For young students just beginning violin, there’s much to cover. Bowing problems can usually be fixed, but I find that it’s the left (violin) hand, that can make or break a violin journey. This short video covers the basics. You can download a hard copy by using the free instant download link at right.
Parents: Are your kids just getting started on violin? I’m not going to pull any punches. In my studio, violin lessons can get pretty intense, fast. There’s a lot to remember, and a lot that can go wrong. All of this means that the average 5 to 8 year (and you, as his home teacher) will need draw upon an unusual amount of focus, a reasonably robust physical makeup and some real fine muscle control.
Even something as simple as the slope of a shoulder and the relative position of a collarbone can make holding and playing nearly impossible for some kids until the moment is right. But not all is lost!
Six “Must Have” Skills for your Future Invincible Violinist
So, here’s my short list of necessary activities that will support the first song your child will likely need to learn in a Suzuki (and/or) traditional violin studio:
- The Twinkle Rhythm Vocabulary. Be able to clap these the six basic twinkle rhythms accurately, crisply and at consistent tempo.
- Clap and March Be able to march in time with the songs from the Suzuki Volume 1 CD, and at the same time clap at a matching or (if appropriate) double speed.
- Match Pitches Be able to sing and match a pitch in the range of middle C to G, after hear thing pitch sung or played on a keyboard.
- Follow a Melodic Contour Be able to sing along with a familiar melody, and follow the up and down contour of that melody, if not the exact pitches.
- Object Focus Be able to visually focus on a single object for increasing intervals, without turning away or being distracted.
- Tone Up Be able to hold an empty violin case in front of the body with arms fully extended. Be able to march in tempo with empty case held above crown of the head.
- Tap and Count Be able to demonstrate fine muscle control and basic counting skills using a simple song.
The honest truth: if your child has significant problems with any of these items her violin journey will likely be short. Don’t let this happen to your family!
Here’s the Proven Invincible Practice Strategy
This list is fairly basic, but at least one point deserves your consideration:
Set up your kids to be successful from the start. Break down these activities into their simplest components so that every repetition, every practice session, is in some way successful. This is at the heart of the Invincible Violin system.
Add complexity as appropriate to the development of your child. Instill the belief that can meet challenges and continually improve. At all costs, avoid dull, mindless repetition of any activity. Constantly provide your attention and support, provide praise when appropriate, and never offer it when it isn’t merited.
Here’s a website loaded with ideas and tools that can help with early motor skill development.
Grab The Unbelievable Power of Getting the Basics Right
This stuff is way, way underrated. The connections to playing with a beautiful tone and great technique aren’t obvious to the average person. But a lifetime of playing and a decade of teaching has shown me otherwise.
Parents and kids alike are always super excited to get started on the instrument and learning songs. That’s great, but motivation dies quickly without having these six skills mastered. And that’s sad, and all too common.
Whether it’s baseball, math or violin the fundamentals do count. As parents, it’s our job to give our kids this solid starting point. It’s the foundation of becoming Invincible.
Why You Should Get Started Now
Don’t waste time! If the moment is right to start actual playing, there’s plenty you can do to make that moment shine when it finally arrives.
Have your own “too young” story or question to share? Please leave a comment below!
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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New music students (and their families) often think learning violin is about soaking up the lessons. That the private teacher will give them those mad skills. So get some lessons, then go out into the world and use what you learned. Practice to refine it and to improve retention. All’s well and good, except…
What you can get out of a 30 minute lesson is just a skimpy slice of the pie. Surprisingly, the process of becoming a proficient musician is more like being a combination of an inventor, explorer and planner. Your teacher can only give you the raw ingredients of the of the recipe; it’s up to you to actually make something of it.
So forget about coming to lessons and mindlessly spitting out what you’ve learned. Or watching videos on the internet and trying to copy other violinists playing your favorite songs. Learning violin requires that you engage your brain and your best powers of observation. It demands a patient attitude and a lot of curiosity.
If you’re proficient at music, it’s because you’ve learned how to solve these progressively more complex problems. But if you’re bored, stuck, frustrated and/or no longer making progress, it’s likely because you don’t have a solid strategy to improve your playing.
Repeating a song or musical passage over and over until you’re bored to tears is an almost certain recipe for failure. Instead let your sense of discomfort or frustration be your guidepost. Your mind is telling you that what you are doing isn’t going to produce the result you want. You need something more.
In my studio, once we get past the basics we kick into our “creative problem solving” mode. I demonstrate some simple strategies to fix a problem passage, and ask the student to do the same.
“Bobby, next week, show me three different ways to improve this weak spot” goes right into the homework assignment. “And playing it over and over until it sounds good doesn’t count.”
Surely a violin newbie will be hard pressed to come up with much of a list. So I supply a menu from which the student can select the most effective and appropriate choice. For example, here are some items from my “take away” menu for young violinists.
TAKE AWAY SOMETHING from a problem to make it simpler
- Remove the rhythm and play it in quarter notes
- Remove the bowings
- Play it in an easier position/fingering
- Work on a smaller section and expand to surroundings
- Use a slower tempo, when improved, make a meaningful tempo increase and try again.
- Use less tone or vibrato
- Don’t play across syncopated ties (similar to remove bowings)
- Use pizzicato instead of bow
- Use the bow without the violin hand
- Left hand only and bow 2″ above string
- Left hand only and sing or count
- Bow only and sing or count
- Freeze time after every note and take stock of bow position
The concept behind the take away strategy is simple: problems become easy to solve once you’ve isolated them to their most basic components. This enables you to make visible progress in just minutes. That alone is super motivating for a student of any level.
What are your favorite practice strategies? Please help me grow the list by commenting, sharing or tweeting. Thanks!
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.
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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