(Picture above Hilary Hahn, who plays the violin for Suzuki book 1; the piano was played by Natalie Chen)
My younger one started the Suzuki violin lesson recently. I heard about the Suzuki violin lesson a long time ago (more than 10 years ago), when my older one was little. But we didn’t pick violin lessons for her. Like many Chinese parents, we picked piano lessons. We started piano lessons for our younger one a few years ago as well, and kept it through the pandemic (for the most part, the main exception is the shutdown period between March 2020 and May 2020).
Choose the Right Teacher
I picked the violin teacher after doing some research. Mainly following friends and my own gut feeling. Now looking back I feel I am a bit lucky: I think this Suzuki method is probably the way to go here. Note this is the 1st Suzuki violin book – Suzuki Violin School, Vol 1: Violin Part. The book no longer has an attached CD, I believe. So I went to the Apple iTunes store to get the music and searching “Suzuki violin book 1” seems to bring me the wrong music for the book. It brings up Takako Nishizaki’s Suzuki Evergreens and you bet I bought it. It took me to a while to find out the one album matching the book (again it should look something like the photo at the top).
Our younger daughter recently passed the twinkle test. It’s the first level of the test, I would not discount it though. The teacher said the average time to pass it is a bit over one year (I should add the average kid’s age to start violin lesson is probably much younger than our 9 year old too). The start age for kids to learn something is interesting. I think in general, it gets easier for a kid to learn something when he/she gets older, another good example is swimming. But at the same time, if we start something on a kid too late, most likely he/she will do okay but not able to complete in today’s competitive world – that’s the dilemma. I know some kids who have potential to play soccer in college or in the national team down the road, and they worked real hard from a very young age, and the parents are shuttling them to practice/games like a full time job. Similar for mind sports such as Chess. So in other words, we should not just looked at how well a kid did on something, we also should look at how many miles the parent put on her car, or his frequent flyer miles 🙂
Back to the topic: the violin lesson. As I was the parent who drove her to class, as well as help her practice in the early days. I do the bow for her as she was not ready to use the bow yet (the teacher doesn’t want her to build bad habit). She is on her 2nd and 3rd song now. The music (violin) thing seems hard to me for two reasons:
- The master of the music, reading notes etc.
- The coordination and movement of two hands, in the case of violin, one hand (fingers) need to move and push down the strings, while the other one does the bow. The “bow” part is actually hard, as it was not natural, as I saw from one YouTube video a while ago. Took a while for Sophia to get familiar to it.
To overcome this, I think her violin teacher did a few things right.
- He has a spreadsheet-like worksheet for the kid, this way the kid could mark every day’s practice. Talking about the organization.
- Rigors with a sense of humor. I think most American-born kids or parents in America can sympathize, maybe I can extrapolate it to the world too, basically, nobody would like to be criticized. In the piano teachers/kids community, I heard horrendous stories such as the teacher would scold the parents if the kids didn’t do the work or practice.
- Group lessons and encouragement to the kids to participate in an ensemble (namely, the SE and higher at CMS at Webster U). We just started the group lesson. I think this will be quite helpful as kids like to learn in a social environment too.
- Use of computer and modern tech. I think the teacher is probably about 70 years old. He was previously a music teacher at Kirkwood and a violin teacher at CMS (Webster U). He does email communication, word doc, Zoom etc. very well – which is probably standout among his peers. He also encourages me to take video on iPhone for Sophia to learn at home, for music and posture, and hand (finger) gesture.
In our school district the kids have the options to learn violin at 4th grade. I understand some other school districts offer that too. Our main motivation for Sophia is to have some confidence when the violin lesson starts this school year, and she may have a bit “1st mover advantage”. I know at least one other kid at her grade does violin too (already). Again this is mostly help our younger daughter to find her niche (or calling), something she can feel good about (after doing some work). We have absolutely no expectation for her to play professionally down the road. We respect all the professional musicians. But we know that’s not easy and it’s not for everyone. In fact, the step daughter of Sophia’s teacher is a pro, and she plays for SLSO. The teacher said she played 4 hours a day when she was young, and we saw her video when she was 8 and she looked already like a pro (being 8 years old).
Learning music in general (kids version)
We started piano lesson for our older daughter when she was in kindergarten (she was 5 and a half). She had a pretty rigorous teacher to start. After a while, things became harder for her and she kinda slacked off. And we also stepped back too as we don’t want to be berated by the teacher when our daughter didn’t do her work. Later we switch her to an easier piano teacher. She did other things such as SLCCSing (St. Louis Children’s Choirs), from 1st grade until 7th. This coming year we planned to have her take a break on choir. She started percussion 2 years ago when she was in the 6th grade (middle school), and we will continue her on that. She seems like music in general, as a hobby and a relaxation tool. She sings and occasionally plays ukuleles at home, and sometimes plays piano too now that she doesn’t have piano lessons (more or more willingly compared to the days she has the piano lessons). She doesn’t have plan to major in music so far, but may consider it as a minor in college. She is not talented in piano as some other Chinese kids. She only won one medal from piano (the sonatina thing when she was 6 or 7, at the Lindenwood U).
For our younger daughter we were more laid back, also due to the pandemic, we started her on piano with the “nicer” teacher. And she did the chorus at her school in last school year. And in this April we started her on violin. We hope she can continue this path (a bit like her big sister does percussion for now).
Again like many parents here, we like our kids to learn music (reading notes etc.) as well as mastering one instrument. I understand for percussion, this is a bit hard to identify a particular instrument, marimba is a common one, but drums are also common.
Also, last but not least, a while ago I heard playing piano (maybe easier to start than violin for older people), could have potential benefit of prevent dementia, so that’s something I need to get more serious about.
PS: again please note I am not doing any victory lap here. I am just sharing what I know (and don’t know). And I welcome any feedback, comments or questions.