Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Lessons-When to Start

 Written by Amy Tobin, violinist and manager of Fein Violins:

We have a busy violin shop, located directly with our window facing lovely Grand Avenue in St. Paul. It is a nice neighborhood, with many families living in the area and lots of wonderful walking space. Because of that, we tend to get a lot of walk in traffic. People who are specifically looking for an instrument, people who are exploring which instrument they would like to learn (violin, viola, or cello....it can be a tough decision!), and people who are just walking by and are curious about the shop.

It is no surprise, then, that we get many parents with young children who come in to take a look around. And when they do, there is one question which reigns supreme in the list of questions that we get asked; "When should I start my child on violin (or viola, or cello) lessons?"

Now, the short answer to that question is
'as soon as they are able to hold the instrument!' However, there is more to take into consideration that just the physical ability to do that.

I am of the opinion that it is never too early to start if a child has shown an interest in learning said instrument. Once the curiosity is there, it is best to catch that proverbial train before it leaves the station. Children are sponges, and their attention can be diverted to something else very quickly if a sudden interest in something is not nurtured or encouraged in some way.

Now, I am certainly not suggesting that you must take your 3 year old, who has just said "Mommy! I want violin lessons!" and put them into one hour per week private lessons, practicing several hours a day (although Tiger Mother might disagree with me there!). However, there are several avenues that can be taken.

One thing that is extremely helpful is if a child can hold their attention and focus for a short while. And by short, I'm really talking about 10 minutes or so at any age under 7! Once a child enters school (especially around first grade), they are more accustomed to paying attention to a teacher for longer periods of time, but before that, be aware that a 15 minute lesson, with about half of that being good, solid instruction, is what you will probably be aiming for. The thing is to nurture the interest and the love of music, not to create the next Yo Yo Ma or Anne Akiko Meyers in a few short years (although that would be nice, too!).

Now, many people will ask if they have somehow missed the boat or done a disservice to their children if they haven't started lessons until later. Definitely not. The real beauty of music is that it can be undertaken at any time! In fact, I have many beginning violin students who are not only pre-teens and teenagers, but also well into their fifties and sixties! There is an interesting observation that I have made with children who have started music lessons at a very young age, and those who have started a bit later. At some point, unless there is some extenuating circumstance (a child who is particularly dedicated at an earlier age, for instance), both the early and later beginner will, at some point, be even with each other. When a child is very young, much of the time will be spent learning the coordinated movements and motions of playing, while an older child will need less time to master these things.

Of course, even though you will need to wait to start instrument lessons until the child can at least hold the instrument safely and securely, it is never too early to expose them to music of all forms. Classical music can be very soothing to young children, and more popular music can get everybody up and moving together! The love of music will come if there is music around.

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