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I just got a request from a mom who would like me to start teaching her five-year-old violin, and I really need some help. I've been teaching piano and violin for three years now, but I've never actually started someone on the violin when they had no previous musical background. I know most of the sites I've been looking at say to play games with them and be silly, but that is something I am really terrible at! Whenever I try to make a kid laugh they look at me like I'm from Mars. Also, I am always worrying about whether the parent will think I'm wasting time by having their kid play games and repeat basic concepts again and again.
Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated!

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    c.f. music.stackexchange.com/questions/12687/… (piano based, but possibly relevant). – Dave Jan 8 '15 at 21:30
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    First, you’ll need a five-year-old violin. . . . (Just kidding. Great question!) – Bradd Szonye Jan 8 '15 at 22:44
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    Get training in the Suzuki method. They teach you how to do music with children as young as three year old. – Neil Meyer Jan 9 '15 at 11:53
  • I would definitely suggest starting the child off on the piano. I know their end goal is violin, but without even having basic music down, it's going to be hard to teach the child about correct pitch etc. I would highly suggest that you convince the parent to let the child take a few piano lessons first. Then after that basic bowed string instrument training: focus a lot on their bowing technique. Open strings for a while until they get the bowing down. I'd also suggest using tape to mark positions for the first few months. – MrTheBard Jan 9 '15 at 17:17
  • MrTheBard - no, you can start perfectly well without piano, and Suzuki method is an excellent way. If you want to play piano, learn piano. If you want to play violin, learn violin. Doing it CCNY other way can actually slow learning. Bring in other instruments later. – Doktor Mayhem Jan 9 '15 at 23:03
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I’m a player, not a teacher, but the topic of how to teach young children comes up fairly often on the discussion boards at www.violinist.com. I’d suggest searching for ‘Teaching young children’, and ‘5 year old’. Some of the high points that come up repeatedly:

Don’t expect the child to concentrate for more than 5-15 minutes. Some kids will be on the low end, some on the high end of that. That means you need to have lots of little activities you can do.

Playing games doesn’t mean pulling out a deck of cards. Instead, make up little games to teach and practice concepts like what a note is, or how to hold the instrument and the bow. Suzuki method websites would probably have some suggestions, since it is a violin teaching method intended to start kids in music when they are very young.

Keep in mind the kid is young, has a short attention span, and really doesn’t have background knowledge. Be patient, and be willing to ask for advice, both from other music teachers, and any people who work with young kids. If you know any pre-school or kindergarten parents or teachers, talk to them about handling kids that age, and maybe see if you can spend time with the kids to see how they act.

Don’t worry about being silly or making the kid laugh.

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    Note that really young Suzuki violin students start out with a thin box (with a ruler attached for the neck) in place of an actual violin, and with a wooden dowel in place of a bow, in order to practice their holding, standing, bowing and so forth without putting an actual instrument at risk of major damage. That's how my local Suzuki teacher did it back in the late 70's, anyway. Gives the kiddos a chance to learn & demonstrate respect for the instrument, flush out all their air guitar fantasies, etc. A couple weeks and the kid graduates to a real violin, which is a real treat for them. – mlibby Jan 11 '16 at 19:25
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I'll take a stab at adding a bit of information here. I am not trying to talk down to you, just sort of rehashing my thoughts in general, so this will likely include things you already know. I have taught that age before, but I am by no means a seasoned teacher, and any number of statements may be wrong. This is a long post, and not meant to induce stress. It's mostly just a stream of consciousness.

First off, just to note, since it was mentioned in a comment, 'correct pitch' on a piano is not exactly the same as 'correct pitch' on a violin, which can play harmonics - although only very good players with very precise instruments can achieve 'correct pitch' on a violin anyway, hence why you see so many microtonal pieces for viola or cello. I think a child can learn to understand Western pitch without a piano, just by listening. A keyboard is definitely the instrument of choice for learning theory, though, which will help them understand intervals, reading music, scales, arpeggios, and etudes eventually, and therefore have better pitch.

For the age of 5, yes, the attention span will probably direct the course of things. I wish I had better advice on this point. I would try to be very good about being prepared for the lesson and communicating (not that I always have been), as this will show the parent and the child that you care, and they will hopefully reciprocate. Try to understand what the parents' expectations are, since you are doing a job for them. If you have different expectations, stress or confusion may result. If musical advancement is the primary goal, then you will want a good space in which to teach, and the student will need to bring everything they need every lesson without fail. The setting can greatly affect things, and if the child does not come with a bow, the lesson is just daycare.

If the parent is in the next room, the child may run back and forth; it may actually be better for the parent to go get a coffee someplace. I would keep the lessons short but weekly. Things otherwise can slip into the holiday zone: Halloween, Veteran's Day, Thanksgiving, School break, Christmas, New Year's, long weekend, sorry, no lessons for a couple months. If you are too lax, the communication can break down, and guess who is likely to get blamed when the parent finally realizes lessons aren't happening regularly enough?

Mostly I would try to keep the child from using bad habits, while being positive. Playing the violin is an unnatural act, no matter how natural it feels to you now. Chances are the parent and the child will be wanting to hear the student playing new songs, but, as far as future playing goes, developing good technique is more effective training than learning 'Go Tell Aunt Rodie'. When a player gets into bad habits, it is good if they have the tools they need to pull themselves out.

They at least need to be able to play with smooth, flat, straight bow perpendicular to the strings, pinky balanced around the bow screw, index finger joint around the pad, their neck firmly holding up the violin. I consider these properties pretty well universal to playing a string instrument on the shoulder; they do not depend on any notion of pitch. Getting the bow elbow into a decent position will help with bow extension. Many teachers start with stance, as you probably should, but holding still will probably not happen long with a 5-year-old. It is important, though, for developing a sense of balance and support, which helps with developing a kinesthetic sensitivity, such as in yoga training. I would not consider it essential, though. And putting the child in a straight jacket won't be much fun for either of you, and may lead to worse technique.

On the neck, the second finger should be placed in the correct position. The thumb should be lowered and the fingers curled, the wrist straight, and the elbow relaxed. These are not universally employed by string players the world over, but they are pretty basic for playing Western art music.

Very important is getting him/her to listen to themself carefully. Listening carefully is essential to good playing, by oneself or with others. Be playful, but somehow get this idea across. Kids are awesome, they can hear things in simple tunes that we have lost the ability to be impressed by. They will practice and memorize something we have a hard time even noticing. They will try to play it as fast as they can and come in with a big grin to impress you. They will remember details given as a story to a degree we can't fathom.

Even if the child picks up another activity or instrument in place of violin lessons, to my mind it is no big deal. You want them to keep coming back to music for a lifetime, but with an understanding of what is involved. You want to develop a good relationship with the family involved.

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I am teaching a 4 year old how to play the violin - - - First off - - - I start by teaching the parts of the violin - - - I also take coloring pages of violins off the internet for her to color - - - Coordination is a big thing when teaching a child that age to play - - - they need to be able to stack blocks with LEFT hand only then RIGHT hand only and this helps with coordination - - - 10 to 15 minutes is a long enough lesson because a child that young has a short extension span - - - I start with the first note on the E string which is F - - - I put a small smiley face on the neck of violin where the first finger goes and of course I let her pick out the color of the smiley face she wants - - - - patience is very much needed by teacher!! Teaching how to BOW and helping her to hold the BOW - - - I start by teaching her how to make a Bow Bunny with her fingers so she can hold the BOW - - - Be creative -- - it takes that for a child that young- - - hope this helps.

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My six year old son has been learning the violin for half a year now. I went and created a couple of flash cards for him:

violin flash cards

I just printed this on somewhat sturdy stock and cut it out. He enjoys playing a few minutes of "which note is this?", "which string do you play it on?", "how do you hold your fingers?" now and then.

As others have written, young kids don't have a long attention span, so it makes sense to switch tasks often enough so they don't get bored. We will usually practice a few pieces for a few minutes, then pull out the cards and do a few of these, then practice something else.

Similarly, don't strive for perfection in a piece. Kids will quickly lose interest. Once they have more-or-less mastered a piece, it seems better to move on to a different one. Quantity over quality. Better to practice five pieces twice each than a single piece ten times, at this age.

Finally, a very down-to-earth point: young kids are far weaker than older ones at this age, so even smaller violins will tire them quicker than larger violins would tire a ten-year-old, say. Have them take the instrument down and relax frequently. (Which also livens things up, as per above - and allows you to playfully practice setting up your stance again.)

protected by Matthew Read Jun 5 '16 at 6:38

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