Parents often ask me how to get their kids started in playing the violin, because my children play:
You can view a more recent video of Fiona (she was 8 in the above video, and she is now 11) playing at the Cogen Concerto Competition’s intermediate division (in which she won 1st place) here.
The Suzuki method is an excellent way to teach your child how to play the violin. It was created by Dr. Shinichi Suzuki, who noticed that every child becomes fluent in their mother tongue regardless of “talent,” geographic location, or economic status.
He observed how babies learn to talk and applied what he learned to helping young children learn violin. He called this “Talent Education.”
Contrary to popular belief, children are not necessarily born talented – it’s something that can be learned through daily practice and positive reinforcement – the same way your baby learned to say “Mama” (which as we all know, takes a very long time). Your baby does a lot of listening and spends many months making incoherent sounds. As she tries out different sounds, her mother continuously encourages her and patiently repeats the correct sound. It’s the same way with learning Suzuki.
It can take a long time for squeaks to sound like melodies, and this requires the same kind of patience you had when you were teaching your baby to say Mama. And just like a baby learning to talk, if they keep doing a little bit every day, they will eventually get to where they can actually play!
1. First, determine if the violin is right for your child and your family. Do you have time to shlepp them to weekly lessons and group practice? Do you have it in you to help them practice almost everyday? For beginners, practice might last 10 minutes. Our six-year-old does 15 – 30 minutes per day. Our nine-year-old does one hour a day, more when preparing for a competition. (Practice goes much better in the morning, so that’s when Fiona does it. Ella likes to sleep in, so she practices just before bedtime.)
2. One parent attends lessons and actively helps the child with daily practice. I was the primary parent for Fiona for about two years & now I’m the primary parent for Ella, and my husband is the primary parent for Fiona.
2. Get a good teacher. Find a licensed one through the Suzuki Association of the Americas. Observe some lessons. Is your child interested? Are they ready? (Our kids started when they were almost four. This worked for Fiona, but we could have waited another year to start Ella.) Is the teacher kid-friendly? Do you like the teacher? If you don’t, find another one. I think the rapport between the child and the teacher is key. Ella LOVES her teacher:
4. Buy the Suzuki Violin Volume 1 music book & CD. Play the CD at home and in the car until you’re both sick of it, and then play it some more. (You’re going to despise Mozart for writing Twinkle after you’ve heard it 900 squillion times.)
5. Rent a violin. Starter violins are not the greatest quality sound, but they’re cheap. You will also need a shoulder rest, a music stand, and rosin. Bring your child with you to get the correct size violin. (The beginner sizes are so tiny!)
6. Set up a practice area in your home. You can get a small oval rug at IKEA and have your teacher help you draw feet on it for rest and play positions, to help your child know where to stand.
7. Start with 10 minutes of practice per day. Take a deep breath and remove all expectations. (Remember when your baby was learning to talk for over a year? You didn’t roll your eyes or nitpick her pronunciation once. You can do this.)
8. For beginners, it’s helpful to make your own board game. (We called ours Run Pony, Run! after one of the Twinkle variations.) Get a piece of poster board, draw a game on it and write something fun on each square. Let your child decorate it. Use dice or a spinner, and small toys for pieces.
9. While your child plays, remain completely silent and give her your full attention, no matter how bad it sounds. (I have a very hard time staying quiet, so Ella gets to zip my mouth shut and throw away the key if she feels that I’m interrupting (this happens a lot.) Then say something positive, even if what they just played made you want to switch to something easier on the ears, like death-metal drums.
10. End the practice session on a high note, while things are going well. We have a prize basket that Ella gets to choose from after each practice.
There are also lots of opportunities to perform in front of audiences – at Suzuki juries, which are like recitals, at group concerts and charity events. Here’s a video of Fiona playing a lively duet with her friend at an old folk’s home. (This song is not part of the Suzuki repertoire, by the way.)
- It can be expensive. The better your kid gets, the pricier the instrument. To give you an example, when Fiona turned 8 we bought her a French violin that’s 100 years old, and it cost about $8,000. This is (I think) way over the top (it was my husband’s idea) and on the very high-end of pricing for children of this age. You can still rent quality violins or purchase one, and I’ve seen prices at around $1,500 and upwards. This year we will need to upgrade her violin in both size and quality, and the prices we are looking at are in the $11,000 range. I shudder to think how much a violin will cost when she’s 18. (Don’t let the cost of buying an expensive instrument put you off – you can always rent one, schools have violins you can borrow, etc. – so don’t let this put you off!)
- It sounds pretty bad for a long time, and you have to listen to it.
- The daily practice demands a lot of patience and discipline (from the parent!).
- It can take up a lot of time (weekly lesson, weekly group lessons, recitals, rehearsals, competitions, and so on).
- If, like me, you are generally crabby and impatient, the practice sessions can be very challenging.
- If your child wins an award, you’re not allowed to jump up and down, yell “THAT’S WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT!” like the parents at sporting events get to do.
- It gets competitive at the higher levels, and this can involve a lot of pressure. Some children get anxious under pressure – you as their parent need to be able to recognize if the instrument is too difficult for them, or if they don’t enjoy playing in front of people and if so – consider something else.
- Some parents push their children too hard and the kids become like automated robots: technically perfect, but missing something integral (joy) because they’re not doing it for themselves, they’re doing it to please their Tiger Parents. Don’t be a Tiger Parent.
- The gift of music lasts a lifetime.
- It makes your child feel proud and accomplished.
- Vivaldi. Mozart. Brahms. Hilary Hahn. David Garrett!
- In the summer, you can go to amazing Suzuki family camps (called institutes) all over the US and the world.