Jan 13, 2011

Violin for Toddlers

First of all, is the violin for toddlers? A few years ago if you had told me that I would start my boy out on the violin while he was two, I probably wouldn't have believed it. But that was a few years ago. As I have studied early childhood development from authors such as Maria Montessori, Glenn Doman, and Sidney Ledson, however, I have adopted a different philosophy, one of creating a learning environment for my children. When I read "Nurtured with Love" by Shinichi Suzuki a year ago, I knew that I wanted the violin to be a part of my children's education.

What is Suzuki?

This was a question I had to ask myself and search out on my own to answer. Growing up there were many musicians whom I admired that wanted nothing to do with it, and openly admitted that they secretly cringe when they find out a new student was trained in the Suzuki method since many of them can't read music. Note to self: no Suzuki for my children. But then Glen Doman praised Suzuki and his methods in his books, and I recalled that I knew some VERY talented musicians who trained in Suzuki. Some of the best musicians on campus in college, where I was a music major, had their start with Suzuki. Suzuki can start children out very young, and having a diabolical plan to turn my children into the next Trapp Family Singers (mwahaha!), I decided to give Suzuki the benefit of a doubt and read his book.
The method, especially at first, relies a lot on the ear. I think a lot of the reason students fail with this method is because this method relies a LOT on parental involvement, with the mother taking lessons with her child and they learn the instrument together. It also involves creating an environment that encourages musical growth. Just as all Japanese children learn to speak Japanese, this approach teaches much by the environment of the child. I have decided that this is something I want to do with my own children, in conjunction with note reading via the Kodaly method, which can also start in the toddler years.

If you give a toddler a violin…

If you give a toddler a violin, a dump truck, a spoon, your cell phone, or any other item, be aware that to your child it will be a toy! It will be so tempting to tell your child to be more careful, to become tense and raise your voice as you see them continually drop their instrument, climb couches with it, drag it across the floor, and many other unspeakable horrors to a fine instrument you have invested in for your child. It makes no difference to a two year old. To them, it is a beautiful instrument just their size made just for them. It is a toy. Violins are not made of porcelain, they are made of wood. They are not terribly expensive to repair. If you are not prepared to allow your child to play with their violin (within reason! I drew the line when he hit his little sister with the bow…), then wait a few years. Peter's violin has survived a full week, and he has really grown to love it. We took a risk and bought our 1/32 violin on e-bay and we were very pleased with the results.

Preparing the Environment

To prepare Peter to be excited about his gift, I began pulling my violin out of its case and actually started practicing again. If you don't have a violin and have never played, that is okay, get one now and start learning. If you do not show a vested interest in the violin, your child probably will not either. I also bought the Suzuki 1 CD and started playing it, and playing with it. Sadly, my intonation is not what it was when I was in high school, and the CD has really helped me correct that. I am sold on the CD. Even if it was a bit pricey, it is music played beautifully, and it is fun to play with the CD. I did this regularly for about a month before we gave Peter his special gift. Now we play the CD together and march around the room to the "Twinkle, Twinkle" variations.
I am also very grateful to track 18, which says "Please tune your violin to the following tone." It is only because of this track that Peter will surrender his instrument long enough for me to tune it. "No, Mommy. It’s MY violin." Yes, Peter, it is indeed yours. In spite of some of the less-than-gentle treatment it receives, Peter is very careful and gentle with it his instrument when he puts it in it's case. It is so endearing to see my little boy love his gift so much.
In light of preparing the environment, I found an article about finger games for the violin for toddlers which may be helpful.

Sizing the instrument for your child


This is a picture of my full sized violin next to Peters. It looks so tiny, but in his hands it is easy to see that it is just the right size. Getting the right size is crucial to your child's enjoyment of the violin, and is fairly simple to do. Simply place the violin under your child's chin and see if they can comfortably curve their fingers around the scroll. The right size for your child is the largest size with which they can comfortably do this. We tried a 1/16 at our local music store and it was too large for Peter so we knew that we wanted a 1/32. We would have had to ask the store to special order it for him, or we could order one ourselves. If children are given a violin which is too large for them, it can be very uncomfortable to play, and being forced to play it could even turn them off to playing the violin forever. It is not worth it. But giving them the right tool for the right job with the right environment with proper encouragement is bound to bring good results, and a positive experience for your family.

12 comments:

Tamsyn Spackman said...

Comment from last website:
Just read your Violin for toddlers article and am so excited that I found it! Our daughter is a huge music fan at the age of 3 and we have been looking to get her a Violin - the toy ones just don't cut it. It's even to the point that she pertends to play the Violin with a stuffed guitar & marker (I have an image here: http://brianpalmerphotography.blogspot.com/2010/01/365-project-day-130.html). So thank you for all the tips I will take them all into consideration going foward.

Rachael said...

Peter is so cute! I love that you are doing this with him. He'll be a pro in no time.

McGee Family said...

This site is amazing! I love, love, love it!! I can't wait to dig in even more. So far, so good. I just enjoyed seeing peter at 27 months. That is Lia's age right now. Their lives are so parallel! I am working on a similar blog. It isn't as informative as your site. It is more like my own mind map to keep me on track with the things I am doing with my babies. I loved coming here today. You remain to be a great inspiration to me. I'll get you my site when it is "more ready." It is also the place I am going to be documenting your book.

Ashly said...

http://howtoraiseroyalty.blogspot.com/

Kendra said...

Love this post. I wish I hadn't have sold my violin now that my daughter is playing. She loves it. We love Suzuki!!

Tamsyn Spackman said...

Thanks everyone! This was a year ago and we are still in the violin as a toy stage, but he still loves it. I need to dig into it again. :o)

platypus said...

Hi,
I came across your blog when I started searching for violins for toddlers. My 2 1/2 year old picked up his toy guitar and a stick and started playing with it like a violin. So I think it could be fun to learn together.
I found a couple for sale, 1/8, 1/4 and 1/2 sizes. Which is good for a toddler?

Tamsyn Spackman said...

Hello platypus. It really depends on the size of your child, and I can't tell you for sure for the same reason that I can't recommend a shoe size for your child. We got our 2 year old a 1/32. I would definitely stay away from the 1/2 sized. I got a 1/2 sized violin when I was 8 and it was too big for me. The way to tell if the violin is the right size is to put their chin on the chin rest and see if they can comfortably stretch their arm around the scroll. A local music store may have violins for sale where you can try out the different sizes. If the 1/8 violin is too big for your child, I would recommend buying a smaller one online or waiting until your child is older. It physically hurts to play an instrument that is too big for you. Good luck!

Ashleigh said...

Hi, I just came across your article while googling. I am considering getting my preschoolers violins, but I don't know which brands are okay to order online. Do you have any insight on this?

Jenny Johnson said...

Hello, I am a Suzuki violin teacher and parent to two two year olds, we have a 1/64th stentor violin and they are just growing out of this to a 1/32nd size.

Andrew said...

you'll not use this method fairly often, however will apply it as a bowed stringed instrument extended technique that's excellent for music like his and plenty of different composers within the up to date era.

Jims linda said...

The bow of the violin is a narrow, slightly incurved stick of Pernambuco about 75 cm long, with a band of horsehair stretched from end to end of the bowstick. check this out

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