Which instrument should I play?
At Silver Strings Academy, we focus on teaching the stringed instruments: Violin, viola, cello, and piano. Each instrument has its own personality and sound. Watch the video below to hear and see the violin, viola, and cello. Read more below about the ages at which we begin each instrument to help you determine which might be best for you.
Violins are portable, fairly inexpensive to start renting, and children can play in groups, orchestras, and often at school. The viola is a unique and beautiful instrument that has many of the same benefits as the violin, but is a less competitive instrument. The cello is much larger than the violin and viola, and has a gorgeous rich tone quality. Many people are very drawn to the sound of the cello.
There are many benefits to playing the piano. It is always in tune, immediately sounds good, and it is very tangible. There is a different learning curve for every instrument, and the piano is easier to start off with and then becomes more difficult later once students are playing with hands together and reading in two staves. The bowed stringed instruments take a longer time to develop good tone quality, and are hard to play in tune (since they do not have frets). Music reading and key signatures are also much more abstract. Because of this, these instruments have a slower learning curve in the beginning. However, these instruments only ever read in one staff and do not play chords (only single notes) for a very long time.
No one instrument is harder than the other, but each instrument has a unique learning curve. Even the violin and cello have significantly different learning curves. For example, the violin has to be supported under the chin, so as the child grows they are constantly having to adjust the way they hold the instrument and stand. The cello, which is always played sitting, has very large strings that are hard to press down at first. The pinky finger is used from the very beginning (unlike on the violin and viola), has to be quite strong. These are only a few of many differences between the instruments.
What is the right age to start playing an instrument?
Every child is unique, so there is no definite answer here; however, I will give you some good guidelines. There are also different answers for different instruments.
Violin- this instrument can be started as young as three years old using the Suzuki method! Before age three, we happily refer to Prelude Music.
The violin comes in sizes ranging from 1/32 to full size, making it accessible to very small children. While 1/32 size instruments are available, they are not common and usually need to be purchased instead of rented. Usually a 1/16 size will be sufficient for even small three year olds.
Here is a violin sizing chart:
You may be thinking- but three years old is so young! How does it work? The Suzuki method teaches children music the same way that we learn language. The brain is like a sponge at this age, and there are many benefits to starting an instrument at a very young age such as the development of perfect pitch.
All of this being said- you know your child best. For some children, motor skills or attention may not be developed enough for private lessons at this age. In this case, Kindermusik or Music Together classes (more general music education) may be a perfect way for your child to be introduced to music without the time and financial commitment of private lessons. If a child is very interested in the violin, they should start right off with that instrument as they will be very motivated and interested.
Many students at Silver Strings Academy started at the age of five, and are doing excellently! At especially young ages, it is beneficial to have a semi-private lesson with another young student. I have found that twenty minutes of individual instruction, and ten minutes of semi-private instruction, is an excellent recipe for success. Both Karen and Brune are Suzuki Certified and accept students as young as three.
Students as young as three can also play the cello, as it is scaled down similarly to the violin. However, our cello teacher does not teach under the age of five.
The viola is a slightly larger, and deeper toned instrument than the violin. It can be started fairly young as well. However, it is very difficult to find violas that sound good for students under the age of seven. A full size viola is considered to be 16″ (full size violin is 14″). The smallest size viola that is typically available is a 12″, which is equivalent to a half size violin. It is possible to restring small violins as violas, but they do not sound very good, unfortunately. Below are some guidelines for stringed instrument sizing.
Children can also start playing the piano at age four. We reccomend semi-private lessons for four year olds. By age five, children are ready for private piano lessons, but may still benefit from semi-private lessons.
You’ve talked a lot about starting very young children. Is it possible to learn the violin as a teenager or adult?
Absolutely! There are different struggles learning a bowed stringed instrument as an adult, but it is a fulfilling experience as long as the student practices consistently, asks questions, and has a bit of patience in the beginning. We have some excellent students at Silver Strings Academy that did not start playing until middle school, as well as a growing group of adult beginners that enjoy playing chamber music together.
Instrument Cost & Rent vs. Buy
Parents often wonder if they should rent or purchase a stringed instrument for their child. Rental violin/violas in Colorado are usually under $25 a month. Sometimes, parents will see violins that cost $100 on amazon and, rightfully so, see that they could own a violin for the price of only four months of renting.
There are a few important drawbacks to purchasing an instrument for a beginner.
The instrument you purchase will not be very good quality unless you are willing to spend a few hundred dollars. It may seem like this wouldn’t matter for a beginner, but unfortunately is not farther from the truth. Simply put- poorly made instruments sound bad and are hard to play. That doesn’t make for a recipe for success. Students get frustrated, and don’t enjoy playing. Even worse, the pegs will sometimes not work rendering the instrument completely unplayable.
Another drawback is that if a student is younger, say five, they will progress through four sizes of violins before they reach a full sized instrument. Fractional sizes are hard to sell, and do not have good resale value.
Therefore, it makes sense to rent fractional sized instruments until the child reaches full size. Once they reach full size, it makes sense to consider purchasing. Good rental shops will let you trade sizes whenever the child is ready.
There are several great shops to rent instruments from in the Westminster/Arvada area. These shops rent out quality instruments, and apply the rental fees to eventual purchase of a full sized instrument. The instruments are set up in shop by a luthier, which makes them easier to play and sound better. They also have maintenance plans, or have maintenance included. This means that if something small on the instrument breaks, you can take it in to be repaired free of charge (depending on reasonable circumstances). Some have trade in policies as well, in which students can trade their student-level instrument in for a more professional model when they are ready.
There are also places to stay away from. These places rent instruments out at highly inflated rates so that it is very hard to purchase them. They apply a smaller percentage towards purchase price. They rent out low quality instruments that are not professionally set up, leading to frustrated students and teachers. There are lots of limitations on what instruments can be purchased.
- Some excellent violin/viola/cello rental shops in the Denver Metro area are:
Veritable Violins (violins and violas only in Boulder, CO) appointment is needed. All instruments are hand made or rebuilt and professionally set up. Excellent trade up program.
Mi Vida Strings (all strings, in Westminster, CO) call to check for availability. Very high quality instruments set up in house by a local luthier.
Kolacny’s (all strings, in Denver, CO) very large inventory. Quality instruments that are well set-up
Robertson’s Violins (brick and mortar store located in New Mexico) Very high quality rentals, professionally set up by luthiers. Huge selection, and excellent trade-up program. They will ship violin, viola, and cellos to Denver for rental. One drawback is that instruments are difficult to service if there is a problem. They do come up to Colorado a few times a year.
Shar– (online violin, viola, cello rental program) Excellent value and trade in program. Very good quality rental instruments. Wonderful company that has been around for years. They also have instruments on clearance that can be a great value with quality beginner instruments as low as $150!
One good way to purchase an instrument is from the Rockley Family Foundation, a non-profit group that sells instruments. Since the organization is a non-profit, half of the instrument price is tax-deductible. The prices and quality are also very good. The instruments are not handmade, but they are assembled by hand. They have charitable instrument sales throughout the year at the Arvada Center for the Arts, Metro State University, and other locations.
Frequency of lessons
We offer weekly lessons. Bi-weekly lessons are available in special circumstances, but students learn much faster with weekly lessons. Students practice more regularly with regular weekly lessons, so progress is also more consistent. Especially for beginners, two weeks is a long time to go between lessons, and mistakes can become habits in the span of fourteen days. It is also important for students to be held accountable for their progress by having a regular lesson.
Do you have studio recitals?
Yes. We have two solo recitals yearly, where each student plays an individual piece accompanied by a pianist or by their teacher. These fall in December and May. These are not required, but they are great goals to work toward.
None of these are required, but they are fun, enriching experiences for the students.
Do you use box violins for young beginners?
We typically do not. If we do use box violins (cardboard instruments that do not make sound and are used to teach posture), it will not be for long (a few lessons), and only for very young students such as three year olds. Sometimes they are used in group classes. I have, on occasion, used a box violin for a bit longer than usual if a student is very high energy or has trouble treating their instrument with care. Here is a link to a good box violin.
Should parents learn along with the child?
When I start a student under the age of five, I do ask that the parent learn along with the child if at all possible. It is very motivational for the child to see the parent play- they naturally want to imitate them. Practicing is not a chore, music making is a family activity and part of the all-important daily routine. It is also encouraging to the child to see that the parent also makes mistakes. I certainly do not require parents to continue taking lessons, I just teach the parent along with the child until we decide the child is OK to continue on their own beyond the parent. (Although some parents truly enjoy playing and chose to continue!)
What is your stance on group classes?
Due to Covid, we are not currently offering group classes.
Group classes are an important supplemental part of becoming a musician. Students learn how to listen to each other, count, and cooperate musically. However, until Covid is better under control, we are referring students to the Arvada Center. The Front Range Youth Symphony has excellent opportunities for young musicians.
I still have questions!
No problem! After all my years of teaching, I still have questions too and love hearing questions prospective parents have. They often give me a new perspective on the complexity of learning an instrument, and an appreciation for how dedicated so many parents are to ensuring the best for their children.
I would be happy to personally answer any other questions you have!
Send me an email at [email protected]
Call me at 303-900-2488