What age is ideal for beginning a string instrument?

As in all learning, it is wise to begin early. Many educators believe that the window for learning, both language and music, is from birth to 9 years old. Children, as young as 4 or 5, can learn to play easily and well, provided the instrument is sized correctly, the lessons are designed to match attention spans, and the teacher is comfortable with teaching the young child.

As soon as students can play a one-octave scale, by ear, they are ready to read notes. Progress will depend on age, innate ability, home environment, and parental assistance.

How should I treat tape on the fingerboard as a guide for finger placement?

Ultimately, the student of a string instrument plays without tapes. In order to do this, the ear must be trained to hear the intervals. Although many teachers place tapes on the fingerboard, I believe this delays the process of listening to the intervals and the development of pitch. I may put only one tape down, if it were extremely necessary, and then remove it as soon as possible.

What is the best shoulder rest type?

This is a very personal situation, and depends on the background of each teacher. Since shoulder rests did not exist before the middle of the 20th century, there are many great teachers and soloists who have never used one. Thin foam sponges or the soft Playonair may be used. These keep the violin from slipping off the shoulder and eliminate unnecessary gripping with the neck and shoulder. When the violin is balanced properly on the collarbone, shoulder rests with inflexible metal frames are not necessary. Mimi Zwieg, the noted pedagogue at Indiana University, calls them "Brooklyn Bridges" and writes that they "lock the shoulder muscles into one position, and any muscle that is not moving becomes tight. Providing for and promoting a dynamic rather than static violin hold is crucial."

How much time should a beginning student be assigned for practicing?

This is going to vary with every student, depending on age and ability. Most importantly, the student must play accurately and correctly at all times. Any playing that contains wrong notes or an incorrect bow hold, is wasted practice time, resulting in more damage than good. With a very young student, there can be 10 or 15 minutes of proper playing (under the watchful eye of the parent), repeated several times throughout the day. With the young school age student, 30 minutes is a good beginning, either all at one time or in two 15-minute periods. The key is always going to be: slow, careful, accurate practicing, not just playing and making sounds.

How do I know I've chosen the correct teacher for my student?

It is crucial that every teacher who works with students be extremely well qualified, experienced, patient, and kind. Many times, parents think that a young student teacher is "good enough" for a beginning student when the opposite is true. The early training is so important. It is almost impossible to break bad habits that are formed in the beginning due to poor teaching. It is important to seek out an experienced teacher who produces excellent students. The teacher must be competent, but must teach with a loving disposition. Music must come from the heart.