Category Archives for Violin Lessons for Kids

The Amazing 3 Year Old Violinist

Holy cow, yet another call today, a man hoping to start his 3 year old grandson on violin.

Okay, okay. I agree there are advantages to starting early. But…

Few people though consider the far greater risks of starting music lessons too early.

It takes five years for the average child to learn to cut in a straight line using scissors. Is playing the violin any simpler a task? And that’s not considering the focus, patience and intellectual skills required to play a musical instrument.

Drop the average three year old into a few months of lessons and you’ll often have one frustrated family. Progress will be difficult to discern. This sets up a negative mindset around the project, one which may be impossible to surmount later in life. Had the same student started at five years of age, he would likely catch up to the 3 year old within 6 months. And everyone, student included, will be much happier.

Sure, you can find a few outliers on YouTube. Like the 3 year old prodigy playing Vivaldi. But what you’re not seeing is behind the scenes: a razor focussed family support network built around that child. A practice regimen that doesn’t waver. And an inordinate amount of time on the project (to the exclusion of other activities) and a child that is far, far ahead of the bell curve.

Even if you are one of those outliers, you still must ask yourself: is this in the best interest of the child? Will the world be a better place and will your child be happier for this experience?

Remember that Violin is a long term project. It will still be around when your child is four or five. And she’ll likely devote the better part of a decade to achieve any level of mastery.

So what’s the rush?

Still, there’s much you can provide for your child before he is ready for structured lessons. Here are just a few ideas:

• Singing informally or in a group

• Classes that emphasize rhythm, movement and motor development

• Attending concerts in a variety of styles and venues

• Structured listening at home (Suzuki CDs are available to everyone)

All of this can start as early as in the womb! Your child’s love and devotion for music starts by modeling your own. There’s nothing wrong with starting actual lessons at five to seven years of age and beyond.

In a nutshell, give your young violinist a better than average chance for success. Provide the needed family support. Be an active participant in the learning process. Model your own love for music. Do all of this, and you can’t help but succeed in creating an Invincible Violinist in your own home.

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Violin: Do You Find it “Touching?”

Grasping

Flop that fiddle on your shoulder and put your fingers on the fingerboard. Ready to go, yes? Well, actually… no!

Right out of the cradle we’re pre-programmed to play the violin wrong. Our very first instinct actually works against us.

Hand a baby a rattle, and she grasps it. Hand a five year old a violin, and she does pretty much the same thing with her left (violin) hand. That grasping motion works great; it’s extremely powerful.

The only problem is that this type of power actually works against the violinist. What a violinist really needs is exactly the opposite thing, a delicate touch, freedom of movement and a high degree of finesse.

In the violin studio, even the teacher’s simple choice of a word can influence success or failure. I work hard to remove words such as “bow grip” from my vocabulary. Similarly we need to find the right word to describe how the violin hand approaches the instrument.

Hand Position in Violin Image
Touch Typing

I like the word “touch” as in touch typing. The touch typist on a modern keyboard uses a light, fast motion. His fingers are curved and his knuckles are high. Playing the violin well is amazingly much the same.

Playing the violin is much the same as typing an e-mail to a friend on your PCs keyboard.

The First Time Ever You Touch a Violin

Do this right the first time, and you’re off to a great start. Do it wrong, and you’ve got a bad habit. Minutes or seconds can establish the habit. It could take months to re-learn it the correct way.

Because a picture (or in this case a video) is worth one thousand words, I’m creating a video demonstration to help you get started. As always, this can work best under the supervision of a qualified teacher. So I’m not going to say “don’t try this at home” but then again, self-taught violinists are a rare breed indeed.

If you find any part of this unclear, please let me know. It’s my endeavor to make this the best it can be!


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The “Guitarra” exercise

Except from: Master Sequence for young beginner students.

1. Violin “setup” correctly and comfortable on the collar bone. This will be more fully described in the InvicibleViolinist.com Master Sequence.

2. Learn to properly position the left “violin” hand around the neck and fingerboard.

This is probably the source of more “screw ups” than any other element of early violin technique. If  you focus on mastering the left hand early in the game, everything that follows is relatively simple.

I created this exercise because this hand-violin relationship is much easier to learn when broken down in steps. When (and only when) your student can perform this simple movement in good form, do you move to the next step.

This “umbrella” of fingers over the fingerboard and hand astride the neck is simple to perform with the violin in a guitar like position. Note the elevated angle of the scroll.

3. Finally, move the violin with (hand and arm already in perfect position) into playing position. Once in position, our Master Sequence Practice Angel will test for correct posture and freedom of movement.

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Violin: Buy or Rent? and What Size?

An Invincible Violinist knows that beginning the journey with the right instrument is important. The “I’ll get a Suzy a good violin if and when she sticks with it” approach in not doing your young student any favor.

Before you buy a violin, answer these questions:

  1. If you are just starting, do you need a violin right away? Many teachers of young students will start their pupils using a lightweight “mock violin” instead of the real thing. In this case, the teacher will likely be your best source of information on size, budget.
  2. Do you have access to a speciality violin shop in your area that rents instruments? If so, you’ll generally get a much better instrument in a ready to play condition. Many off-the-shelf violins bought at generalist music stores and online will be of marginal quality. Again, an experienced teacher or player is a great resource.

Rent a Violin, Don’t Buy

There are plenty of reasons to rent. A five year old will quickly outgrow the fractional size “kiddie size” instruments, and will probably need a larger instrument every year or two.

When you are ready for your “forever” instrument, chances are you’ll want to select it from among many sources. Sometimes, a rent-to-buy program might save you some cost on that final purchase. Just be sure to rent from a dedicated violin shop that offers high quality student and artist level instruments.

When It’s Time to Buy Your Violin

Violin shopping (online or in person) is an exciting time for any student. It can also be very confusing. Here are some tips to simplify the process:

  • Always buy where you have a trial period with a return privilege.
  • Take an experienced violinist friend along to the shop. You’ll get added feedback about how an instrument sounds across the room. Or, your friend can play the instrument for you to hear.

What Size Violin is Correct

Playing a violin that’s too large can be crippling at worst, and will slow down your progress, at best. Beyond the size, the excessive weight is a burden on the player. By the same token, a tiny fractional size instrument won’t be playable by a player who has outgrown it. Her fingers and arms will be hopelessly “mashed” together.

Small instruments also come with a small tone. They force the player to work harder, which is not a good thing!

Still, when in doubt it’s best to err on the side of too small, rather than too large.

Sizing is accomplished using one of these methods:

  1. A size chart based on age. Not accurate at all.
  2. Violin Size Chart matching an actual instrument to a player’s arm length.
  3. Using Method 2, tempered by the experience of a teacher.

Obviously, an experienced teacher should be your guide whenever possible.

If all of this hasn’t convinced you to buy or rent a perfectly sized instrument consider this:

If you are trying to save money by playing a full size instrument before you are ready for it, you’ll like spend what you’ve saved on the instrument on lessons to fix the technical problems that will result.

A wrong size violin costs you time, money and bad playing habits.

Bottom line here: rent or buy the best instrument you can afford. Always be sure it is sized correctly. Seek out impartial advice.

Don’t forget the Bow

Many students and families overlook the importance of a quality bow. That’s a serious mistake; bow selection is equally important as choosing the right instrument.

Just as with the violin, be sure to ask for an approval period. Avoid shopping for violin and bow at the same time. You’ll want to select a bow based on how it feels on your permanent instrument. It’s amazing how a bow can enhance the sound of your violin!

Often bows are included with an instrument purchase; the quality varies widely. Generally speaking, it’s best to select the bow on its own merits. Keep the “freebie” bow in your case. It’s always great to have a spare bow.

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Violin Lessons, Turn Signals and Intersections

The city where I live took more than a year to approve a stop light at a busy intersection near my home. When crews finally began construction, I saw activity at the site for many weeks. But there was little visible progress. No lights, no stripes, no traffic control at all.

Finally, one day almost a year later, the shiny new signal lights stood guard at the intersection. In fact, they were installed in a matter of hours. Then it all became clear: the end was the easy part. But the months of planning, drilling, digging and wiring seemed unrewarded and unnoticed. One morning’s work is what got all the attention.

Your violin journey will likely be much the same. The first months, even the first year of lessons may not produce a result that looks glamorous or exciting. Still, it’s the most crucial period of time in any violinist’s lifetime. Doing things correctly at the start make it possible to reach the Mozart Concerti and beyond.

In the perfect curve of a tiny five year old finger, I see a brilliantly executed concerto passage. In the simple arc of an arm are the seeds of a rich and mature violin tone. It doesn’t look like much, at least to the untrained eye.

In the perfect curve of a tiny five year old finger, I see a brilliantly executed concerto passage.

Patience and vision and resolve are by far the most important virtues for a violin family. Too many folks try to sandwich this long term project into a few remaining slivers between soccer practice and homework.

When your child mounts the stage and plays her first Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, it’s a 90 second reflection of months and hour upon hour of dedication. It’s a celebration of a family’s resolve.

Practice is a pleasurable activity for an Invincible Violinist. He works to make sure that is so. That’s not to say there won’t be some moments that test our mettle.

The decision to begin a violin journey is always easier than the many decisions that follow. There’s a decision point at each intersection of the journey’s path with a busy family schedule. Greet each intersection with care. That’s how to make the journey successful.