piano (LINK), and he really loves playing with it, but it's driving me nuts because it sounds a half-step flat to me -- I'm guessing the A reference pitch is a 415 instead of 440.

I have perfect pitch. So does he, I think, and I don't want him associating the piano keys with the wrong pitch.

Does anyone have a recommendation for a sturdy, cheap keyboard with keys that are small enough for a 1-year-old to use comfortably, but which has normal tuning?

February 20, 2017 at 07:47 PM · Hi there!! My now 6 year old showed a lot of early interest in music and we started catching her tone-matching by a year old (I play the piano)... She got her hands on a violin at about 15 months (a full size) and her eyes lit up... she would sit on the floor and prop it up on her shoulder with the scroll resting on the floor then maneuver the giant bow and make a reliably good sound. Knowing she was way too young for music lessons quite yet, we just continued to play a lot of different music and sing and encourage it. We found a DVD called Trebelina which was fairly annoying but she loved. At 2 we got her a tiny 1/32 and she was super excited.. until the bow went across the strings and "squeaked" to which she declared NO I don't like it... never to touch the 1/32 again... but to get the tiny bow and play it on the full size violin.

Noone in our city will teach before 4 so we waiting. She is pretty mature for a little squirt, but she loves the violin. Our first practices were tough, just to get established in the habit of practice. Now she practices anywhere for 45 min to over an hour, often twice/day. Our biggest issue now is helping her to strive for perfection without being overly critical of herself... sometimes this means taking away the violin when she is too tired... crying because she does not sound like Joshua Bell is not helpful. And although we are glad she wants to sound good and be a "violin master", she is only barely 6 years old and needs to be a kid too.

In our house, the interest/drive/passion appears to be here... I think of it as my job to find fun games to play when there are tough measures to learn, incentives for completing pieces/challenges, constant encouragement, low pressure, and hugs whenever needed. I do think they will find their place when they are ready as long as the environment is supportive..

As a side... we did let her try piano at 3 but that did not take off like the violin did... maybe again one day, but the violin seems to have her heart.

February 20, 2017 at 08:35 PM · Oh Jenny, that's adorable. I hear you on the perfectionism thing. When my older son (now 9) was 8 he announced he wanted "to be the next Wynton Marsalis". Oh gosh. He had tried piano, flute, violin, percussion. Nothing stuck and we were up against the deadline to get an instrument for band. I forked over $900 for a trumpet and said a little prayer tha he would like it. He loves it and he's good at it! Now he's back to piano because the music instructors at the community college told him learning piano would help him with music theory. He plans to take AP Music Theory this coming fall. He has instructor approval to take music classes (except theory) at the community college, I'm not sure when I'll let him start that.

I'm impressed with your daughter's practice time. How wonderful she is willing to work for what she wants (and you know when to stop her). My 9 year old wants the results without the work. He's used to everything coming easy. He will learn...

February 20, 2017 at 08:45 PM · My MIL ordered a 1/64 violin for Baby. I am letting Baby hold the bow, but not the 1/16 violin. I'm having him take a few days off and start over with the 1/64. I'm surprised how gently he holds the bow! I showed him to move vertical up-down motion. Hand-over-hand so I can feel if he changes his bow hold. He loves moving the bow (of course!) I had him move the bow through a cardboard ring.

Lydia, I don't have perfect pitch, but those toys make my eyes twitch and ears hurt! My husband wanted to get one, but Baby learned to reach way up on tiptoes to press down piano keys about the same age. I'm sorry I don't have a toy suggestion, but I can sympathize!

February 20, 2017 at 09:21 PM · Annelise, my 11 year old wants the same as your 9 year old... result without effort :) She is learning.

Lydia, have you considered just a small non-weighted keyboard? We've had a simple keyboard for 30 years now (since I was a kid) that miraculously still works. You can adjust pitch on the back of it to make A=440. Keys are normal size but since they are not weighted still easy to press. May be a good compromise... Obviously not a full length but both my kiddos have enjoyed it.

February 20, 2017 at 10:54 PM · Annelise, another plan B would be to get your child a rest position stick. Of course, the real deal is best, but it is also better than nothing.

Lydia, as far as the keyboard being in a different tuning, the ears just need time to get acclimated. You have to surrender yourself to the concept though. I have perfect pitch, and I managed to eventually enjoy performances by baroque ensembles and microtonal music after lots of exposure. Who knows, you might start getting used to it by the time the kids are ready to move on.

February 20, 2017 at 11:34 PM · I can retune my ears to a Baroque pitch. But I want him to get a proper standard 440 in his ears. :-)

February 21, 2017 at 01:28 AM · I stumbled upon the book "Little Rat Makes Music" by Monika Bang-Campbell. It's about a little rat who loves to make music but doesn't like to practice her violin. Very sweet story. It's about 2nd grade reading level. It's the only story my Baby sits still for all the words.

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