There's a lot of buzz that goes around on how early exposure to music helps in brain development. You often find parents lining up at music schools introducing their little ones to tiny instruments.
Is it really required? Darin Varbanov, who founded the Musical Art Studio in Singapore, says, parents should wait till kids are at least four years old, before they embark on any formal music training.
Varbanov, meets me at his Crawford Court studio one afternoon, and shares his thoughts on music education for children. Our talk is focused on violin lessons in particular, which is where his experience lies. Edited excerpts.
How early can kids start violin lessons?
"There are certain general student’s abilities, which are essential at the starting point. Some of them are, the overall level of motor skills development, particularly the ability to stand upright at least for few minutes; to possess certain kind of independence (at least to be agreeable to stand himself/herself, apart from the parent); to be able to pay attention, although it might be for a short time; to be able to follow simple instructions. All these qualities show a readiness to start."
At the same time, we need to keep in mind that the learning of the violin is a continuous and long process, if the goal is accomplishment or even perfection. "Physically, the finger joints start aging and stiffening around the age of 16-17, hence the building up of violin techniques will be more efficient before this age or up to about 2 years after that."
Apparently, this fact will urge the teachers to achieve higher results with the students as early as possible, which nowadays is witnessed frequently.
When we consider the proper age to start playing the violin, we need to take into an account all of the above factors, as well as many personal student’s details. "However, the vast majority of kids are ready to start a meaningful training around the age 4 and a half or above, while the minority might be comfortable doing it at 4. Below the age of 4, the kids are seldom prepared for a meaningful studying process."
Why do you not recommend starting around 3-4 years which is becoming a fad these days?
"There are teachers, who presume that an earlier start is better. It could be, provided the teaching is handled in a very slow pace, with great patience and with no expectation for instant results." The issue is that kids adopt inappropriate body or hand positions, and get used to inconsistencies. During the later stages, this hampers their development, and takes long for the necessary corrections.
The student may show some progress at an early age, but unfortunately it is not lasting. At the end of the day, students, who start later even overtake those who start earlier. "It has its exclusions, again due to personal qualities of every student. This is an important professional consideration, before drawing conclusions - whether the achievements are a result of the early start and methods used, or the particular student possesses overwhelming qualities."
Read on to find out which type of violin is good for a beginner.
Which is a good violin to buy when a kid is starting out?
"We have various choices in terms of sizes, origination, make, quality, prices etc. It must be known that the small sizes (1/16, 1/10, 1/8, 1/4, 1/2 and 3/4 ) are usually in use for about a year, before the student outgrows each of them. Then after that it must be changed to the next bigger size."
It is common sense to choose a violin of average type, still good for the studying process, but not too expensive, since it will be in use only for a year. An exclusion would be if the student intends to participate a violin competition, or if the student performs frequently. Then it would be reasonable to buy a violin of higher quality, which will be more expensive.
Can you force a kid to learn the violin if he is resistant to it?
"The history knows such examples. Some of them have even been successful. However, I presume that violin playing or music in general is an art, which needs love instead of force. It requires perseverance, and hard work, before it brings the self-satisfaction and enjoyment to the audience."
Is there any correlation between exposure to music at an early age and brain development? Does learning music make you smarter?
"It is definitely true, as I have seen real results of my 25 years of teaching. I would compare the music studies to the studying of another language, the benefit of which I believe no one would object." Music helps students cultivate harmony, punctuality, working habits and many other personal virtues.
Music learning is also strongly connected to Math, as we deal continuously with figures, fractions, time, various types of calculation and logic.
What is key when choosing a music school for your toddler?
I believe that the parents should be focused on choosing the teacher and not the school.
Parents, does your child learn the violin? Do you have any insights to share with our readers?