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Master Hand Violin Shop

  • 546 S Main W Street
  • Broadway, VA 22815
  • 630/ 292-2641

    Store Hours

  • By Appointment Only
  • Owner

    Elizabeth Ecklund

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    Parenting 101: When to Introduce a String Instrument

    By Diane Bruce

    Since Mozart began his incredibly successful career by playing the piano at age three, your child should start playing then too, right? Wrong. Mozart was totally abnormal; he couldn't help teaching himself to play, and he was practically nuts. You might be concerned that if your child begins later than three, then your child will never achieve as Mozart did. This concern is actually probably valid; but at least your child will not be nuts. And if you really do have the next Mozart, he will find a way to achieve in spite of not getting formal lessons. No, in our experience, your average precocious child will be much better off learning to play a stringed instrument at an age when he or she can first comfortably read (around six years or so) or probably much later. Don't believe me? If knowing that violinist Gil Shaham began playing at age seven, and violinist Pinchas Zuckerman began playing at age eight, is not enough, consider that it makes logical sense to begin no earlier than six.

    If you are tempted to begin lessons for your child at age three, you must remember that no matter when you begin, the violin (or viola, cello, or bass) is very hard. Reading notes is challenging and frustrating. Concentrating to practice is boring. Holding an instrument can be uncomfortable, painful, and exhausting. Your child will learn within 10 minutes that he doesn't like practicing. Enforcing practicing for lessons will be taxing for you, the adult. If you can hold off lessons until your child can read words and concentrate well, reading notes may come more easily than for a younger child. If you wait until your child is well coordinated, learning to hold the instrument and bow may be less tedious. If you want to start your child as young as six, your child should show unprompted interest in learning the instrument. Whenever a child personally decides to play, the endeavor is usually much more successful, as there is less of a battle of wills over practicing.

    If starting at age six seems too early for your child or your pocket book, it is not a problem if you want to wait until age nine or ten to begin lessons. At age nine or ten, your child can easily make up the learning gap with the increased stamina for practing, improved coordination, and greater cognitive skills that come with age. At nine or ten, children also feel more of a sense of ownership of playing an instrument; they are more likely to practice somewhat willingly. The only real deadline for beginning is puberty; as long as you begin before puberty, your wrists are flexible enough to hold an instrument and your brain is elastic enough to learn pitches.

    So if your child is three, what do we recommend? At this age, your goal should be to make music fun! (Remember, music will stop being fun once lessons start, and you need something to carry you through!). Kindermusic and the like are great "fun" music exposure programs, as are child focused performances. Many orchestras give kid-friendly concerts during the day from time to time over the course of the year. At home, you can play both child-focused and classical music, which should help encourage and familiarize your child with music. If you play an instrument, your child would enjoy live concerts right in the house. When your child does eventually pick up an instrument, you want him to believe he chose to play the instrument because he likes it and wants to play, not because you are forcing him.

    Of course, you are the parent, and it is up to you to decide when to start your child. If you really want to start your child on lessons at age three, we will rent you a tiny instrument and wish you well and happy practicing. Hopefully (?) you really have the next Mozart in your care. If you want the odds in your favor that your child will successfully learn how to enjoy playing an instrument without being burned out, we recommend you wait until your child is a little more mature, at age six or greater. Playing an instrument is hard work, and you want to give your child the best chance of success.

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