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Christina Wilke

An attempt at "puppeteering" with the violin...

August 20, 2011 at 5:03 AM

Pizza wrist. Waitress hand. We all have a name for the pesky habit that many students have of collapsing their left wrist so that the entire palm of the hand is touching the neck.  This problem (which like to call the "waitress wrist") plagued me for two years while teaching public school violin.  But when I decided to make the transition to private teaching, I thought, "Well, if it's only 1 student at a time, surely this problem won't be very hard to fix!"  Boy was I wrong!

Case in point: my 11-year old student, Danielle (name has been changed).  Having a years worth of lessons under her belt, she had progressed to Minuet 3 in Suzuki 1.  But her waitress hand was holding her back from playing the piece in tune.  So, the first thing I did was zero in on the wrist.  Unfortunately, our first lesson went a little like this:

Me: "All right, we want to relax the wrist away from the violin so that your forearm and wrist are in a straight line."

Danielle: (Wrist relaxes, scroll of violin falls towards the ground)

Me: "Hmmmm, I like that your wrist is relaxed and in line with your forearm now.  But now the violin isn't parallel to the floor.  What can we do about this?"

Danielle: (Collapses wrist to raise violin)

Me: "Alright, so we're back to where we're started.  How about relaxing the wrist and then using your left arm, rather than your wrist, to hold up the violin?"

Danielle: (Relaxes wrist, arches back as far as possible to raise the violin, somewhat succesfully, back to the proper position)

Me: *sigh*

It was then that I realized the disconnect in her brain, the disconnect that so many students have.  They don't see a "collapsed wrist".  They see their hand holding up the violin.  It took weeks of unsuccessful attempts at curing this issue.  Every time I tried to explain how the wrist or arm would move instead of looking at it from outside the body.  In a final attempt, I switched my tactic and used the idea that our hands are responding to "outside" forces, rather than the body creating the movement.  I pretended to attach a string to the bottom of the left elbow and one to the top of the left thumb.  While she set her violin in position, I pretended to pull up on the left thumb.  Voila- violin in position.  Then for the real test... I "pulled" the imaginary string attached to her elbow to gently pull the wrist back into position.  After figuratively beating my head against a wall with countless numbers of students, something as simple as imaginary strings would prove the cure to her ailment!

Since then, all of my students have been introduced to what I now call "Puppet Strings".  At any point, they know I may pull on one of the "strings" helping them play their instrument.  I've added a string to the top of the head to help elongate the spine.  I call them "my three magic puppet strings".  Three magic strings to fix posture, relax the left wrist, and keep the violin held high. 

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