I often hear parents tell me that their 6 year old has been asking to play violin for years, but they waited because they weren’t sure their child was ready. In actuality, it is more common to begin violin lessons between the ages of 3-6, and arguably much better. Because so many students start at that young age, older students often struggle to catch up when started after the age of 6. That said, I’ve had the pleasure of working with beginners over the age of 80, and I’m convinced there’s certainly no “wrong” age to start learning violin- it just depends on what your goal is!
For the younger crowd, however, it has been my experience that we often underestimate the capabilities of very little ones. It is important to work with a teacher who is used to working with very small children, as techniques are of course very different for working with a 2.5 or 3 year old versus a 8 year old. It is also important for parents to be willing make violin time at home a special time to hang out with their little one, as parents are necessary for practice during the early years. Note: You most certainly don’t have to have any musical background whatsoever to help your student practice at home.
If your student is pre-reading and pre-alphabet, playing and learning is done “Suzuki” style (by ear and mimicry), much like the way that children learn how to talk. Basic music symbols, rhythms, and ear training are all introduced. When the alphabet has been mastered, basic music reading is introduced.
If a student is able to focus age appropriately (this means only about a minute or two on a task for very small children), they’ll do great in lessons!
Violins come in various sizes, from only about 6″ long to a “full size” violin, so there will always be an appropriate instrument size for young beginners, and so there’s no need to wait for hands, muscles, or lungs to grow before beginning.
Mainly, young beginners just need adjusted expectations from parents. Because they’re learning so many things in lessons all at once- fine motor skills, the alphabet, age appropriate focus, and communication skills, among a zillion other things, it usually takes longer to learn a song than, say, a 10 year old would take. This doesn’t mean they’re not progressing- they’re just nailing down a number of skills all at once, along with the tune! That being said, I also find that little ones have a tendency to accept big challenges with an ease that is often much harder for the older kids- which makes sense when you figure it’s pretty hard to potty train and learn how to walk, too, and that was probably not too long ago for the littlest students!
IF you’re not sure if you and your child are ready for lessons, it is usually very helpful to meet a teacher and watch your child interact at a trial lesson- and never be shy about asking questions of the teacher about expectations (either your own or the teachers!) and what to expect in general. Usually it only takes about 10 minutes or so for a teacher accustomed to working with very little beginners to get an idea of the best teaching plan for each child.