The Suzuki Violin Method, which is by far the most popular in this neck o’ the woods, is set up (in its full systems) to start children on the violin at age 3.
You even get specially small violins, 1/8ths and even 1/16ths. I’ve never yet started a kid on a 1/16th, and the kids who started on 1/8ths in my studio I can count on one hand.
Then again I don’t start them at age 3.
At age 3, many children are still learning to be dry at night; to master their first language to the point that people other than their mom can understand them; and their attention span is usually (I say, usually) not more than about five seconds.
I did say, usually. You do of course get unusual children. However, the grade of difficulty violin presents, would take a very unusual child to learn at age 3. I believe David Garrett started at age 4.
I generally start them no younger than 5. Just to be on the safe side. That is not to say, if you want to start your child on the violin and they are already 8 or even 11, that they missed the boat. Not at all!
7 or 8 is a wonderful age to start: Children learn fast and can apply themselves with real enthusiasm to their instrument. Where I spend many a lesson with a 5-year-old merely practicing posture and making a sound, I move like lightning with the Grade 2 and 3’s , and within a few lessons they play a few songs. The 11-year-olds are even more fun to start: We fly practically through the whole first half of that Suzuki method that is so lovingly, ingeniously, set up to accommodate the preschoolers.
The Suzuki learning curve is rather steep, though. A lot depends on the teacher. According to the book you’d need to stick with a song until it is perfect before moving onto the next. Well, that is a nice theory. In practice, do this to any healthy normal little lout and they will get bored and frustrated. They do not experience the same joy as we adult listeners do, in perfect intonation and a beautiful tone; they want to move forward and play a tune!
Boredom and frustration are of course part of the learning curve (itself steep) that is the violin. A child needs to overcome the sense of “nothing happening here” and start taking note of the things that are indeed happening. But all within limits. The first responsibility of the teacher, as some famous person said, is to foster the love of music in the pupil.
So I supplement the Suzuki with songs English-speaking children know well. This helps them come to grips with the instrument. (click here for a resource.)
The cutest part of our studio concerts is right in the beginning – when the “Twinklers” walk onstage with their tiny violins, in a group, dressed to a T, little boys in smart pants and collared shirts and little girls in dresses fit for bridesmaids. And the audience (moms and dads, and older players who’ve all been there and remember with nostalgia) sighs, “awwww!” And then the weeny violins get lifted, and the audience bravely plugs their ears against a very brave rendition by first-time performers of “Twinkle Star”, as composed by Mozart and arranged by Suzuki. And afterwards, the thundering applause (because if it doesn’t thunder, I shall!) is meant for the braveness of the little ones who are not even yet aware of stage fright; and the way they are just adorable. What an experience! After which, the concert can progress through the levels, to more and more versed players until by the end of the evening, our advanced students really wow the audience as experienced young performers.
Writing this, I’m really looking forward to reopening the studio on the 16th and preparing them all for their next concert. What absolute fun!