I've been a multi-instrumentalist for most of my 40+ years, and with violin as my first instrument, I take for granted an acute sense of relative pitch.

My seven-year-old daughter's school has recently offered basic music aptitude tests to pupils in her year, with a view to starting a limited number on violin or cello. She's interested in the violin lessons, so we sat at the piano last night and I tried to give her some idea of what she might expect in the test, getting her to clap rhythms, spot the differences in short melodies and so on. By and large she did well, but I was surprised by how much trouble she had with pitch perception.

I tested her as I remember being tested, by playing two notes in succession at the piano, and asking if the second was higher or lower than the first. She has a clear understanding of this concept, and she comfortably got the first few. I gradually moved the intervals closer together. At intervals of a fourth or greater, she found it easy. At a minor third, she was ok but slipped up a couple of times. Tones and semitones she really struggled with, although she could generally hear when there was a difference.

Naturally I wouldn't expect her to be able to identify small fractions of a semitone, but I was surprised that whole tones gave her difficulty, despite the fact that she can sing reasonably well in tune.

So, what level of pitch interval perception is typically necessary for a child to be considered to have some aptitude for violin study?

  • To clarify your question, do you wish to know what we, personally, consider necessary pitch perception for a child to start playing, or are you interested in knowing what is usually required for such aptitude tests? – Some Math Student Sep 2 '16 at 16:10
  • I welcome any contributions, but am particularly interested in any formal guidelines or informal concensus among teachers or others responsible for administering these types of test. – Bacs Sep 2 '16 at 16:51
  • No idea, but I wanted to chime in that when I was your child's age, I would have tested identically. I was started on piano, so I never had to develop my pitch sensitivity as a youngster. But I wanted very badly to study other instruments which demanded pitch sensitivity – especially voice – and only got to as a teen; so I only started cultivating my pitch sensitivity as a young adult. I often wonder if I had been started as a child on something like violin if I would have learned better pitch discrimination – or if I would have washed out of music entirely in frustration and despair. – Codeswitcher Sep 4 '16 at 23:59
  • So do write back in 20 years and let us know how it turned out! :) – Codeswitcher Sep 5 '16 at 0:00

My experience as a teacher of violin is that the ability to recognize pitch differences is not important when considering one's aptitude for playing violin. Training the ear is as much a skill as learning to physically play the instrument and will improve with time and work.

A child's ability to distinguish between pitches is being trained even from inside the womb. Their ability at any point in time is the sum of what their experience and education in ear training has given them up to that point. It can always be improved. This is true even for adults!

If your daughter desires to play violin I would encourage her to do so. I have found that it is not the students with the greatest natural ability at violin that usually succeed, but those with the greatest desire to work hard and achieve success that do the best.


I can't really talk much about any formal guidelines or so, because I don't have much experience regarding those, nevermind that they can be very different depending where you are.

Personally, however, I wouldn't put too much emphasis on such a test. Precise hearing is something you need to learn and develop, not something innate you either have or have not. True, it comes more easily to some, but that's all there is to it.

I think it would be far more important to know whether your daughter likes the sound of the violin. Is fascinated by it. Is willing to experiment, and practise until the sound comes out the way she wants it to. The key word might be fascination here, playing the violin is something she really needs to want to do, and to be eager enough to put in the effort necessary. (Not to say she always, at any point in time, needs to be motivated to practise. Just, she needs to like it.) If so, the rest will come naturally. If not, then maybe the violin isn't the right instrument anyway. But that might be found out only after she has tried learning for a while.

So, to sum it up, if you have a possibility to get your daughter violin lessons, go for it! You cannot guarantee whether it will work out or not, but if it does it is an absolutely wonderful instrument for her to learn.

(Also, on a side note, I'm not sure if this kind of test is the best indicator. When playing the violin, you need to be able to imagine a tone very vividly and accurately. And unless the issue is that your daughter does not hear that two notes a third apart are different at all, she is, in regards to violin playing, mostly fine. Sure, she'll have to know in what way to correct her intonation at some point, but that's gained through experimentation and practise. I'd be way more in favour of something like playing the kids a melody and asking them to sing it, or maybe give a couple versions and ask which is best. Just off the hat, there are likely much better options out there.)


(May I ask what country this is?)

To answer your question more generally, I personally don't see that it makes any difference! True, a child with a higher "score" on this "test" may have a brighter future in music, but that doesn't mean that a child with a lower "score" can't have as bright as a future.

It seems to me that there are too many variables in something like this to really give a clear indicator of what the future holds. If your child is interested in violin lessons, then start her on violin lessons. Full stop!


Some schools do run aptitude tests for learning musical instruments, but the majority seem to do so only because there is greater demand than resources for that particular instrument.

If your child wants to try an instrument and you have the opportunity to do it, just do it. They may love it. They may hate it. They may quit and take it back up later in life. They may be average. They may be amazing.

But if they don't try, they will never know...

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