Anybody who thinks I dwell in an ivory tower of music education, content to comment from afar, is sadly mistaken; as one of perhaps two Abreu Fellows who have at least one child, I’m aware how profoundly my daughter will be affected by all the choices my wife and I make for her.
Case in point: the other day my wife and I were talking with my brother and his fiancée by when he had the unmitigated folly to ask us what instrument we were eventually going to start our daughter on. I initially thought the question might be premature, given the daughter in question is barely 15 months old, but apparently my wife and I will need the time to figure this out. In a rare display of familial discord, my wife the pianist immediately replied “Piano!” while her husband the ex-pianist/hornist/conductor (in chronological order) immediately said “Violin!”
The fiancée then raised an interesting point, particularly for someone not active within music. She suggested that piano would have a gentler learning curve and be far easier on parental ears than a ¼ size violin being played out of tune- and she’s right. I recall Joel Smirnoff’s comment in the March Strad article that “The child wants to be rewarded with sound,” and there’s definitely an element of instant gratification (and intonation) on the piano that may not be there for the violin.
How strong that element is I don’t know. I get the impression that as many children drop out of solitary piano studies as they do solitary violin studies, unable to achieve the level of proficiency necessary to find the activity intrinsically motivating. (More on that here) There’s another issue worth mentioning: piano is by default a solitary pursuit, whereas violin can encompass a group – and therefore social – element. And of course, there’s a financial/real estate element too: pianos are much larger and much more expensive than violins.
So I’m obviously pleading my case, at this point. And the lack of immediate intonation on violin might even be an asset, helping students acquire, even protractedly, a finite appreciation for pitch and quality of sound that a piano cannot generally impart.
The strongest argument I can think of in favour of piano is that it demands the development of an advanced degree of musical literacy, the ability to track, comprehend and execute multiple voices at the same time. I’ve never regretted my early piano studies: as a horn player I was one of the few I met who was immediately comfortable with reading parts in bass clef, and as a conductor I then had no difficulty adjusting to multiple staves of musical information. I’ve applied that literacy to my very late violin studies to some…some advantage as well.
Well, say the Solomonic, what about letting the child study both? I’m not sure that would be a kindness to my daughter. I have no intention of being the kind of parent who schedules every last one of his child’s minutes. I do want her to understand that hard work and effort is a prerequisite to finding any activity enjoyable, so that she develops that essential degree of self-efficacy required for any pursuit, but I also want her to have fun being a kid… a concept I think is rapidly forgotten today. Adulthood can be crappy enough at times, as we all know, so why inflict that on any person sooner than necessary? Please weigh in below…
And now, introducing Guest Blogger Mrs. Theresa Govias
I have always thought that piano was the ideal instrument to start children on. As a piano teacher I started children as young as 4 and they all did very well. One of the primary advantages is that they start learning to read music immediately, which then can be transmitted to any other instrument they decide to try. However, it does seem that most violinists start learning their instrument from a very young age, so maybe to be good at the violin you do have to start at the age of two. In that case I wouldn’t want my daughter to be denied the chance to play violin well because I stubbornly think that piano is the best instrument. But I do think that regardless of whether we start her on violin or not, I will still try to teach her piano at some point. I think it has transferrable skills that are invaluable to being a good all around musician.