Why starting violin at 5 is better than 3

I used to teach 3 year olds. Back when I just graduated college and didn't have any teaching experience. It was hard. Years later I finally changed my policy and start students at 5 and up. There were several reasons, which I will elaborate on in a minute.

When my daughter was 2 1/2 I got her a violin. We spend 2 years on the SAME thing, doing it over and over in different ways. Progress wasn't hugely visible week to week. Some weeks she forgot where A was. We clapped "Mississippi Hotdog" for 2 years. We worked on A and E and Mississippi Hotdog on those strings for 2 years. Sometimes the progress was so slow I wasn't sure if I was doing anything right. My husband asked why we were renting the violin when she still couldn't play it. This is what starting a 3 year old is like. After 2 1/2 years of working on Twinkle, we started Lightly Row, still in the beginning of book 1.

This was challenging on ME and I'm a violin teacher! So how will a "normal" parent feel when they are doing the same things for 2 years? Will they have the persistence to keep this up, or will they give up because the progress is in teeny minute steps and it doesn't seem worth doing?

Let's jump ahead to age 5. The student can read letters, maybe read a few words, talk to you, tell you what feels comfortable, describe sounds, count, echo clap the Twinkle rhythms on the first few tries, can stand in one spot for more than 10 seconds, and, if given enough activity variety and the right attention span, have a 30 minute lesson. (I do give 15 minute lessons, though).

The student can remember parts of what the teacher says, with the parent taking notes. They can collaborate during practice time at home with less chance of there being a power struggle. Progress will be clear and the pace of the book will be quicker, if following the directions of the teacher. Flying through Suzuki book 1 is and should not be anyone's goal, but in my experience, it does not take the average 5 year old two years to play A and E, like it did my 2 year old. When progress is made a little quicker then it puts everyone at ease and learning can go smoother.

Starting a 3 year old is stressful. After about 3 months of not seeing huge progress a parent may give up and say to himself "This teacher doesn't know how to teach, or My kid will never learn, this is not for him." What they are really saying, though, is "I don't have the persistence to do this now." That's ok. Come back at 5!

In the meantime, try a group music class, go to concerts, watch short YouTube videos of violinists, listen to classical music, find CDs that they like to sing along to.

My other suggestion is: Parents, why don't you take maybe 6 months of lessons first and then when your child is 5 and ready, you will be more equipped to work with them at home? I'm a parent and personally I would find it hard to justify taking classes in something myself when I have young children that I need to use that money on - for lessons, sports, camps, etc. However, if you consider YOUR lessons the beginning of your child's lessons, and that there can be a clear end in sight - set your goal of say, 4-8 months of private lessons yourself while your child comes and watches (or draws, or listens, etc), then it makes lessons for yourself worthy of your time and money. It also makes the transition to you being the practice parent at home so much easier now that you have a general knowledge and experience of how the violin works. Then you may understand how your child can find playing a forte up-bow is harder than a forte down-bow. You can relate to when a shoulder rest doesn't feel comfortable, or playing loud with the bow doesn't mean holding the violin tighter with the left hand.

It's not too much of a pain to rent a violin for yourself for a few months and practice yourself when your child is occupied. Your child sees you putting effort into something that gets shared with them. It's 100% worth it.

So if you have a child younger than 5 who wants lessons consider this suggestion. Parent lessons can't hurt!!

I have seen this happen in my studio before and there are great benefits! However it's important to note that parents who don't have any violin experience still do just fine as practice parents.