Saturday, July 10, 2010


We bought our daughter's first violin today, a 1/4 size. She has been asking for lessons for several months now, which I think was instigated by a friend of hers at daycare, who also supposedly has a violin she is supposedly taking lessons for (this is all 5-year-old hearsay; I have confirmed the existence of the girl and the violin, at least). I grew up playing piano and French horn, probably because I am Asian and dorky, respectively, so as soon as she mentioned the violin, my Asian half went OKAY I BUY YOU VIOLIN NOW! YOU PRACTICE 5 HOURS, YES? My sensible husband convinced me to give it a few months and see if her desire persisted. Somewhat surprisingly, it did, so I went a-Craigslisting and found a decent 1/4 size for $100.
We got it home today at 4:00 and by the time we got her in bed at 9:30, she had taken it out to play it no less than 4 times. This kid has enthusiasm. I am psyched.
I also know nothing about the violin. I believe there is something made of horse-hair in the case and there may be rosin involved.
That being said, I have no idea what to look for in a teacher. I began playing piano when I was 6 and continued taking lessons until I moved from my hometown at 14. My parents, like most parents, weren't sure how serious I would take it, so they bought an electric piano and enrolled me in group lessons with a lady that was good with kids. Unfortunately, the only thing that changed over the next 7 years was I got a larger, better electric piano. Meaning I still did not have a real instrument, individual lessons, or a serious teacher. I had exhausted my teacher's sheet music collection as well as expertise, and I spent my time sight-reading crappy pop song arrangements and not progressing at all. When I was 13, I decided to find a hard-core teacher. A friend of mine, whose parents felt the same way about music as my parents did education (i.e., EXTREME), took lessons from a tiny, terrifying Korean woman who taught the piano majors at the local university and made my friend practice 3 hours a day, minimum (which she did, on either the upright piano they had at home or their baby grand. Ahem.). Clearly, this was the teacher for me. What could go wrong?
On my very first day of lessons (nay, my audition to even take lessons from her), one thing became apparent: my technique and theory were severely lacking. I had learned how to "play" the piano, but I was not a piano player. "In the key of blah blah blah" meant exactly that to me, and the difficulty level of piece I was capable of learning never seemed to progress. We frustrated each other for a few months, then I quit lessons for good. I learned a lot in those few months, but I am largely the same player I was before her. Old habits die hard, retraining hands takes a long time. 
Herein lies the dilemma. My parents started me off with a "nice" teacher at the beginning; maybe they thought if I got serious, they'd find me a more serious teacher... I got serious, but the new teacher happened way too late. Or maybe, due at least in part to a lack in any musical training on their part, they just didn't realize I was developing very bad habits and not progressing past "The Wind Beneath My Wings". So I don't want to make the same mistake. You know those ballet movies where the little girls have their hair scraped back and their teacher is a stern Russian woman that constantly corrects their posture and possibly hits them with a meter stick? A small part of me (okay, half of me. Maybe the Asian half.) wants her violin teacher to be JUST LIKE THAT. No mercy. It just seems like a waste of time to build a bad foundation, realize you're serious, then have to scrap that foundation and build a good one. Unfortunately, a good foundation costs $40/hour and SOMEONE'S husband isn't sure a 5-year-old's violin lessons are worth that.
We'll see what happens. According to our daughter, she doesn't even need lessons. I showed her a video of Yanni and she said "Oh. Yeah, that's what I was doing."


  1. I just went through this with my son, who is six. My older boy (14) took up violin but was stalling out. I took it up with the intention of helping him, but then he quit and I continued. (It's good stress relief.) I'd never played an instrument before in my life.

    The younger son kept asking if he could learn, so we rented a violin. I had a hard time finding a teacher for him, but when I switched teachers, she said she does kids, too.

    She was awesome. She gave him rewards, wasn't critical, but she corrected him when he needed it. She understood his need to move around a lot and was patient. We also had shorter than usual lessons since his attention span wasn't the best.

    I also knew, from my own experience, that she is an excellent teacher in regard to skills. She performs professionally and has a degree in music. Also, her mother was a music teacher, so she's been playing most of her life. Of course, it was a lot easier to assess for me because I'd been playing under another teacher (whose primary instrument was cello), and my new teacher was able to elucidate to me what kind of things to do to convey the feel for the music. There were a lot of stylistic things I was lacking and she was able to get me caught up on. I guess I'd try to listen for those types of things...but at this age, as long as they're making a decent amount of progress and the child seems happy, it's probably fine.

    Also, violin is physically fatiguing, so lessons seldom go more than 1/2 hour until you get a ways into it. My first teacher charged $15/half hour and my current is $25/half hour.

    Incidentally, my son started running away whenever we mentioned practicing after his third lesson. After a month of this, we just decided he probably wasn't ready. There'll be other opportunities, though.

  2. I picked up the Violin in 5th grade. I did the whole two teacher thing. The first one was there to just get me comfortable with the violin and to teach me that the bow is used to play the instrument with and not for sword fighting. The second teacher was more on par with a Marine Corps drill sergeant. They still had to break down the bad habits that I got from the first teacher but I valued the time with the first teacher. If I had the DI from the beginning, I probably would have thrown the thing in the trash and gone outside to play.