Chapter 1: Introduction


At The Royal Conservatoire in The Hague (Koninklijk Conservatorium, KC) there has been a special young talent programme (School voor Jong Talent, SvJT) for quite some time now. During the past years we have noticed that children pass their entrance exams for violin at a progressively younger age. This tendency has various reasons.

Parents are becoming more demanding. They want a better education for their offspring. The status of a special education for more gifted children fits well with this demand. At the same time, in recent years music schools in The Netherlands seriously suffered from governmental policy for cultural education. Municipal subsidies were reduced enormously forcing a number of well performing music schools to close their doors. Music lessons have now become significantly shorter; moreover they are much more expensive. For the more talented and motivated children and their parents this situation is no longer acceptable and for many of these students refuge has been soughtand found in special young talent education.

Already 17 years ago the KC started a pilot with preliminary music education on various instruments, including the violin, for children between 4 and 6 years of age. As a violin and violin methodology teacher at the KC I was asked to head the team that started PIVO, the programme dedicated to preliminary violin education for young children. After that I was also involved in the setting up of the follow-up, PIVO+, that was later transformed into Jong KC Junior. The PIVO project has resulted in a number of gifted young violinists successfully passing the entrance exam to the young talent programme at the age of 7 or 8 years.

As a result, the conservatoire suddenly had to deal with a completely new group of pupils requiring a quite different way of teaching by their instrumental teachers. Young pupils, by which I mean children in middle childhood, approximately 7-12 years of age, are generally sufficiently motivated to learn, but are far from independent in their behaviour and choices. They need a lot of help and supervision. It is very easy to both create and destroy their motivation at this age. Therefore the question is how to motivate them in the best possible way. These children are developing at full speed, their brains and motor skills as well as their emotional perception are steadily growing and they have a huge potential for a successful and well-balanced training.

Since these children are still developing, they are not immediately capable of performing all kinds of tasks. They have certainly shown their talent - afterall they have been accepted at the SvJT - but what precisely can a teacher expect from these pupils? For a teacher – and equally so for the student - it is really frustrating to demand something of a pupil that he/she cannot fulfill. The teacher shouldtherefore be aware of the fact that in middle childhood children are able to perform amazingly well in certain respects but are completely incompetent in other areas.

The teacher should furthermore know that some tasks can be an uphill battle for a long period of time, however with the surprising benefit that subsequently, at a later stager, certain goals can be achieved rapidly and apparently without much effort. The first children that started in PIVO and entered the SvJT some years later, now appear to beadvanced students of the Royal Conservatoire. In the years that passed by I have learned very much as a teacher about the development of children in middle childhood, how they learn, what they learn and when they learn. For me it turned out that middle childhood is a very interesting and fruitful period in which we can help children to develop optimally and to exploit their talents.

I have always had a great interest in teaching children. This interest grew even stronger when I became a mother myself and got much more aware of the perspective of the parent responsible for the education of a child and the many new challenges that come with that. The experience of teaching children in early and middle childhood made me understand how different this is – in spite of many similarities - from teaching adolescents. This roused my interest in the theories of development psychology. At Leiden University I attended many lectures on development psychology. And for the present master’s research I studied the rich literature that is available on the topics of development psychology and the training of young talents.

The results of my research are reflected in this paper. I wish to underline that this is not merely a question of translating theory into practice. You cannot learn teaching from a book. The scholarly literature can offer a lot of insights that are very useful for the teacher, but in the end it is only by personal experience – and experimenting – that a teacher can learn what works and what does not. For me the confrontation of the teaching approach I developed in the course of many years with the theoretical insights of scholars has been very inspiring. This learning process has been mutually reinforcing: my experience helped me to value the theoretical literature and the theory has given me a deeper understanding of my own practice and helped me to develop it further.

In my research I have chosen to focus on children in middle childhood. An other research might be dedicated to the specificities of elementary teaching to children in early childhood, as we are practising at the KC. And I would be very much interested in researching the specific challenges of violin teaching to young adolescents, since adolescence is a sensitive period in a young person’s life, full of high potential but also full of risks. I hope that the present paper offers at least some guidelines for the development of young violinists in such a way that at the age of about 12 they are ready for the next phase.

The present paper is not meant to be a violin method. There are already plenty of good violin methods, more than I will ever be able to use in my class. In my opinion every teacher should use the method that suits him/her best. Each method gives the opportunity to teach well or not. What counts in the end is the teacher’s own vision on how to use the specific aspects of children in middle childhood, and the specificities of each child individually, in such a way that they get the opportunity for an optimal and balanced development into all-round violinists. I hope that this paper can contribute to that.

The research question addressed in this paper can be formulated as follows. How can an optimal musical and violinistic development be achieved in the teaching of children in middle childhood? The answer to this question will be sought in the combination of a study of the relevant scholarly literature on learning and teaching and my own teaching experience of more than 20 years. Chapter 2 deals with the theory, the lessons that can be drawn from literature. Chapter 3 concentrates on the practice of violin teaching and the translation of the lessons from theory into a teaching approach based upon a coherent vision and multiannual strategy. In chapter 4 (conclusions) theory and practice are integrated. Since development psychology and music teaching do not belong to the exact sciences, these conclusions should not be read as the mathematical results of this research, the calculations for which can be found in the previous chapters. The conclusions should rather be read as a summary of the main findings of the paper.

The research question being rather broad, it makes sense to analyse it in many different subsidiary questions. Many of these questions will be dealt with throughout the paper. For the structure of the paper the following subsidiary questions have been used.

  • How can the motor development during middle childhood be understood and optimally used in violin teaching practice? (chapters 2.2 and 3.2)

  • How can the cognitive development during middle childhood be understood and optimally used in violin teaching practice? (chapters 2.3 and 3.3)

  • How can the social development during middle childhood be understood and optimally used in violin teaching practice? (chapters 2.4 and 3.4)

  • What does the concept of talent mean? (chapter 2.5)

  • How can the pupil be prepared for deliberate practice? (chapters 2.6 and 3.5)

  • How can motivation be awaked and nourished? (chapters 2.7 and 3.6)

  • What is the role of the parents? (chapter 3.7)

  • What does all this mean for the approach and vision of the teacher? (chapter 3.8)

I have illustrated the paper with examples from my own practice, where possible in the form of pictures or films (for understandable reasons these films will only be accessible in the digital version of this paper). I also added some pictures of interesting quotes that in a concise way express or illustrate my views. For the help of the busy readers who do not have the time to read all through this paper, I have highlighted those remarks I specifically wish to draw their attention to, in the hope this will invite them to dive deeper into the text.

chapter 2 : development in middle childhood in theory