Each and every parent want to offer the best to their children. The more option your children have, the better. It is well known that music is a good way to increase many skills for a child: intelligence, focus, dedication… And violin is a prestigious and impressive instrument that has to be learned early. I have three children, and I have asked this question to myself many times.
How young to start violin lessons? Some people try to give lessons to children at the age of three. This is considered really early, maybe too early. Usually, 5 to 6 is a good age to start if your child can focus and is willing to. 7 and 8 years old is when most children start playing the violin because they gain maturity and know how to read. Some virtuoso even started later than that.
Although most teachers recommend starting learning the violin at the age of 7, many parameters differ from one situation to another, leading to failure in violin learning. Each child is different. Let’s see how we can determine when to start the violin and when to wait.
Can a 3 year old learn the violin?
I won’t say “it depends”… though it is a hard question to answer. In order to start the violin, a 3-year-old child needs to have certain qualities:
- coordination between body parts;
- calm attitude;
- imitate someone.
- A child, whether 3 or 4, has to be able to focus for a certain time to be able to learn the violin. Even if that focus can only last 5 minutes at a time, that can be enough, but it is necessary. A couple of 5 minutes sequences with play in-between can be a good start. Violin is a good way to start learning how to focus, anyway.
- Learning how to play the violin needs coordination in body gestures. If your child is not too small, and not a “baby” anymore, his gestures can be trained regularly to play the violin. His or her hand and arm size must be big enough to hold a violin of quarter size.
- A calm attitude is necessary; a child too nervous won’t be able or like to focus on something. There is a danger to throw away and break the violin. In any way, a child not ready to start the violin at 3 may be perfectly ready at 4!
- A young child doesn’t intellectualize things, he or she imitates. That is why there must be a role model around the child. A teacher once a week might not be enough at that age. A brother or sister to imitate or an adult is the best scenario. The 3-year-old child sees his or her parents and wants to do the same!
In any case, starting the violin at 3 is a way to give an early start and be less intimidated later when things get more serious.
2. My personal case
When I started learning the violin, general consensus at that time, where I lived, was to start when the child knew how to read and write. That is to say, from 6 to 7 years old usually. This appears to be a bit “old” by today’s standards. But it hasn’t prevented me from developing perfect pitch and a good ability to learn and play.
For my children, what did I do?
I tried to give violin lessons to my first boy at the age of 3. He was way too excited and full of energy to hold the violin and didn’t want to do anything with it. So I didn’t insist. He started to play the piano at the age of 5. He couldn’t touch the ground when seated at the piano at that time! He still plays though not professionally now.
My second boy was given a violin at around 5 and was quite gifted. He could replicate quite easily what I taught him. But he never wanted to play; he never pictured himself playing. He didn’t want to practice. And used to tell me, “What’s the point in doing the G string again? We had already done it yesterday”. He doesn’t play music anymore today.
My little girl is starting now, at the age of 6. I didn’t rush it this time. She is quite mature for her age and seems to enjoy learning the violin.
In my case, I would have loved to start earlier because I really wanted to be a violinist as soon as 5 or 6. So there is some lost time and opportunity there. I used to hold any object as if it was a violin and imitate Yehudi Menuhin!
3. What is the best age to start music lessons?
Ok, there is not a single answer. We have already discussed the case of a 3 year old child.
My best answer, all around and every thing considered is the age of 6 if you want a single answer.
Why? Because many things are developed quite enough at that age.
- Arm size and violin size: the young violinist will be able to use a violin of half to three-quarter size and get a decent sound out of it. Quarter-size violins are more difficult to use, to tune, and so on. Everything is so small that it can be difficult to get a sound out of it. Half-size violins are closer to regular violins and sound really better, which is encouraging for young children. It is closer to a musical instrument and less of a toy.
- Finger size: at the age of six, even smaller children have hands big enough to hold a violin and to put their fingers and press on the fingerboard.
- General attitude: children are used to going to school. They can stand for more than a few minutes now. They can focus for maybe half an hour at a time. And if they like learning music, they will happily be cooperative and learn with their teacher and parents’ help.
- Let’s not forget the music! At 6, a child can be interested in music, or at least like a couple of tunes where the violin plays a beautiful part. And maybe, though this can be passioning and debatable, a child can have a grasp on those things called Beauty and Art (let me use a capital letter!) 3 to 4 children are more plain imitating, 6 can develop already, maybe, a seed of personal and musical ability. Let’s plant that seed anyway: this is one of the best and more magical things a parent can accomplish in his life of education.
4. Is starting the violin at the age of 7 or 8 too late?
This time, the answer is easy: no.
The great Nathan Milstein started at the age of 7. Isaac Stern started the conservatory at the age of 8, but he had already had music lessons from his mother.
The violin is a difficult instrument. To play it well requires many qualities, and if one starts early enough, the violin can become like a mother tongue for the child. And 8 is not too late to develop such a close and innate relationship with the instrument.
Starting early gives more time for music: the earlier you start, the earlier difficulties and techniques are overcome. Then interpretation and music can be emphasized in the scholarship.
At 7 and 8, a child can leapfrog and learn really quickly as well. At the age of 11, with the added maturity and dedication, there can be little to no difference between the child that has started at 8 compared to 6.
And even for children who won’t “make it to the Chicago symphony orchestra,” there are so many benefits in learning the violin, whether at 6 or 8: focus, self-discipline, dedication, patience, social skills, ear and listening to others, art, and on and on. So, let the best violin virtuosi don’t discourage you from presenting a violin to your child.
You won’t make a world class virtuoso by handing a violin over to a 3 year old child, neither prevent he or she to have a brilliant career by giving lessons at the age of 8.
The road to violin mastery is long and patience is the most important element to success. It can be very good to learn the violin for many reasons if taught the good way as I have detailed in this blog post.
5. When did these violin legends start?
The case of several all-time virtuosi:
Jascha Heifetz and David Oistrakh started at the age of five, though the young Jascha was presented a violin at the age of 3!
Yehudi Menuhin started at the age of four.
In any case, the child’s response to the instrument was crucial in the decision to start taking lessons. The young Yehudi was so upset when given a toy violin when a small child that he broke it into pieces! He really expected a true instrument even at four years old…