Maturity rather than age
For private violin lessons, however, students need the maturity for individual instruction. This includes being able to:
Things to look for
How do you know if it’s time to start violin lessons? Besides maturity, look for these signs:
School orchestra instruction: a caution
Because the majority of kids are mature enough for violin lessons at nine years old, public schools used to start orchestra in the fourth grade. Some still do, though many more start later due to funding issues. But very few start earlier.
It is extremely important at this point to get the student into private lessons in addition to orchestra class. Group instruction is rarely enough to teach violin well! This is a highly complex skill that relies on the formation of very specific physical habits. A good foundation sets up a student to progress quickly and play well, and a faulty or incomplete foundation sets up a student for physical strain and inferior musical ability...and a lot of discouragement!
The group is no help: looking around at your peers to learn by imitation is basically the blind leading the blind. The student needs to be able to ask specific questions of an experienced teacher and receive immediate feedback for what they are and are not doing right. Add to this the fact that many orchestra teachers are not violinists. (Their main instrument might be cello…or trombone...or piano…) They might have had a semester of beginning violin during college (probably in a group!) in order to learn the basics and complete their music education degree.
I have had several students come to me after struggling through several months of school orchestra class and giving up. We automatically started at the very beginning and worked hard to undo very bad habits that were formed in group violin class. It does work, so if you are in this situation, try again with a private teacher.
And a bit of neurology
Each time you do something, a neural pathway is created in your brain. Each time you do the same thing the same way, the pathway gets stronger. Eventually, every time you approach doing that same thing, you automatically slip into the groove you have created. If this is a good groove, you become consistently good. If you have been practicing a mistake, though, doing the same bad thing over and over, you have a rut of a bad habit to try to get out of. It takes a lot of time before you can approach that behavior without slipping back into the rut.
Playing the violin is very physical and very, very nuanced. Even something as seemingly minor as curving the pinky of the right hand can have a huge impact on how beautiful your tone is, how fast you can play, and how many decades you can keep playing without pain. And there are dozens of “little” things just like this every violinist needs to learn. So, find yourself a good teacher in the beginning who will set you up right!
Quodlibet: A piece employing several well-known tunes from various sources, performed either simultaneously or in succession. (Schirmer Pocket Manual of Musical Terms)