Whenever a parent of a young child contact me for private violin or viola lessons, their fist question is “Is my child too young to start a violin?”. It has been an overall opinion among music professionals that if anything, music programs in public schools introduce instruments too late, and are non – existent in private schools as a rule due to lack of financial funds and mostly, lack of understanding of benefits that playing instruments brings.
The concept of playing instruments is very similar to learning languages: the earlier – the better. Children who are bilingual (or more) were introduced to more than one language very early in their lives, hence becoming fluent and proficient in more than one. Children who start playing instruments prior to attending school have gained significant skills on the instrument by the time they reach third or fourth grade – the average age when string and band programs are introduced in most schools.
From my experience as a private teacher, when a child starts violin lessons at around age five, by the third grade his/her level of playing usually equals to a sixth-seventh grade student who started playing in a public school in third or fourth grade without taking private lessons.
An additional benefit to starting music lesson prior to attending school – a child has an opportunity to establish such concepts as discipline, work ethics, dedication, patience, and homework assignments. Children who study instruments before attending school have no issues with getting used to homework and deadlines, they are already used to doing so on their instrument. Throughout my years as a private teacher I have seen how children react differently to attending school. The big difference between those who are studying an instrument verses children who at times are “shocked” by attending school, following rules, etc.
My personal guidelines for a “starting” age on violin lessons? A child must know the first seven letters of the alphabet, and have an established conceptual thinking on lines and spaces. These are usually established by the age of four, five at the latest. The rest is gained with practice and dedication from all three parties involved, teacher, student and parents.