Pre-Twinkle Parents buy instrument before starting study

Lauren said: Dec 4, 2013
Lauren Lamont
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Edmonds, WA
33 posts

I would be interested in knowing how some of the rest of you handle this situation. I operate a private studio situation in a community music school which has a Suzuki Academy within the school. We have two Suzuki violin/viola teachers in our academy, and several other Suzuki teachers/instruments. All Suzuki teachers are SAA certified and trained. The other violin teacher and I have not organized a formal ‘box’ or pre-twinkle class for young beginners but use our own preferred pre-twinkle process of starting students. I have used the box violin or what I call, Pretend Violin, to start study with young students, generally up to about age 5 for many years, and strongly believe in the benefits of starting this way. (Actually, a carpenter friend of mine made me “pretend violins” out of balsa wood and I use these in place of the box and ruler.) Also, I create a “graduation” process of moving from the box to the real violin when they have accomplished good position, Rest-to-Play position, etc. This motivates them, and parent, to work hard at getting the position, feet, body correct. Also creates focused time to listen, do the pre-twinkle studies, etc.

However, on a few occasions, I’ve had a parent contact me about lessons for their very young child and they have gone out and bought a small violin for their child to “play” with—play meaning like a toy. They’ve generally done this to see if their child will “take to” the violin. In my cases, the parent has not been a violinist or played before, so there’s no instruction on how to hold or get the bow across the strings, just let the child play with it. It’s almost like having a pre-twinkle transfer student!

Anyone else dealt with this situation, or have suggestions. It just makes starting a little more frustrating.

Barb said: Dec 7, 2013
Barb Ennis
Suzuki Association Member
678 posts

Would you be able to convince the parents to leave the violin at the studio for (very limited) use only during lessons until you have completed the box violin stage?

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Laura said: Dec 11, 2013
Laura Mozena
Suzuki Association Member
Palm City, FL
105 posts

I think having a real violin from the start is ok, but that it is very important that it is not treated like a toy by the parent or the student. This sounds like the perfect opportunity to teach respect for the instrument. I like Barbs idea too!

Phankao said: Dec 18, 2013
Phankao WanPiano, Viola, Violin
128 posts

I don’t think having a violin beforehand is so bad. My littlest one had a 1/32 violin for about a year before he started formal lessons. We didn’t really let him use it as a toy though, although he did experiment all sorts of silly things with it—bounce bowing included. But he never did bang it around. In that one year, he figured out how to bow so that the violin would produce a nice tone though. For at least open A & open E.

Phankao said: Dec 18, 2013
Phankao WanPiano, Viola, Violin
128 posts

Forgot to mention. We bought him that little violin when he’d just turned 2yo. Before that, he was imitating with a Violin-Shaped Chocolate Box (Mozart Chocolates!) and a Gigantic Long Chopstick. ;D

Gretchen said: Jan 11, 2014
Gretchen Lee
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
State College, PA
28 posts

On two occasions, I have been contacted by parents who bought a small violin for their child to see whether or not the child “takes to” the violin, just as you said, Lauren. In both cases, the parents allowed their child to recreationally explore the violin for a few months before starting lessons.

In both cases, it was very hard for the child to understand that they would now have to learn bow hold/violin posture separately and not put bow and violin together until I determine that they are ready. This was very frustrating for both children (one was 4, the other was 5), since in their minds, they could already “play.”

Both kids strongly resisted the box violins, since they had already had access to real ones. I took the violins and had the kids just work with the bow for a few weeks. It was really slow going, and very frustrating for both of the kids.

Jennifer Kovarovic said: Feb 4, 2014
Jennifer Kovarovic
Suzuki Association Member
Seattle, WA
18 posts

Hi Lauren! Unfortunately, I’ve had the exact same experience as Gretchen. But if you think about it from the children’s perspective, their frustration makes sense…why do they need ME to teach them if they’ve already figured out how to “play violin” on their own?!

When a parent tells me that they’ve already purchased or rented an instrument before starting lessons, I ask them to put the violin away (some place high and out of sight) and instead, do the following:

  1. Listen to the Suzuki Violin CD’s
  2. Take their child to live musical performances
  3. Read Nurtured by Love
  4. Observe a bunch of individual lessons and group classes

I tell the parents that if their family is still feeling excited about violin after all of that, chances are high that it’s going to be a good fit.

Cynthia Faisst said: Dec 10, 2015
Cynthia Faisst
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Suzuki Early Childhood Education
Irvine, CA
126 posts

For most parents who do not actually play the violin, putting the violin away for a while so the child can re-adjust their relationship to the violin is the best route. take a break and do other things. Preschoolers and toddlers do not have long memories if they can be distracted long enough.

The only folks who can get away with handing their toddler a violin to play on are musicians who are playing the violin in the child’s face every day. At some point, the child will mimic the habits of the musician because they can reach the desired effect. This works because the parent can imprint even the most subtle gestures on the child.

This does not work for a teacher who they see only once a week.

For a 5-year-old I would recommend that the parent should plan on studying the violin and practicing with the child at home. The child needs to see the adult practicing daily with the correct position for as long as it takes.

I would also have the parent model lots of activities with the box violin and do lots of activities away from the violin for developing good posture.

This does not work as well for the parent who is not a musician. And even a trained musician knows that as the child begins to express their independence from the parent it is time to find a teacher that is not their parent.

I have one new student who is taking a break from the violin once the parents discovered the pretwinkle instruction they were receiving was not with someone who had the necessary training. The violin was too large and the child’s playing position was not working. When they return the child will have had more time to listen to the recordings and it will be easier to rearrange new physical habits.

Ideally, the parent should start studying the violin with me while the child gets a break from experience with the violin.

Ms. Cynthia
Talent Education Center: Suzuki Violin
Director of Santa Ana Suzuki Strings located at the
Orange County Children’s Therapeutic Arts Center
Volunteer, bring music to under-served communities around the world. Create Sound Investments and Futures.

Holly Blackwelder Carpenter said: Dec 10, 2015
Holly Blackwelder CarpenterInstitute Director
SAA Board
Suzuki Association Member
College Place, WA
87 posts

I had this this year. The family actually has all sizes lined up and ready to go from when Dad took! The student came in really excited about playing, but we just redirected-I was matter of fact about how I do it.

I always start my pre-Twinkles, regardless of age, on a foam violin. They have to “earn” the fragile violin by doing 1000 bowholds. I explain the to the parent that there is so much happening, that it is nice to have the bowhold set to some degree while we work with the other elements. They practice rest to play position with the foam violin as well, and I have a “track” on the foam violin that helps the bow arm develop. I then tell the parents that this is just one of many lessons in delayed gratification—parents tend to like this idea—and that their child should always earn their instrument, whether it is the first fragile one or a desired upgrade when they are advanced. They earn this by showing they are ready and willing to work hard. I don’t offer any comment on the purchase of the instrument, just a statement that this is how I do my studio, because in my experience, this approach gives the best results.

As far as quality of the instrument….with any luck the child won’t be in the right size for the one they bought! But if they are, I compare 2 instruments, side by side. Typically they are more then happy to pay a bit more for the better tone!

Good luck! In time, 99% of your incoming parents will know what to do and not to purchase in advance.

Holly Blackwelder Carpenter
Director, Japan Seattle Suzuki Institute
SAA Board of Directors

Vanessa Jacky Davis said: Dec 12, 2015
1 posts

Hi! I’m a parent. Could be out of line, but I think could be meaningful. When my son was 3 his aunt let him borrow her daughters 1/4 violin for a while. He cherished it dearly, but after about 6 months she’d asked for it back. It was after all, too big. So we explained to him what happened. He was upset. But he was also driven to have another violin. So we found a Suzuki violin program, and we were instructed that he must begin with a cake box violin. We made one together and I reminded him, when he was ready, we would make the cake, have a celebration and offer him a real violin if he stuck with it. That first year is such a big one. It’s the beginning of teaching a young child to practice, to get over the humps, correct bow hand, to appreciate listening to music, to make it part of who they are, to play with others and listen to their teacher. The real violin is the beautiful gift when they accomplish this big first step, and a gift for the parents who embody everything there is to learn and teach. As parents we rely on you, teachers, to inform us of the quality of instrument and appropriate time to begin the instrument. I say, it’s OK to suggest that the parents put it away, even after they “learn” it. Gently, of course. We can explain to them, that if they want that instrument, then like all the other students, we have to begin at the beginning, before the real violin.

After a year and a half he received a real violin. It was an amazing moment. Today, my son plays the cello. Loves his cello. It is who he is. And I’m sure it began with that first violin that he to had to sacrifice.

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