Experienced teachers get better results because they pay attention to the basics in violin technique. Developing superior ability is like building a tall skyscraper. You have to make sure that the foundations of violin technique are taught and practised with great care, or by the time your skyscraper has reached the height at which you are moving on to more advanced technique, everything will all come tumbling down. When this happens, it is a great temptation to put the blame on our teachers. In fact, many of us change teachers at this point, only to be taken back to the first steps, because there is an basic fault in our violin setup. How frustrating!
It is sometimes the simple things, which aren’t put in place in the beginning, which trip us up. For violinists and violists, it is worth considering the following. Violin setup should be taught and practised in gentle stages, with lots of fun practice games to keep things interesting, and reviewed until they are automatic, before making a sound on the instrument. It is always worth while to take it slowly.
If your child becomes distracted by experimenting on the instrument, before learning to hold it properly, it will always cause unhelpful physical tension, which impedes the development of good violin technique. For this reason I always keep the the bow and instrument in my studio till the child is ready to play. This might seem extreme, but you will get there much faster, if you and your child can focus on a teaching point without being distracted by experimenting with sound.
My students learn rest position with heels together and toes turned slightly out. For playing position, the left foot is moved to the side so that both feet are comfortably under the shoulders. The head turns slightly to the left, with the nose, left elbow and left toes all in line. The tummy button continues to face forward. This position helps to keep the spine as unstressed as possible, in a neutral position, the foundation of good violin technique.
• Basic rhythms:
I teach the rhythms used in Suzuki’s Twinkle Variations. Amongst other rhythm games, my children learn to soap these on the left arm before playing them on the instrument. this is very much a part of good violin technique and shouldn’t be neglected.
• Bow Hold:
Students can achieve an excellent bow hold by taking it slowly, a step at a time and using loads of bow hold games. For the first few weeks they practice basic bow hold games with a doodlebow which is a plastic mini bow about 5 inches long. When they are ready, they graduate to a real bow and play more bow hold games like Beat the Clock, Salt Shaker and Up Like a Rocket. These games are a great resource for developing your child’s bow hand stamina. At this point the child can take the bow home in the instrument case.
• Violin Hold:
A solid, but relaxed violin hold is pretty fundamental to a good violin technique. To start with, we cut a shoe box down until it is the same size the child’s instrument and stick a small sponge on it for a shoulder rest. There are loads of games to improve violin hold such as Sing It, Pizza Hat and the Smartie Game. The child takes the box home to practice and the instrument stays with me, until the child has developed enough bow control to combine bow and instrument.
• Playing posture with bow on the instrument:
We practice playing Twinkle Variation 1 on the box and on the left shoulder, learning how to keep the bow on the playing spot at an angle of 90% to the side of the box. When this is going well, it will be relatively straightforward to develop violin technique by transfering the already learned the skills to the instrument.
By the time children have learnt the Twinkle Variations, they will have the foundation laid for a musical skyscraper. Reviewing what has been learnt makes the foundations even stronger. Beware, as in a tall big building, basic violin technique needs constant maintenance to prevent it from falling into ruins. For a young child these skills are all taught with fun music games for children until they become automatic. For help, have a look at the violin games page.
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