Starting siblings simultaneously?

Meghan Coil said: Nov 14, 2012
Meghan Coil
Suzuki Association Member
Portland, OR
16 posts

I have just received an inquiry from a parent who wants to start her three children in violin lessons. She didn’t mention the ages other than that they are in elementary school, and I haven’t returned her call yet. Is it cynical of me to predict eventual rivalry over differing paces and advise her against starting all three at once on the same instrument?

I started twins on violin at the same time once, and at least for the two years I taught them, they progressed together. I have also started a 3 y/o at the same time as his 8 y/o Suzuki guitar-playing sister. That worked fine because the sister had such a head start musically from guitar and just took off, while the 3 y/o wasn’t self-conscious enough to care about progressing more slowly. But what if one of the twins had pulled ahead? or if the older sibling hadn’t easily taken the lead?

I would love to hear how anyone else has handled this sort of scenario, either suggesting alternatives to the parent or successfully teaching siblings who have started simultaneously.
Thank you!
Meghan Coil

Paula Bird said: Nov 14, 2012
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Piano, Viola
Wimberley, TX
386 posts

I teach siblings starting at the same time quite frequently. Although it is true that students may proceed at different paces, I have never found that to be a problem. Students approach learning in such unique ways from each other, that I believe it is possible to avoid any potential sibling rivalry.

A good number of students in my studio are homeschooled, and I have never encountered sibling rivalry with homeschool families. The only time I have asked the question is when I am starting a younger sibling after the older child has taken lessons for several years. In that situation, I will ask the older child for their opinion. In some cases the answer has been that the older child did not want younger one to take the same instrument. In other cases it didn’t matter.

Since we Suzuki teachers stress the importance of not making comparisons between students, I think it is possible to avoid the issue simply by not paying attention to it. If the child progresses faster because the child is older than the other, then that is a normal situation that occurs in everything in that family most likely.

However, having said all that, if you yourself have concerns, then I would go with your gut feeling. After all, it may be a difficult situation in your case.

Paula E. Bird
TX State University
Wildflower Suzuki Studio (blog) (podcast)

Carrie said: Nov 15, 2012
Suzuki Association Member
58 posts

I’ll just second what Paula wrote. I have had similar experiences to Paula, but listen to what your gut is telling you. Go ahead and process that here, it you need to talk through it more.


Barb said: Nov 15, 2012
Barb Ennis
Suzuki Association Member
678 posts

I teach brothers who are about a year and a half apart by age. The elder started in January at 6 and the younger started in September of the same year at 5. Although they have different strengths and weaknesses, they have progressed at a similar rate. The younger, though, is gaining on his brother now. I had a private chat with their mother to see what she thought about what would happen if the younger passed the elder in the repertoire. She didn’t think it would be a problem. They are home schooled, by the way, and the only boys in a large family of girls. They don’t ALWAYS get along well.

I home schooled our two boys who are two and a half years apart in age. At one point they were working at the same level in math. We talked about how we all have strengths in different areas and the one who was not as strong in math was much stronger in language arts, for instance. I think their piano lessons started about a year apart, and the younger was less enthused. A few years later he explained that he just didn’t like classical music as much as I or his brother. It could as easily have gone the other way. (As a side note, until the older was 2 and a half, just before the younger was born, we lived in a location where we could get classical programs on the radio and it was on a LOT. The younger had more exposure to “kids’ music” at the same age.)

I started violin in our school program when I was in 4th grade. Even though by the time my three years younger sister began the program I had already moved on to cello, I was bothered and thought she was copying me! She assured me she wasn’t going to switch to cello as I had done. About 30 years later she confessed that she wished she could play the cello, but DIDN’T DARE! I was a mean big sister! :-( For me, playing the violin and then cello was my own individual identity in a large family, and I felt threatened to have that taken away. Had we started at the same time I might not have felt that way. But it was nice to have a little individuality…

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Elizabeth Friedman said: Dec 6, 2012
Elizabeth Friedman
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
49 posts

This is a tough one. I would highly recommend staggering the siblings unless they’re triplets.

I started two brothers (3 and 6) this year at around the same time—it was kind of an accident. The mom had first thought of violin only for the younger one, and then the older one wanted to do it, too. So we decided it would be best to get the older one going right away. I’m sure it will all work out in the end, but the 3-year-old burst into tears last week because he’s frustrated he can’t do everything his 6yo brother is doing. (Understandably!!!) It didn’t help that it had also just been the 6yo’s birthday. This week was better. But the fact remains that a 6yo can play Twinkle relatively quickly, while a 3yo is still working on his bow hold. If we’d started the 6yo first, we could have always said, “well, he started before you.” But we don’t have that ability because the 3yo started first.

I also taught siblings awhile ago—8 and 3—and the 3yo was chomping at the bit to get going. It was a serious challenge not to let him surpass his older sister, even though she’d been going a lot longer, and it was obvious that it would just have crushed her if her brother had zoomed by her.

Sibling rivalry is a huge problem, and speaking as someone raised in Suzuki, I am so glad my mom made my brother and me choose separate instruments. Even though my parents were really conscious of making sure we were treated equally, etc., we both harbored resentment as kids. Now we’re great friends, but don’t underestimate that power.

If they’re pretty close in age, stagger them by about 6 months. And/or recommend another Suzuki teacher for one or two of the siblings who teaches another instrument.

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