Teacher Talk: your string teaching queries answered by the experts
My three-year-old daughter was given a quarter?size violin that’s still too big for her. She talks about it the whole time, but gets frustrated when we take it out and she can’t put it under her chin. Should I put it away until she’s big enough for me to start teaching her properly, or is it OK to play games with her on the violin that don’t involve putting it under her chin?
Susan Barget, Manchester, UK
Mimi Zweig: Violins come in sizes as small as 1/16 (at least this is the smallest size that can produce a recognisable sound). Why not get your daughter to play with this smaller violin in a non-pressured, fun way? If there are children in your area playing the violin in groups, observation is a good introduction before any formal lessons, which I recommend should begin at the age of five or six. I always err on the side of a smaller violin rather than a larger size.
Géza Szilvay: Violin hold is very unnatural. The teacher working with beginners has an enormous responsibility in moulding the proper violin hold – that is, to make the unnatural natural. If the position is not ergonomic from the start, the pupil will have problems throughout their career, and it is almost impossible to get rid of bad habits.
Children should only put the violin under their chin when they are ready to hold it properly – when they are mature enough to accept the moulding activity of the teacher. Most children are interested in the violin but are disappointed when the teacher insists on the correct violin hold.
Save childhood! Children should sing, clap and move. Teach short two?note songs, then three-note songs, four- and five-note songs (do not use songs beyond six notes). Clap their rhythms and use solfège because it helps intonation. This kindergarten activity should be used as preparation for violin playing. The same easy rhythms and the same songs (or nursery rhymes) sung at home or at nursery should be the first melodies played on the violin. Do not give the child the violin until they are able to hold it properly.
Mimi Zweig is professor of violin and viola and Director of Pre-College Strings at Jacobs School of Music, Indiana University at Bloomington
Géza Szilvay is co-author of the Colourstrings teaching method and principal of the East Helsinki Music Institute
Our Teacher Talk series was first published in The Strad in January 2011. Subscribe to The Strad and get the best in teaching tips every month, from Simon Fischer's long-running Basics column to advice from top string players in Masterclass. Or click here to find out about our digital edition.