Help me choose an instrument for my (almost) 4-year old

said: May 17, 2006
 5 posts

Hi folks, just a bit of background info first.

My 8-year old son started Suzuki violin with a wonderful (male) teacher and they have a fantastic relationship which I hope will last many years into the future. I started playing violin along with my son, in keeping with the Suzuki philosophy, and am enjoying it immensely, having now found a teacher of my own.

My daughter—who will be 4 in a month’s time—is really champing at the bit, so to speak, to play an instrument of her own. She seemed really interested in the violin (not suprisingly, seeing and hearing us both play), but I have reservations after hearing that siblings (especially competitive kiddos—like mine!) do better on different instruments. Although there is no danger that she’ll catch up to him—he’s already smack in the middle of book 2—I worry that she’ll at some point feel discouraged when she compares herself to her brother’s seemingly effortless and talented playing.

She had a brief love affair with the piano (we own one—badly out of tune by now and not played by anybody since neither my husband or I can play the piano beyond picking out the occasional tune), so much so that I took her to visit with a very capable (immpressively so!) Suzuki piano teacher who gives group “theory” lessons (mostly games) in addition to single or double lessons for the really little ones.

She seemed to enjoy the experience, but this teacher is elderly, rather formal in her approach and definitely not what she has experienced a music teacher to be so far (she sits in on her brother’s violin lessons). I don’t anticipate that there will be the easy, relaxed cameraderie between her and this teacher that my son has with his (but, maybe that’s ok too).

Then, more recently, she heard the Bach unaccompanied cello suites and fell in love with the sound. We watched a short cello recital on video and read a book about a cello (”The voice of the wood”) and now she says that she’d like to play the cello. :roll:

My son’s violin teacher is really adept at a great many strings instruments and he also teaches Suzuki cello. But he feels that there is very little point in starting children so young—he has expressed to me that the children who start at a later age catch up to the younger ones pretty quickly, unless of course, the child is uniquely talented or the parents push very hard (which is very much against the Suzuki philosphy and certainly not our family’s style). I also worry that if he takes her on as a student, it may diminish in some way the really special quality of my son’s relationship with him. We are immigrants and my son is homeschooled and does not have many good, strong male role models beyond his father in his life. Is it too much to hope for a similar role-model for my daughter in her music-teacher?

At this point, she has several years of Music Together classes under her belt and will be starting a sing-through-the-day Waldorf kindergarten in the fall, but how do I honor her desire to make music in a more meaningful way? And which instrument / situation do you think would be the best fit here?

Edited to add: A complicating factor is that there aren’t a great many Suzuki teachers to choose from. After fairly exhaustive research, I would venture to say that there are only a few Suzuki teachers within an hour’s drive from our home.


said: May 17, 2006
 44 posts

I think the main reasons to start a child at four is to train his or her ear and to train the child in the habit of practice. My 4 children all started very young. They didn’t progress very fast—one took nine months just to learn the twinkles, but boy were their ears good. By listening to their older siblings and attending years of group class before they even started playing, my younger children really knew the repertoire. I have really never had a problem with them saying they wanted to quit, music practice has always been part of their lives. Your daughter will have an incredible advantage when she starts whatever instrument she eventually plays because she has been listening to her brother.
My two middle children both played the violin. They are 3 and a half years apart. Because the younger one had been hearing the Suzuki repertoire since infancy, and because I was a more eperienced “home teacher,” we were eventually in danger of her passing the older sibling. At that point, her teacher added viola to her repertoire. It made her feel really special and kept her from passing up the older one. Now she plays viola exclusively.
Will your violin teacher even teach your daughter? It doesn’t sound like he wants to teach such a young child. The great relationship your son has with that teacher may not apply to your daughter if the teacher does not feel comfortable with very young children. It is way different to teach a four year old than an 8 year old. I am not a music teacher, but I have observed many years of music lessons. I think the young beginners really need a teacher with lots of experience. It takes a lot of effort and imagination to keep a four year old going plus any bad habits they learn are very hard to break later—they get hard-wired in.
If I were in your shoes, I would not start my four year old with the piano teacher you describe. I would probably start violin and switch her later to cello. The second insrtrument will be very easy to pick up.

said: May 18, 2006
 89 posts

Is it that there are no Suzuki cello teachers nearby? If she wants to play the cello, why start her on a different instrument?

said: May 18, 2006
 26 posts

It looks like cello is the way to go if at all possible.

Is there another cello teacher in your area who does teach younger ones? I agree with the earlier post—you don’t really want your daughter to learn from a teacher who isn’t really keen on the idea.

It’s also great for everyone in the family to have their own unique musical identity, and a different teacher adds to the ’special’ experience of the younger sibling.

There are so many wonderful reasons to start a child young. This is the whole basis of the Suzuki philosophy. How long it takes to learn the songs in book 1 has NOTHING to do with it. It is about creating a musician, shaping a child’s character through the whole process, and instilling music in the child’s heart so that they become a ‘native speaker’.

Even if you did convince your teacher to take on your daughter, she would probably have no peers at group lessons, which is really very important.

said: May 24, 2006
 5 posts

Thanks everyone for your thoughtful replies. We have had to let this sit for a bit while I researched Suzuki cello teachers. So far we have come up with only one other possible option after a thorough search—and it is more than an hour away and the program comprises 3 classes per week, all on different days. :(

I don’t want to let such a young child spend so many hours a week in the car—it just doesn’t feel right to me.

I know this is bordering on sacrilegious since this is a Suzuki forum, but given my daughter’s insistence on the cello (I can find lots of Suzuki violin teachers), do you think I should consider a non-Suzuki approach (traditional method, starting at age 5), rather than let it wait for what seems like 4 or more years still? Or, <sigh> try to persuade her to try Suzuki piano or (last choice) violin, like her brother?


Melissa said: May 26, 2006
 151 posts

Why is your piano out of tune?!!!
Please, I don’t care if you don’t know how to play the piano. But don’t let your piano sit there out of tune. Your daughter may become turned off to the instrument just by trying to play her brothers pieces that she might pick out by ear, but then she hears an awful tone and off pitch confusing her and…… Oh it so bad for her ears! And yours too!!
Please have your piano tuned. Your piano should be as important as a member of your family!
I personally think that if you already have a piano, it might be a good instrument for her to learn. But then again, if she really likes the sound of the cello. Of course, I’m sure the cello she heard was in tune, then maybe that would be the instrument for her.
Good luck! Happy exploring and I hope happy tuning!

Rebecca said: Jun 13, 2006
 23 posts

Why has no one tried to sell PIANO yet? Ill do it!!! Don’t think of piano as a second or third choice, a mere fall-back plan, but think of all piano study has to offer! YOu already own the piano, just get it tuned up and serviced nicely and it should be good to start! Find a good Suzuki piano teacher and smile as you watch the magic happen. Piano begins with the beauty of simple melodies and accompaniments (and Twinkles!!;-)), and later incorporates complex musical reading skills, encourages a deep musical understanding due to the piano’s range, and many times, produces a readier, more easily learned theory student. Think of accompanying skills, for friends and family, possibly playing at church or other places/times of worship. Being involved in weddings is one of the most rewarding things I do as a pianist. Another is teaching. Another is trying to preach the good piano till everyone loves it as much as I do! Playing the piano is a precious lifetime skill to be treasured. It’s not easy, but it is beautiful and rewarding—think of Chopin alone! How can you say no to:

“Life without music would be a mistake.” -Nietsche

said: Jun 13, 2006
 3 posts

Have you considered Suzuki Flute? There are smaller flute(just like in suzuki violin) that allow children as young as 3 to start. Suzuki Flute lessons are a lot of fun and its no more difficult than learning any other suzuki instrument.
Also its unique :)

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