Teaching young students
I have a specific and a general question related to teaching a young student. The student in question is my son who's pre-k but has been playing piano and violin for some time. He loves it and he's very musical.
The specific question is when to introduce reading. He's studied suzuki for a while but recently began reading too. He certainly has other things to focus on related to posture, bowing, and tone. But he really enjoys reading music too. Is it an unnecessary distraction at this age? Or worse? I'm sure answers will vary based on teacher backgrounds but I'm interested in all with direct experience.
The general question is when to move on to the next thing at this age. The student learns a suzuki piece, and there's a lot to improve on even with a mini violin and it's limitations. Where do you draw the line between polishing and overdoing?
Thanks in advance.
This is probably old fashioned: The music school where my parents sent us for lessons demanded an introductory course in "solfège" before allowing a kid even to start on any instrument. The course was essentially music reading (pitch and rhythm) and basic theory (plus a small amount of ear training). I think that was a good idea.
Regarding progression with the Suzuki Books, I teach book 1 by ear (focusing on tone, technique, etc.) while introducing the foundations for note reading, starting something like flash cards and such mid book 1. I start reading supplemental material somewhere at end of Book 1 into Book 2 focusing on the elements of sight reading i.e., clapping and counting the rhythms, clapping and saying the note names, and only playing the passage or little pieces a handful of times. This is incorporated into their daily practice. Just like reading literature at a young daily, sheet music reading should be done daily as well. By Book 3 they are definitely caught up to read the notes in the repertoire and aren't sacrificing tone or technique to read. It's never to early to start reading as long as the steps are the appropriate size for the age. What I explained that I do, I have developed over 15 years and find that it works successfully with my students. Hope this gives you some ideas, good luck!
Learn to read music separately from the violin. That probably starts with naming the notes on flashcards, singing individual pitches, clapping rhythms, and then putting them together in sight-singing. Both the sight-singing as well as rhythm work should continue until these are at an advanced level (for instance, for rhythm it would include complex polyrhythms where both hands and feet are used to tap out multiple parts at once).
I start teaching note reading at Perpetual Motion using the I can read music books. There is usually some preparation before this. After they finish the I can read books we use other books/literature to continue practicing and improving note reading skills. Some students are excited about reading. Some are very resistant to it for a long time.
As for reading, I would not start reading with a preschooler unless he is already reading words. They require many of the same skills, and typically if a child isn't ready for one, he isn't ready for the other. But, just like reading words, there are many pre-reading games and skills you can do. I highly recommend starting the reading activities away from the violin. Start with the very basics.
I remember receiving my first violin for my 4th birthday. I remember my first lesson with a professional teacher 6 months later. I remember practicing with a music stand and music in front of me when I was in Kindergarten.
I don’t think my daughter’s reading skill was ever a distraction but it is hard for her to be stuck on the intermidiate repertoire when she can sight read through much more. I can’t think of a compelling reason not to teach young children how to read music unless they are not developmentally ready then that’s a different story.
I think, it very depends on the teacher, child and parents.
I seldom start a student younger than 6. But at this age I start them reading almost immediately in the All For Strings books. In fact, I go right to the standard notation.
What I do is basically similar to Anthony and Laura, I second Susan's "spiral process" description, and as Lydia mentions, plenty of reading and preparation activities can be done without the violin/instrument. For doing reading with playing, I've experimented with various points in book 1 and settled on Etude at the earliest. (That also means Perpetual Motion is at mid book 1 performance standard*, we've transposed everything to D major, play A & D major scales 1 octave, G major 2 octaves, and meet some other RH and LH requirements*.) I also delay if there is severe weakness in posture, tone, intonation, or general steadiness of pulse because any or all of those tend to suffer when starting reading-with-playing. Generally, my students are at least age 6 (and they are not also already reading music via non Suzuki piano or something, which would be another variable).