Tong Keat has an M.A. in Violin Performance from MTSU, TN. He is the founder of Just Violin—a free resources site for violinists.
Children: It is Never too Late or too Early
Children can start to learn the violin as young as 3 – 4 years old. Shinichi Suzuki, widely known for his teaching method, believed that this is the time when they are very receptive to learning. The most effective way of learning at this stage is through listening, imitating, and repeating (exactly how they learned to speak!). Experienced teachers who are used to teaching young children know that the conventional method of learning through reading and writing does not necessarily work well for pre-school children. Hence, some parents might have the misconception that their children are too young to begin music lessons.
If you are a parent of a child currently taking music lessons, bear in mind that this is a long-term commitment. Your child is not going to show impressive progress week in, week out. There will be ups and downs, and the child will need to learn to persevere through the tougher times. Parents will need to be supportive, patient, and strict at the same time. To quit learning when faced with difficulties is not a good idea, we should instead use these opportunities to build stronger character in the child. Besides that, all of the years spent in music education will yield its benefits as the child grows up.
Tips for Parents:
- Communicate often with the music teacher.
- Work closely with the teacher and help to supervise the child's practice routine.
- See the bigger picture. Music learning is a long-term process.
Teenager: Teenage Rebellion? Not a Problem!
If you are like most parents, you will know that getting your teenage children to do things that they do not want will only put both sides in a never-ending game of tug-of-war. Some parents get very anxious in dealing with their teenage children. However, from a music teacher's perspective, most teenagers who voluntarily signed up for music lessons showed great determination. Often time, they are interested in the opportunity to play in an orchestra. Peer influences can play a significant role, as well.
Self-motivated teenagers can learn and progress very quickly. It is more effective for teachers to explain to their teenage students the purpose of working on each exercise, and the details behind each piece of music. They will work harder when they see that there is a clear direction to where they are heading. While teenagers can be eager to learn, they are also vulnerable to physical injuries from excessive practice in the wrong manner (i.e., bad posture). Most teenagers tend not to communicate their discomfort compared to the younger students.
There is a saying that teenagers who picked up a highly demanding instrument like the violin or the piano, started too late, and will face enormous obstacles reaching the level of a professional musician. While we see many great musicians began to play their instruments at an early age, this should not be a concern to anyone. First of all, the purpose of learning music is not that we become the best musicians in the world. Instead, aim to be the best that you can be. Play everything to the best of your ability. That is the true spirit of a real artist. On top of that, your skills on the instrument have nothing to do with how young or old you started playing.
Tips for Parents & Teenage Students:
- There is no such thing as the best teacher, find one that works effectively for you.
- Be as mindful as possible when playing the instrument, pay attention to your posture and physical movements as well as the musical details.
Adult: Never Stop Learning Because Life Never Stops Teaching
There can be various reasons for an adult to pick up a new instrument, re-learn what they have learned as a child, or to move forward from their current levels. Being able to learn continuously should be celebrated as the greatest joy of life!
Most adult students are stymied by a strong self-awareness of their own limitations. While young children have no problem bulldozing through a piece of music even when it sounds awful, the fear of being judged in adult students often prevents them from pushing their limits.
For adult students who want to improve, it is crucial to keep an open mind and to trust your instructor. Like the age-old saying “Empty your glass so that it can be filled,” sometimes the mature mind in adult tend to overthink simple instructions and make it more difficult than it is. Adult students can deal very well with complicated concepts, but may also find it hard to “unlearn” some bad habits. One of the best ways for an adult student to improve is to record and listen to your own practice, and from there, set realistic goals and keep track of your progress.
Tips for adult students:
- Lay out an organized practice plan, identify what to achieve in each session.
- Be involved in music-related events to stay inspired.
© 2017 Goh Tong Keat
Louise Powles from Norfolk, England on July 14, 2017:
I love the sound of the violin. I wish I had learned to play the piano when I was younger.