Choosing a second instrument?
Looking for advice/suggestions.
My son, a rising fifth grader, is currently taking violin lessons. He’s been playing for about 1.5 years and is partway thru Suzuki book 3. He’s not doing a full Suzuki program and can read music. At his school, all 5th and 6th graders must participate in orchestra, band, or choir. Due to the middle school schedule, he can’t play with the older orchestra (7th and 8th grade) students. So.....what would you do? I’ve talked to the orchestra teacher and she suggested that he just stick with violin and accept that he’ll be bored for a while. That seems...not great. He could add another instrument, but that adds practice time, and I’d assume he’ll want to play violin with his school
orchestra at some point. He also played in a community orchestra pre-COVID (and will again once it re-starts).
Many violinists also learn to play viola. The technique is similar and in adulthood it provides additional opportunities for ensemble playing. The only "glitch" is learning to read alto clef comfortably. Suzuki makes that easy because much of the music in the early books is the same - just shifted so the fingerings are the same so that if the learner is paying attention, after reading through the first few books he will be reading alto clef and - voila! another violist!
I don't understand the problem.
Piano or organ for sure, will be the most useful for him.
If it's compulsory to be in an orchestra, band or choir, then a keyboard won't help much.
I would have him pick up viola. Because it is so similar to violin, he won't have to practice it much beyond the repertoire at school and he will learn a new clef. People are always looking for violists, so it will come in handy as he gets older. My son is a violinist, but he has gotten several scholarships for agreeing to play viola for something.
I love Andrews suggestion of viola. I would also
Choir, if he is at all interested, is great for sightreading and melodic/harmonic lines, low on practice, and can be really fun!
Just now I was thinking about the bass because it is cool. I wish the violin can do separate words in terms of techniques.
I would recommend choir. It reinforces ear training like almost nothing else, and is great for theory because it is one of the few musical activities where every participant routinely sees the entire score. Sight-singing is a very useful skill to develop.
Another vote for viola.
Piano is a really useful and versatile instrument, and it is much easier to understand music theory when looking at a keyboard, rather than a violin. Buuut, if this is not a time where a teacher is available, then it may be frustrating and lead to bad habits to try and tackle piano from scratch. Viola will be a much easier transition, will have the benefit of learning the alto clef, and is a great skill that I wish I had the time to develop too.
I’m not sure that viola would help much with the boredom factor. At the beginner level violin/viola technique is more or less interchangeable, so once he figures out the clef he will be as bored as he would be on violin. Plus unless he is quite tall for his age, the small viola he would play won’t really give him the idea of what a real viola tone is anyway. I say this all as a violist. Nothing wrong with trying viola if he’s interested, I just don’t think it will solve his boredom problem.
I 100% agree that playing viola won't fully solve the boredom problem because violin and viola technique are pretty much interchangeable at the beginner level and especially in a school group setting. That said, taking up viola is a great idea in general.
Viola is a really great idea, however percussion as Ella suggested might be a fun journey for him. What would he like to play as a second instrument?
Ingrid's reasoning was why I suggested choir.
I recall reading in/of one of the old pedagogical books which said something that amounted to learning to sing being a requirement for being a violinist. Of course that's debatable, and having a voice let alone having a good voice producing a specific pitch and articulation, etc., are not technically necessary for playing a violin, but I agree with Andrew's point that knowing the pitch, as you need to to sing, is very useful for playing string instruments.
If the problem comes from a scheduling conflict, playing another orchestra instrument will still mean he can’t play with the older students. If that’s the case, I’d probably vote for choir as well, as there are all kinds of benefits to singing in chorus and learning about vocal technique and the repertoire.
I think the recorder might be a nice second instrument; similar range and same clef. Guitar is a good choice too.
How do you receive a scholarship for agreeing to play the viola for something? At my school, the only scholarships I see people get is for agreeing to play in their class' scholarship quartet where they get free tuition or the doctorate version of that same quartet which is essentially the school's resident quartet. We also, of course, have TF/TA positions but I have not heard of someone being offered a scholarship for playing viola despite primarily being a violinist here.
Percussion skills shouldn't be under-rated. We as musicians perhaps assume our sense of rhythm is perfect, but in our uke group we did a piece that required a cowbell, and I bought one and was surprised at how hard it was to beat it with perfect rhythm.
Going against the grain here I will recommend that he stick with violin and consider other things he can learn while playing violin in an orchestra playing music which is easy for him. He can study the conductor and pick up good knowledge of what works and what doesn't work so that someday he can conduct. He can also work very well on his intonation skills, learning to play nicely in tune while others around him are having trouble playing in tune. That's a very difficult thing to do, but if he can do it he will be the leader others follow. He can set himself challenges, like working hard to play perfectly rather than simply being the best player in the ensemble. He can work hard to play perfectly in sync with the conductor's beat pattern instead of simply playing along with the ensemble. One factor which is apparent when listening to various groups where the musical skill in each group improves from group to group is the clarity of the ensemble sound -- better groups play with a much more focused sound because everybody is playing in perfect sync with the conductor's beat. Your son can work on his rhythmic perfection while playing in a rhythmically inaccurate group, thus learning better how to isolate his sound in his ears from the sounds around him and forcing him to focus his sound to match up with the visual cues from the conductor.
I play both piano and violin and it has been an extremely rewarding combination despite my decidedly sub-"Bruch-Level" skills on both instruments.
Choir is a good choice.
@Christian, regarding scholarships for viola, I am talking about pre-college level. My son has gotten scholarships to several summer programs for playing viola in string quartets or similar ensembles.
Your son is still quite young. In my opinion, at that age the most important thing is that the kid enjoys music and that it teaches him a little bit of discipline. Music has to be fun and it's very easy to "burn out" a child with repetitive practice of scales and ugly pieces that he doesn't enjoy. He must do that to some extent (discipline) but enjoyment is the first priority.
I agree about the advantages of choosing viola, but I also agree that if it's a beginner's group, he will in short order be just as bored / frustrated playing viola than he would playing violin.
If you do pick a band instrument try to avoid one that sits just in front of the trumpets.
Andrew is spot on. :-)
Is that what those glass panes in orchestras are for?
My daughter is in the same boat.
Percussion is usually overpopulated in middle-school bands. On the other hand the marimba is definitely a cool thing, and a student who already plays another instrument pretty well and can read music well is going to have an advantage over a total beginner on a mallet instrument.
Since your first name is Colleen you may already be aware that the violin is the most common instrument in Irish music sessions. The tenor banjo with "Irish tuning" (GDAE like the violin but down an octave), is also common in Irish music sessions. There may be are children's Irish music groups in your area where your son would be welcomed with either instrument or both. But if I had another life to live I would pick piano.
I love tenor banjos, but the woman I know who has one is selling everything she's got except for the banjo, shucks!
I don't recommend organ, unless you can be guaranteed access to one every time you want to practise, and also it's a difficult instrument to play expressively. Perhaps take up the organ for a year when you've reached a standard on the piano higher than I ever reached. I never made it to being even a reasonably good organist. However I'm glad I know the St Anne's, the Cesar Franck 1st Choral, the Brahms Chorale Preludes, and the Mendelssohn 6th Sonata at least conceptually. But it would be nice to be able to play with conviction more Beethoven than just the slow movement of Op 10 No 3 (which I never had a lesson on, it just grabbed me).
In high school, I sang in choir, played violin, bass, trombone, bass guitar, guitar, piano, saxophone, and organ. As an adult approaching retirement age, I still play all four strings in various ensembles and keyboard instruments for myself. I played trombone and sang through college as a composition major.
I second David Bailey about finding ways of alternate learning and contributing as a more advanced player in a "lower level" group. Regarding the second instrument, I played violin and piano growing up and second all the comments about the usefulness of piano. I only have anecdotes, but when some of my students started wind and brass instruments at school, it seemed that they found the beginner requirements pretty "easy" (of course, I don't know about their actual playing quality). Not that you would want to make a habit of striving for the minimum, but practice needs probably won't be too heavy at that stage.
Mandolin sounds like a fun idea. I came to violin from mandolin, and the advantage of having the fingerboard already worked out should work just as well the other way. You'll have to build calluses, though - compared to violin, playing a mandolin is even more like a cheese grater than a guitar is. There aren't many orchestral opportunities for mandolin, so you'll probably wind up hanging out with bluegrassers - but that's a lot of fun and you get a good grounding in improvisation.
I don’t want to be offensive, so please don’t refer this to you in case it doesn’t apply. Maybe this is rather about the teacher of the orchestra, here.
What Emily said.