What is the Best Age to Start Learning Violin?

I’ve been thinking about early education a lot recently. That’s not surprising really – it’s what I have worked in for several decades, but it strikes me that whenever I hear or read about it, the focus is invariably on problems rather than successes.Ted at the keyboard

Most learning problems are reported to show up around school year 3, not a stage I consider early. Curiously, many of them have d-labels: disability, dysfunction, dyslexia, dyscalculia and dysgraphia. Then there’s difficulty, deficiency, deficit, delay and eventually of course, disorder. Schools, or more specifically school teachers, have the job of working with the problems, but diagnosing and defining is the job of neurologists, psychologists and doctors. And there’s plenty of disorders to choose from in the new DSM 5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders).

What are these d-problems? In my experience, many child psychologists and educationists have their attention in the wrong place, or to be more precise, the wrong time. What really interests me is much earlier education, i.e. the learning children do at home before starting school. Many of these learning problems can be avoided entirely by earlier education at home.  If your child can read and write before starting school, they will have a permanent advantage throughout their school years. I did.

In the West especially, there is a widespread belief that education is entirely the job of schools. Parents are encouraged to leave the responsibility for teaching their children to read, write and calculate to the teachers. But it is a selective belief. Parents teach their own children to speak with stunning success. We’re pretty good at teaching daily life skills too: how to get dressed, keep clean, avoid dangers, eat healthily etc.

Why are parents less confident about teaching literacy and numeracy? One reason perhaps is that writing, unlike spoken language, is a relatively recent human development, appearing around 5,000 years ago. Some smaller, isolated cultures still don’t have it. Writing doesn’t come as naturally as speaking, which we have been doing for more like 600,000 years. Therefore – just like mathematics – we must learn and memorise written language more consciously and methodically to become adept. The benefits are immense: it is a cornerstone of living in modern society.

It is quite easy to teach your child read well and love reading before they go to school.

The key is to do it every day.  Because teaching children to speak correctly is so straightforward, it’s easy give up too quickly with skills like reading, writing, maths and music. Busy working parents find it hard to be so consistent. We rationalize that only some children are born with special stuff called talent. We believe it requires excessive (or obsessive) discipline, whereas dedicated friendly interaction with our children is much more successful – and enjoyable.

We all love a good story. Reading myths, fairy stories, fiction, a good storyteller captures our imagination and singular attention – creating the natural conditions for learning. Reading a story to your child every night is a simple way to teach them. Sit together so they can see the words as you speak. Read the same stories each night and they will memorize the words and soon ‘read’ out loud some parts. Point to the words as you both speak. Do it every day without fail and I might add, without pressure. We don’t need to make a child listen to a good story!

Working-together

Ok, you can see where I am going with all this: teaching and learning violin for very young students.

Before I studied in Japan, I was somewhat reluctant to take on very young students. It seemed that 5 or 6 year old children were easier to teach. Suzuki taught me about the vital role of parents and how to construct the best environment for learning. I began to work more closely with parents and teach younger students.

Now I determine whether a child is ready to begin violin by interviewing the mother and father. Can they happily work with their child? Do they have enough time each day for two sessions of practice and learning? Will they give up after the first flush of enthusiasm? Do they commit to attending weekly group classes as well as lessons? Can they understand about creating a musical environment – what my partner Allie calls The Invisibleto foster the growth of real ability?

So what is the best age to begin violin? It is when the parents are ready.

Thanks for coming to Teach Suzuki Violin!

Cheers, John

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