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Advice for parents (twins in particular), please

August 15, 2022, 4:29 AM · Hello everyone. I used to post here some time ago but I “dropped out” as I became father of twins, a boy and a girl. Daytime job and parenthood did not allow me time or energy for my own practice. Things are better now as the kids became 3yo and are more autonomous, so I have been able to play again. However, I come to you not about my playing, but about how to pass the torch.
Although I didn’t plan to introduce my children to music (violin and/or piano) until they were 4-5 years old, they are asking for it and I would like to have some suggestion/advice from other parents and professionals.

Regarding the kids and to avoid long proud-parent diatribes, let’s just settle that the children are physically very tall and are also each ahead of their age in many development areas, each having distinctive talents over the other in different areas. Due to the family circumstances, they have been successfully raised as trilingual (Spanish, French and Vietnamese) and they are quite flexible at adapting to new things, people and routines.
Because of their personalities and skills, it seems to me that one would profit the classes much more than the other one, but they are inseparable and at this moment is out of the question to take one, and not the other- So if they start studying, they need to start at the same time and maybe one is not ready.
I am sure some of you have probably experienced this situation and how to manage twins with different skills. Should I wait for the second one to catch up in maturity or take both even for the advantage of only one? Or should I push for separation?
As teachers and parents, how would you know if a kid is ready to start studying violin? What physical or mental milestones are a must for not making it frustrating for teachers and kids? For example, holding/using a pen/chopsticks correctly, being able to sit and listen to an adult XX minutes, being able to hear and hum/sing correctly a song after X times… etc.
As an amateur violinist, what’s my role in the musical education? Should I start with them the most basic things until sending them to a professional or I better not “enter the kitchen”, and just supervise their home practice? Or not even that?

Thank you very much for any input or advice you can give me.

Replies (32)

Edited: August 15, 2022, 7:00 AM · I have no experience with twins but I can share what happened with my own children.

I started each of my boys around age 3 or 4 with Suzuki violin lessons; in retrospect, that was too early. They were very precocious intellectually but they would have made faster progress from the start had I simply waited until they were 5. Having partially learned a lesson, I did wait until my daughter was closer to 5.

I got them lessons with a colleague who had a lot of Suzuki experience teaching. As it turned out, I was a terrible Suzuki mom. After teaching my own students, I was tired and had to force myself to be the practice mom. It did not help that none of my children were ever excited about playing the violin.

One by one my children got to fifth grade and let me know how much they hated the violin. My oldest switched to double bass at my suggestion; my other two switched respectively to oboe and flute (their choice following recruiting trips by the local middle school band). All excelled on their new instruments.

I don’t think the violin lessons were a waste of time but in retrospect I would have definitely waited until age 5 with all of them. At one point I was also forced into teaching my own children due to my orchestra’s financial difficulties and the departure of their teacher. This was notably unsuccessful.

Three is very young and your twins are not at equivalent levels of readiness by your own description. In your shoes and knowing what I know, I think I would focus on playing them music every day, perhaps even the Suzuki book one recording. I assure you that they will not lose any ground by waiting another year to start lessons.

August 15, 2022, 7:03 AM · Wellcome back!
Many of us have a similar history of playing less - or not at all - when the children are small. I can't give twin-specific advice - only tell you what I have done with my own children. My two oldest were around 7 when they started - the third was 5. He started earlier because he really wanted to - he saw his sisters playing a concert at a summer camp and declared that "next year I will be playing a concert too" (which he also did).
I think it is important that playing an instrument is something they want themselves - we can only show them that we enjoy it by our own example and wait for them to express the desire to play too.
3 years is perhaps a bit early to start the violin? Especially if you feel one of them is not ready yet. If they lack the necessary motor skills, it may end up being a frustrating experience. Is there some other music activity available in your area? So that you can capture the interest in music now. I myself started at 4 years of age (or perhaps 3?) in a group doing various musical activities: singing, walking to different rhythms, drumming etc to train the sense of rhythm and a year later we started playing the recorder. I remember one of my favorite activities was "laying music". The teacher had a big box of cardboard notes. She would play a short rhythm on the piano and we had to lay down the correct notation with the cardboard notes.
I think I was 8 when I started the violin. Where I lived that was the required age at the time in the music school.
Do they both want to play the violin? Have they been introduced to other instruments as well? Perhaps they could start on different instruments? - to avoid direct competition/comparison.
Two of mine play the violin and I decided not to be their teacher. But I have practiced with them which I think is important. Especially when they are very young they really can't know how to practice. And as a violin player myself I could help them avoid bad habits, wrong bow hold etc. I felt it was easier to have a teacher to refer to; that gave me an outside authority to refer to when correcting things. Even the one who plays the cello I practiced with. But she took practicing into her own hands sooner than the other two.
Try making the daily practice something enjoyable; a privilege rather than a must. I think my children enjoyed that "own time with daddy" practice; getting the full attention of one parent.
August 15, 2022, 7:35 AM · My own lessons started at age 4-1/2, six months after my grandfather had given me a violin as a birthday present and I had been "playing" it every day (probably all day). My father was an amateur violinist who practiced every evening right after work and had was still taking lessons until mine started (and his teacher move away - so it was (to me) a very grownup thing I wanted to do.

I taught violin (and later cello) lessons for about 40 years. I was not a Suzuki teacher, but I used the Suzuki books (when I "discovered" them after the first 15 years of teaching) because it was clear to me that (in general) they followed the same progression as my own lessons had in the early 1940s. I only had 2 students younger than 6. The cello student was too young.

The 5 year old violin student was only one month old when her teen-age older brother started cello lessons with me. In fact, she was a month-old babe-in-arms when I took the whole family to Ifshin's to select a rental cello for him. She was probably a one-year-old when her next brother (by then a teen, too) started violin lessons with me. By the time she was 2 she wanted violin lessons, so I bought her a VSO (made of cardboard). I held her off until she was 5 and able to read and started her lessons. I taught her mother at the same time so she could help the little girl. Within a month or two the girl was doing better than her mom, whose participation in the lessons then stopped.

The family's trip out of the country and later family problems ended their lessons with me - so I have no idea how things turned out for the little girl. The older brothers were doing fine.

Although my own lessons had started when I was 4, I made it a general rule to wait until kids were 6 before I would take them as students. My own older granddaughter started violin lessons with me when she was 6 and we had just moved closer to her family. We worked together on weekly violin lessons for 10 years, until the end of her sophomore high-school year. I recommend it!

August 15, 2022, 9:12 AM · No twins here, but I do have sibs who both play. The younger one really wanted to start at age 3 because she wanted to be just like her brother. We tried a few lessons and she had trouble paying attention. Waited until she turned 4 and she was absolutely fine at that point. Her brother didn't start until age 5, despite begging for years, but that was mostly because of family circumstances.

I would not start them until at least age 4 (possibly 5) when they are both ready. In the interim, sign them up for a great general music class.

August 15, 2022, 12:11 PM · Carlos,

I've thought about this some more. We both know the physical challenges of playing a violin and how difficult they can be at the beginning.

If I had a child interested in making music at a very young age I would try them on piano. All my kids and grandkids had some piano before going on to other instruments (if they did - and half of them have playing instruments into adulthood). Even I could at least play one-hand piano as a small child and would check out violin-music melodies on piano if I could not "visualize" the sound before reading it on violin.

A piano (or other keyboard) is just THERE. The music starts to come out with the touch of a finger. Of course there are technique and dexterity involved in real piano playing, but not necessarily so. So they can make music from the beginning.

August 15, 2022, 12:47 PM · I have a singleton that started just before he turned 4, and has done really well. Playing the violin also helped us identify a whole bunch of areas that need to be addressed with occupational therapy. He's a boy with ADHD, but he's done just fine except in a group class setting, where his playing level puts him with the middle schoolers and I've come to view it as fundamentally unfair to make them deal with him (and to make him deal with age-inappropriate expectations).

Having seen friends deal with twins, I'd encourage you to treat them as distinct people. If one would be well suited to start now, you could go ahead. The other could decide to follow in their wake, or not, as suits their own personality and interests.

Edited: August 15, 2022, 3:21 PM · I’d definitely enrol them in some kind of early music education class for the coming year, with singing, clapping, drumming…my own class had as all learn musical notation on a glockenspiel. My own children learned the Kodaly method to understand rhythm, which really helped later when learning an instrument. Other traditions teach solfege singing from a young age, i think conservatoires in France do that. In Canada, I came across a program called Moonbeams that taught chord progressions and easy compositions to 5 year olds.

You didn’t mention where you are currently located, but as long as it’s at least a town or even a city, there will be something appropriate.

And when you do enrol them in actual music lessons on an instrument, and your twins are very different as you stated, you may want to think about letting them learn different instruments, so direct comparisons of progress are impossible (that is a sad drawback of the obvious progression in Suzuki programs, which kids (and parents!) can get very competitive about. And it makes for nicer chamber music options at home! How about violin and piano, or violin and cello?

Edited to add an answer to your question about developmental readiness: it’s more about, will they separate from you (depending on the class, some want the parents in the room, some don’t), will they listen to and take directions from another adult, can they function in a group or will they demand constant individual attention? If they do fine in preschool, they’ll do fine in an early music class. But very few kids will be ready to really start learning an instrument at the age of three (yours may be, they’ll usually let you know) and I’d agree that most probably benefit much more from starting around five.

August 15, 2022, 4:56 PM · When I was in the Colorado Philharmonic (now the National Repertory Orchestra) in the 1980s, there was a set of identical twin sisters, both excellent musicians. One played violin and the other played bassoon. They said that their parents had deliberately encouraged them on different instruments.
Edited: August 15, 2022, 11:09 PM · Thank you all for sharing your experiences. I see a consensus to wait, and I agree. They show promise, some skills, but they are still “half baked”.
The one more advanced has enough motor skills (for example, playing the climbing spider on the bow, or duplicating a hand pattern in the piano), but it’s a “done and run” of 3 minutes. There is a natural lack of concentration. It’s simply that she is extremely gifted in hand coordination (perfect simultaneous ambidexterity).
The other one is very much behind in hand skills; still using fist-holds for spoon and pencil. However, he speaks better the three languages and catches at once anything he hears. Among the nurseries he is always humming some music, including classical pieces he gets from what I listen while driving or cooking. His singing of the pieces is quite in tune and in rhythm.

So with your experiences and advice, I will shelf the violin class idea at least one more year. Next year I will re-analyze their development and what they want to do. Also following your advice I will put some structure in the music that I have been free-throwing to them.

We have always had music as an activity which, at their level, used to be rhythmic clapping with patterns (like “we will rock you” using chest and hands) or imitating the patterns I do clapping on my knees, belly, chest, hands, etc a number of times. This, again, showed their difference. She coordinates better but he counts better and corrects her when she mistakes the numbers.

They have sat with me in the piano and I have showed the basic scales. She can replicate my hand actions while he fists the keys. But he recognizes mistakes in the pattern, while she doesn’t see it.
We have a djembe and sometimes I show them some plays on them. Similar story about skills.

They have each a harmonica and they often try to play something; normally together, more often he would play and she would dance. They like to background some songs with their harmonicas.

@Lydia and @Mary Ellen , it is very much my goal to have them in separate instruments; the way this may work is for them to learn 2 (or more) instruments together and then have one of them “drop out” from one. Instantly the other one will drop from the other. But if you try to give them different things from the start, they will destroy each others’ things and hate the activity. They will start violin and piano and let’s see who chooses what, if they do. I would guess that piano would be good for her hand skills, while he can profit of his pitch for violin… But again, they are half baked. Let’s see how they are next year.

Now I have a very specific question, as @Andrew mentions something like that: Under your experience, is it good or bad that they have a violin/VSO now, without classes or training of any kind? I did not want to because I am afraid that they get bad habits with the instrument, or disrespect it as a toy… but it seems that others had it as a preamble to classes. And I think it would calm their itch when they see me practicing. However, I am concern that it eliminates their excitement about learning violin when the time comes… what did you do with your kids?

August 16, 2022, 9:17 AM · Here's what I did. At around 5-6 years let them follow a music initiation programme for very young children. Then at 6-7 I would first let them follow music lessons where they learn to read notes (solfeggio), sing, and play an easy instrument (it's typically a recorder or a melodica). Then at age around 8 I would let them start on their "real" instrument. It's plenty of time. You can let them choose their instrument, but they must choose a different one. With non-identical twins, that should not be a problem. (I am a father of non-identical twins myself.)
August 16, 2022, 9:21 AM · I wanted to avoid the bad habits and the treatment of the violin as a toy, so as soon as my son seemed interested, I got him a real one (and lessons). He was holding a toy guitar (badly) like a violin for a bit, though, when watching Perlman on Sesame Street and such.

As a side note, my son seems to be following my childhood habits -- wants to play, doesn't want to quit, doesn't like practicing...

August 16, 2022, 12:42 PM · If they have a natural inclination to music, they will want to hear you play it, even more. At this point, you're the one who needs to be all-in!
August 16, 2022, 4:58 PM · I agree with Lydia; they must learn to respect the instrument from the start and treat it carefully. Don't let them treat it as a toy. I have a small violin (I think it is 1/16 or perhaps 1/8) that my children were allowed to play but only together with me.
Edited: August 16, 2022, 6:31 PM · One possibility if you have twins who are imbalanced in terms of natural musical gifts, is to start the more inherently adept child on the violin and the other on the piano. As I play both instruments, I can testify (and I believe it is generally known) that it's much easier to attain mediocrity on the piano, simply because tone generation -- and especially intonation -- are tragically difficult on the violin. I bet you will find that at the age where they have both reached an intermediate level, their ability to learn may have equalized. Child development is not a linear function of time, and sometimes it seems neither monotonic nor even continuous! And even if piano child is forever a little behind, (s)he will be able to accompany violin child because accompaniments are pretty easy until you get to the level of romantic concerto reductions and sonatas. It's wonderful if they can make music together. I have enjoyed this my whole life because I play jazz piano and my brother, who is 18 months older, is a standout bassist. When we were kids he studied the cello and we played trios as a family (with Dad on the keys).
August 16, 2022, 9:01 PM · I have twin friends (girls) who both started piano and then violin at the same time. It worked relatively well for them and they progressed at around the same rate (one wasn't falling behind the other). Sadly, one became sick with cancer and eventually died but that's not really relevant.
August 17, 2022, 5:50 AM · At a Suzuki institute, I met twin sisters (probably identical, but I didn’t ask!) who were students at the same conservatory, on the same instrument - violin - and who played a lovely duet by Beriot. They were in perfect harmony!

Was musing with a friend how lucky they were that this had worked out for them and what it might mean for (probably) identical twins if one were to have auditioned successfully and the other…not. Maybe the parents took a huge risk there, maybe they were just helplessly watching the twins decide their own path. And it worked out for them and hopefully will continue to do so.

Fraternal boy/girl twins will, at some point, consider themselves very different people, but of course they’re not there yet. But I’d plant the tender seed of the idea of learning different instruments now…

August 17, 2022, 6:08 AM · I've known two pairs of twins, but none of them was musical.
August 18, 2022, 6:16 PM · I have twins and one a couple of years older. Echoing a lot of the above advice:
-Some of us are better or worse at doing the Suzuki parent thing. I found it was always kind of "whack-a-mole" in our daily life, so I feel like I produced musical kids but was unable to pull off consistent, extended daily practice.
-I do think music cascades through kids. You may find one is uninterested initially but improves later. For us our twins benefited from the older sibling.
-They have their own wills. The one who sounded better on violin settled on brass and the one I thought sounded better on brass settled on violin.
-Music has advantages over other hobbies because they can follow it all through childhood.

If you can find institutions or individuals who can nurture their talent that goes a long way beyond it being 100% on mom or dad. The economics also matter and are worth thinking through.

August 18, 2022, 7:44 PM · I've been reading this thread with great interest because I just had this conversation with one of my orchestra friends about her 3yr old grandson.

We discussed colourstrings which is a Finnish kodaly-influenced violin programme that starts with preschool music and singing and leads into a sol-fa based progression of violin pedagogy, but that's unlikely to be available in Vietnam (although, contact them - you never know).

After reading all the advice about violin vs piano though, I'm tempted to suggest this Irish teacher who specializes in preschool piano: https://colourfulkeys.ie/dublin-piano-school/preschool-lessons/ .

Nicola seems to do alot of pedagogy teaching in the piano teaching world including free resources on her blogs and podcasts. The majority of her resources are piano-specific (or business specific about how to build up a studio), but I got heaps of musical ideas and some free resources that I could transfer to the way I teach strings.
https://colourfulkeys.ie/piano-sight-reading-game/

I've not had anyone approach me about piano lessons under 7 years (I teach mostly strings but sometimes piano and occasionally recorder/flute/clarinet to low income beginners), but the moment someone does, I'm going to sign up for the paid subscription to her resource repository - where she apparently has 2 yrs of preschool music lessons.

If you are happy to continue working with them yourself, this might be the way to go - ready made curriculum with downloadable games for small people with short attention spans?

August 18, 2022, 7:48 PM · @all the people suggesting starting with piano.

Out of curiosity, how do tiny fingers go with adult sized piano keys? The sound is right there but does hand size interfere with moving from one key to another?

Edited: August 18, 2022, 8:41 PM · I don't think hand size is that much of an issue early on because a lot of early pedagogical materials for piano assume a very young student with small hands. I started learning piano at 5 and didn't encounter octaves until I was 10 or 11.

(That said, it's also possible that my teachers avoided octaves for a while. My hands have always been small; I'm still not able to play piano octaves very comfortably as an adult.)

Edited: August 18, 2022, 9:34 PM · If you go on YouTube you can probably find six-year-olds playing Liszt. Little kids are incredible -- if the desire and the intellect is there, they can adapt to just about anything. Wind instruments are harder than piano.
August 18, 2022, 11:28 PM · @J Seitz: Can you elaborate in your direct experience with your kids? At what age did they start practicing the instrument? One instrument or many? And after your experience and knowing what worked and didn't work, how would you do it again?
August 18, 2022, 11:43 PM · Yeah, for piano everyone uses the same size keyboard no matter how big you are. That said, you don't get into a lot of octaves until the late intermediate early advanced stage. I, too, have small hands, and while I started piano at 4 and started seeing octaves in decent numbers by age 11 or 12, my hands weren't big enough to comfortably play octaves till I turned 16, and even then it's my absolute maximum stretch.
Edited: August 19, 2022, 7:25 AM · A pianist friend of mine bought one of those pianos that has the smaller-scale keyboard. It's a regular piano -- a Steinway. She just has really small hands and struggles to reach octaves on "normal" pianos. I wish I could get something like that for my Nord Stage Piano without resorting to an external MIDI controller.
August 19, 2022, 12:05 PM · Yeah I've heard of those smaller keyboards, it's just hard to find though..
Edited: August 20, 2022, 12:17 PM · I first held a violin on my lap at 3, but dad did wait until I was 5 before starting teaching me. I think another factor is: Are there the instruments out there small enough for a 3 year old?
Edited: August 20, 2022, 12:57 PM · John, there are YouTube videos of tiny little kids playing tiny little violins.

https://youtu.be/PUgLb6THC9U

August 23, 2022, 4:16 AM · I have taught twins, and also lived with them. My experience is that they very much value their own individuality. This being said, they were not preschool aged.

If they are inseparable, I would let them be together including in music instruction.

My own experience with Suzuki instruction as a preschooler was tainted by the terrible sounds created by my classmates. Thus I caution you in this regard. (I rarely hear this brought up. People talk about respecting the instrument. One would think that the experience of music instruction would be at least as important as behavior. Children of this age have well developed memories. They also have probably heard a lot of music. They know terrible sounds when they hear them and can be turned off.)

September 13, 2022, 7:54 AM · About respecting the instrument:
I began to learn the violin as an adult. I was very much in awe of the instrument and also for a long time very cramped. My brother had Down Syndrome and his fingers were too short to actually reach the strings. Now and then, he wanted to "perform" in front of the family, would ask for my violin and just bow open strings, kind of arpeggio-style. There was not scratching, squeaking, anything, because he was just totally at ease and in flow.

Respecting the instrument might lead children to believe that they have to be VERY CAREFUL with it at all times and thus discourage them from experimenting in this way. I always waited for my teacher to tell me how to do thins. He just tried what he could do with the instrument. Probably a compromise between these two attitudes might be ideal.

One idea might be to start one twin on violin and the other on piano. They could watch the other's lesson if they liked. They might later take up the respective other instrument. But they would each have something of their own, something they were expert on, that they could also play for relatives without one of them always being "better". I have siblings and one fraternal twin and we always took care to have our own hobbies each. In most aspects, we became interested in opposite subjects, both school and hobby. There are few things as stressful for a sibling as trying to prove you are JUST AS GOOD as your brother or sister, knowing the brother or sister will always be better.
Different instruments would rule out this possibility, until maybe the twins discovered, they they both like the violin and wanted to practice together. Practicing AGAINST you twin, trying to become as good or better as the twin, would probably destroy any kind of progress you could make.

Edited: September 13, 2022, 9:11 AM · Thank you very much, Frederica. Your experience is very good reference for me. The point you mention, hits the nail. I have seen again and again one of them refuse to do something if they are not as good as the other. And this brings the particular issue of independence. Like many twins, they are very co-dependant at this age.
This thread convinced me to wait for some development milestones to happen, before introducing them to the instruments.
I took the advice of introducing them to music (rhythms, songs, Suzuki albums) beforehand. And I am currently able to practice in front of them, which I think it’s good example when their time arrives. From now until then, I’ll be patient and wait for their time.
September 13, 2022, 4:35 PM · My son was able to handle a violin with enough respect and care at age 3 that I was comfortable with him getting and playing it on his own. He was able to pack and unpack the instrument in its case, although I was sometimes a bit worried about the way he took the bow out, more due to coordination than a lack f care. (Even I have to edge a bow out of a case in a careful way that doesn't put stress near the head.)

My son is worrisomely careless about many other things, but he handles the violin and bow with both respect and freedom, usually. I don't think they're mutually contradictory.

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