2.5 year old really wants to play cello

Bridget Shen said: Aug 5, 2012
 2 posts

I have a 4 year old daughter in Suzuki Violin. She started this summer. Her 2.5 year old (actually 28 month old) sister has been begging almost on a daily basis for me to get her a cello. I let her play my violin but she knows it is not a cello and she asks. Daily. We watch cello on youtube and she is pretty much obsessed with the instrument. She likes the violin ok but still insists CELLO! We have been told that cello is much too difficult for even a three year old and that she would have to start violin or piano at age 3 if we indeed start her. I really think my very strong minded child is going to stick to her wish to play cello.

Is it unheard of for a 3 year old to play cello. We are going to get her a cello now because it is such a passion. I’m not sure what I’m going to have her do with it. She “plays” her older sister’s violin… is there harm in this for the longterm goal of having her actually learn cello… might she learn bad form or bad habits if she is not instructed properly from the beginning?

Thanks in advance for your help!

Melanie Drake said: Aug 6, 2012
Melanie Drake36 posts

My son started studying cello when he was 3 (2 months shy of 4). My daughter (almost 3) wants to play cello, but at this point, she doesn’t have the hand strength/coordination to do a bunny bow hold which for many is a prerequisite for even getting to touch a bow/cello. Now, I’ve seen two takes on this:

1.) Allow the child play with the instrument, as if it were a toy, to foster a sense of enjoyment. (Did I read this in Nurtured by Love?)

2.) Don’t let the child touch the instrument without first demonstrating some technique (e.g., bunny bow hold). Don’t allow any unguided play at first, as not to learn poor technique that will take years to unlearn.

I don’t know the answer, but I’m interested in hearing other opinions on this.

Barb said: Aug 9, 2012
Barb Ennis
Suzuki Association Member
685 posts

Hi Bridget,

How wonderful that your young daughter has already got the cello bug! Some teachers will start them earlier than others. Find your teacher first, before getting a cello. Find out when they will start, what their prerequisites are, and what they recommend for a cello.

If you came to me, I would recommend starting with a box or foam cello first and dowel practice bow. The child will learn to treat it like a “real” instrument to demonstrate a readiness to handle a cello, and learn posture and hand positions, and focusing for short periods of time without the distraction of trying to make a sound. Twinkle rhythms, etc. can also be worked on during this time, and lesson/practice time behavior (keeping lessons and practice time very short).

I would allow a few minutes of unguided playing, too, but preferably not without some focused steps to playing also happening, as there is some danger in developing bad habits. But maybe with just a box or foam cello it wouldn’t be such a disaster to only play with it for a while at this age. Piatigorsky started with a long stick for a cello and a short stick for a bow until his parents got him a real cello for his seventh birthday. I imagine most of his stick-cello playing was unguided. :-)

Keep watching videos of quality cello playing, and also buy the Suzuki cello books 1&2 CD. Although these pieces are almost all on the violin CDs, it’s good to hear the cello tone. (Books 3&4 have more differences.)

Let us know how things develop!

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Sue Hunt said: Aug 12, 2012
Sue HuntViola, Violin
403 posts

It really is important to get the early stages right. I’ve just been rereading Ability Development and I think that what Dr Suzuki meant, was to be playful in your approach. Make it fun by turning it into a game. We all learn best when we are engaged and enjoying ourselves.

Instruments are not toys, but objects which must be treated with care and respect.

When a young beginner is allowed to play around on an instrument, there are 2 scenarios, both of which take the gilt off the gingerbread:
-1 he/she will quickly find that the instrument doesn’t play tunes all by itself and become disenchanted with it.
-2 he/she will develop bad habits from enthusiastically thrashing around on it. Anything that is repeated often enough will be learnt by the nervous system. Each repetition strengthens the neural network involved in making the action, with a layer of insulating fatty myelin. This makes a neural pathway, from the brain to the muscle, which only breaks down through age or disease.

It can be very frustrating for a child and his/her teachers when they have to modify or replace a bad habit. A new stronger network has to be created and insulated, while the old network is still trying to kidnap all the traffic to the muscles. For a good explanation of this biological process, read The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle.

There are lots of games that a very young child can play before handling the instrument.

If she doesn’t have the coordination to make a bunny rabbit bow hold, you can help her by by chunking it down into smaller skills and making several game of it. For instance, has she tried making her bow thumb stand up and take a bow? Have you made bunny rabbits and bounced them around, doing bunny things? Has she turned the rabbit into a butterfly? Has she hung from your finger like a monkey? There are zillions of things you can do to keep her enthusiasm going till she starts playing.

Bridget Shen said: Aug 14, 2012
 2 posts

Thank you everyone who replied! I really appreciate the help and support!

Jessi Schwartz said: Jan 16, 2013
2 posts

I know this is an old thread but I just had to comment. My older daughter started suzuki flute when she was 3.5. Her younger sister was always super interested and got in the habit of playing with the flute when we were for practicing. After 2 years of fooling around, she started lessons at 3 and by then she had developed a terrible mouth position that took LITERALLY a year to correct. I think the foam cello sounds like a great idea

Heather Watson Hardie said: Jan 28, 2013
Heather Watson HardieCello
Greenwich, CT
4 posts

I’ve started some really young ones on cello and I like it! It can work really well if you are really careful- but it can easily go wrong too! I agree with the instruments not being toys. I think it’s important to start with that. My requirements for starting are mostly the ability to pay attention for 5 min or so. I think you can work on developing finger strength. I have a 26 month old and we are doing some cello prep exercises now. He can actually pluck the Ants song (almost perfectly) and we are working on finger prep games, lost of singing and listening. I think the most important thing to keep in mind when you have a little one play cello is that cello is bigger and harder to play than violin and because of that- we go slower! Try not to have any predisposed ideas about when a certain task should be accomplished and just work on one small goal at a time.

Dowel rod bow holds are great- you can use a pencil as well and I also really love the small Twinkle Bows. Lastly- I’m not really sure that bunny bow holds are that great for cello technique. I think for cello bow holds we are really looking for weight into the first finger and thumb placement, and I think a 3 finger bow hold set up is a little more what we are going for long-term when thinking about hand balance for cello (just my two cents). A 3 finger bow hold is holding the bow with thumb, pointer finger and middle finger.

Good luck! With patience, fun and creativity- you can start lots of little ones on cello!

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