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Violin posture

Teaching and Pedagogy: I understand that the posture is important but I think for young children it's even more important not to lose interest.

From Polina S.
Posted July 1, 2008 at 04:36 PM

My 7 year old son has been doing Suzuki violin for about 2 years.
His teacher usually spends 40 min out of his 45 lesson telling him about his bad posture (violin pointing down towards the ground) and hardly practises 1-2 pieces each lesson. He's up to Minuet 1 now but the teacher very rare teaches him new pieces during the lesson and is not happy when I'm doing it it a home- I'm a pianist, not violinist.
I'm doing it because otherwise he will compeletely loose any interest in violin. The teacher always says that the shoulder rest is not good - we tried a lot -and he cannot progress further without my son holding the violin properly. I understand that the posture is important but I think for young children and especially for not so patient boys it's even more important not to lose interest.
What is you opinion - is it possible to not concentrate so much on his posture and get back to it when he's a bit older?

From Annette Brower
Posted on July 1, 2008 at 05:02 PM
You cannot move on without good posture, bow hold, etc. Practice all the review pieces with great technique and you may be surprised how quickly the teacher introduces a new piece. The proper shoulder pad is also vital. Be grateful you have found a persistent teacher who knows the value of a solid foundation.

I had an interview with a potential student and the father was disappointed in his progress with the current teacher. He was very proud to announce that the child (about 13 years old) practiced 90 minutes per week. I told them to go back to their current teacher and practice 60 minutes per day. If they were still disappointed they could call me back to discuss lessons. I never heard from them again.

From Marina Fragoulis
Posted on July 1, 2008 at 06:17 PM
I agree with the OP. I think spending that much time on posture and no time on doing something to keep the child's interest will backfire on the teacher, no matter how good their intentions are. Is good posture vital to their development of skill? YES. Should all the lesson time be devoted to it? NO.

I've had lots of bad experiences with teachers who dangled new material infront of me like a carrot only to threaten me that if I don't learn something well then I'll never progress to this piece. Ok ok there are many instances where a child should not progress to new material too quickly and without guidance, but not at the cost of losing interest.

Your son is 7. Nobody knows your child like you do. Your concern that he's losing interest is of great importance to you and to the teacher. I would suggest sitting with the teacher and discussing your concerns. Try to find out his/her opinion on how to maintain his interest while still emphasizing the lesson points the teacher thinks are important. Ask him/her what you can do at home to maintain interest etc. If worse comes to worst then change teachers.

On a personal note, I never advise Suzuki for my students and have heard complaints like this before about Suzuki training. You may want to research some traditional teachers as well.

From Tasha Miner
Posted on July 1, 2008 at 09:27 PM
With my beginners, I spend one lesson (the first lesson) introducing proper posture rules. If they are young, I have parents present to help maintain the "ideal" at home. Usually, all my students need after that are occasional reminders about certain things that each individual forgets or becomes lazy with. If one of my students isn't able to progress because they're constantly forgetting a certain posture rule, we spend extra time in a SINGLE lesson working to correct that issue. I also point it out to parents. This system has worked well for me.

I don't know what you've said to the teacher already. Perhaps request that the teacher hear your concerns about your son losing interest since he's only working on foundation work, nothing fun or exciting like his piece in the lessons. Also ask that maybe only half the time be spent reviewing posture, the other half spent on the piece. I don't know if you feel qualified for this next suggestion, but maybe ask that the teacher show you what your son really needs to fix, and take it upon yourself to work on these things at home with him, freeing up lesson time.

Without knowing exactly what posture issues your son is having, and what his attitude is toward fixing these bad habits, I'm unable to offer anything else at this point. Giving hints online, rather than in person is so difficult!

Either way, best of luck to you and your son!

From Stephen Brivati
Posted on July 1, 2008 at 10:43 PM
Greetings,
Yes, correct posture is importnat, but it can`t be done all in one go all the time.
Finding the corretc rest /pad shoudl be qualified to mean als establishing the many case in which no pad whatsoever is necessary or fidlding around witha sponge.
Bototm line is any teacher who works this way is a waste of space. You should never put a child off music by relentless focus on one issue in only one way. A good teacher knows how to teahc something directly, how to back off, return to the problem form anotehr angle etc all the while nurtuting the childs joy in music making. This is basiclaly incompetence.
Cheers,
Buri
From Tasha Miner
Posted on July 1, 2008 at 11:40 PM
Wow, Buri, that was almost grumpy! Go eat some prunes... :)

Seriously, though... I didn't say before, but I don't like the idea of your son having been playing for two years, and is only on Minuet 1. If this is just his rate of progress great, but assuming this is because of the incessant posture work, I would not approve of such a teaching method. Perhaps there is a piece of the puzzle missing?

From Jenna Potts
Posted on July 2, 2008 at 01:04 AM
I understand the teacher's insistence on correct posture. It is so, so important and MUST be thoroughly addressed. However, in my own playing and teaching experience, I have come to the conclusion that 90% of posture problems are the direct result of an improper set-up, the remaining 10% are the result of a refusal to consistenly address these issues in the practice session. But it is the teacher's responsibility to find the correct chinrest/shoulder rest combination: the teacher should not be assigning you this responsibility. I think it is entirely inappropriate to be spending this amount of time on posture...either the teacher is incompetent, or the practice sessions are not being conducted in a thoughtful manner consistent with the teacher's directions. I do understand, though, the teacher's frustration that you are moving ahead against her wishes. I would encourage you to either commit to following the teacher's wishes explicitly, or find a different teacher.
From Laurie Niles
Posted on July 2, 2008 at 12:49 AM
Teachers who do this make everyone look bad, and I'm sad to say it, but it does seem to be a malady I've noticed in a number of Suzuki teachers who are new to teaching. They get out of Suzuki teacher training and proceed to drive children crazy with posture work, driving their point home far past the point when the child has started to roll his eyes, tap his foot impatiently, breath faster and fidget. I had one parent tell me that she cringes every time her teacher goes to a Suzuki teacher training seminar because it only seems to harden the teacher's resolve to do NOTHING but drive her child insane with posture work. Some teachers never seem to get beyond this stage.

Why? Because:

It is easier to imitate another teacher than to figure out how to work with students yourself.

It is easier to teach "teaching points" than to read the needs a little (or big) person.

It is easier to cling to how it's "supposed to be" as a starting point than to accept how it IS as a starting point.

It is easier to use your will than to motivate someone to use their own.

In a nutshell: look for a better teacher. Observe several teachers and talk to parents of their students before you make your decision. It's not a problem with all Suzuki teachers, and it's a problem that can also exist in non-Suzuki teachers, so simply look for a good TEACHER, whatever the method!

From Bilbo Prattle
Posted on July 2, 2008 at 01:22 AM
What Buri said. He's right on target in my opinion.

No doubt about it.

From Stephen Brivati
Posted on July 2, 2008 at 01:29 AM
Greetings,
but tasha, I am feeling grumpy. Teachers that put sdtudents off are a liability. It is somethign of an ego trip in a way. The etacher is more interested in their own skill and demonstratng succes son a child than genuinly asking if the child is learning, enjoying themselves, making progress etc.
Of course I`m taking prunes.
Cheers,
Buri
From Andrew Victor
Posted on July 2, 2008 at 01:35 AM
I agree, too.

Years ago, I was quite a stickler about left-hand posture. But then I had a student for whom continuing interest in violin playing was much more important to me than having her hold things exactly right.

I had taught long enought to know that without fixing those things whe would never be able to use her 4th finger properly and never be able to shift to 3rd position. But I reasoned that if she learned to play with ehr 4th finger and made it to 3rd position, she would have solved that "posture problem."

It worked out just fine. That was 13 years ago, she is still playing violin. Finished the last of the Suzuki books when she was 14 (the 2 Mozart Concertos therein). Then she started a chamber-music program in her high school for 2 years. Took her fiddle off to college last year!

Since then, I have followed the same policy with young students - and it continues to work. My latest is a little 6 year old who started last October, she is now just starting "Minuet 2" and on this one I'm having her do it from scratch as a serious music-reading exercise.

The right hand posture is something else, but it is also somewhat easier to get a credible bow hold started (not necessarily a good one, but one that will work at this stage and will transition).

With older beginners, teens through adult, it is easier to use reason to work out the reason for certain postural elements. I mean, some of them are in a hurry, I've had really dedicated beginning students who got through Suzuki Book 1 in the first week. Getting these problems in hand is pretty urgent since the reasons for correction are imminent, if not already passed.

Andy

From Ronald Mutchnik
Posted on July 2, 2008 at 03:04 AM
I sympathize with your situation, and I agree that it is the teacher's responsibility to figure out what is comfortable and appropriate for the student. These things can take time and a sensitive and wise teacher will work at these things with positive reinforcement without taking enthusiasm and interest away from the student. That said, you may wish to do a little detective work on your own and check out the violinistinbalance.com website for some good guidelines and photos of what factors (including choosing appropriate equipment)help achieve good posture.
The other thing is that all these elements , good posture, good bow hold (although I prefer the term bow shape), good left hand position, etc. can all be taught with imagination and imagery that inspire a creative spark in the student. Just the other day, for example, a student was able to get her fingers to curve quite naturally at the frog by coming up with the image of a dying spider crumpled up. I realize that's not a particularly "fun" image to think of but she came up with it and it worked quite well for her and was certainly more imaginative than my talking about pronation and supination and weight being received back into the pinkie side of the hand at the frog. Good luck and feel free to ask further.
From Laurie Niles
Posted on July 2, 2008 at 03:25 AM
One of my teachers, Jim Maurer, had some wonderful wisdom that I feel all teachers should bear in mind about correcting posture: "Sometimes they are not ready."

It means that sometimes a student is not ready TODAY to learn about bending the bow pinkie, or bringing over the elbow, or getting that @#$ left thumb a little lower. Yes, you introduce the concept. But if it doesn't stick, you might well see what it is that is so distracting the student. They are usually chomping at the bit to do something; "I worked all week on my Bach Double, did a page more than you assigned, I want you to hear the whole THING!" Good idea to go with that, work with that motivation.

But, never forget the pinkie, the elbow, the thumb. Bring it up again, on another day. Have it in your pocket, ready to go when the student has a receptive moment and perhaps asks, "Why am I having such trouble shifting?"
"Why my dear, it's your thumb...shall we work on that?"

From Ronald Mutchnik
Posted on July 2, 2008 at 05:37 AM
Laurie, I really liked that a lot. Well said and well to remember that and apply it. Thank you!
From Ron Gorthuis
Posted on July 2, 2008 at 09:03 AM
well, here I am again, Ms Emily,.... big bad Ron- the teacher basher.

Fact: the anatomy of small children differs significantly from adults. So, why then do adults insist on adult posture for children?

Fact: hands and arms raised above the level of the heart will tire very easily. Children do not have strength to endure this. So, why push them?

Suzuki devised a method that suited the people and culture at the time. Brilliant. But, to say that a person trained in Zuzuki will be an appropriate teacher for all children is false reasoning to my mind.

Part of the solution is to find a chinrest that suits the child. I know, for a fact, all children benefit from having a centre-positioned chin rest. The Ohrenfom comes to mind. It is very high, and so an SR is NOT needed. A simple foam pad under the shirt is all you need. Why? Because the CR shifts the position of the violin higher up the shoulder. Arms will naturally be raised higher.

Another simple trick is to ensure the music stand is raised, so the student looks "up" to the music.

Also, change your teachers. You want a teacher who will build upon what the student has, not tear down.

Also, give frequent rest periods, even if only for a few minutes at a time.

Play standing. sit only for rest. Chairs do not promote good posture.

And, Suzuki is not the only method.

From Laurie Niles
Posted on July 2, 2008 at 04:11 PM
It really is not a matter of kids not having strength or being significantly shaped differently, it's a matter of where you are on your technique. For example, you could play the Twinkle Variations and make them sound quite lovely, while holding your bow like a tennis racket.

However, if you'd like to do the spiccato barriolage passage in the Mendelssohn Concerto cadenza from the first movement, this will demand a bow arm and bow hold with strength, flexibility and much nuance. So from day one, a good teacher points a student toward the kind of bow arm/hand that will develop in this way.

But...few students are able to adopt this on the first day, or even in the first year. It's an evolution. Some students will not make the necessary adaptations until they hit a wall, when their technique does not allow further advancement and they MUST change. This isn't necessarily stubbornness on their part, it's just a failure to see the point. And sometimes they aren't ready to see the point until there is an immediate reason.

This is why teaching takes patience and persistence.

From J Kingston
Posted on July 2, 2008 at 04:51 PM
Posture is an endless aspect of teaching young students (old ones too). It takes a long time to be able to self monitor and feel tension, stress, comfort, or discomfort. Every time a child grows a little or moves up a size you have to address it again and again. It is a given and vigilences in necessary all the time, but not to the exclusion of all else. Do some exercises to address it and give it your focus and then move on. Gradually it will converge into other aspects of playing but I wouldn't drop it for later. The muscles learn gradually as you go if you stick with it. As far as the teacher....
Buri gets my vote.
That center shoulder rest suggestion is something I am going to look into a bit more as equipment does figure into the equation more than you realize sometimes.
From Tasha Miner
Posted on July 2, 2008 at 05:36 PM
I also support the center chinrest idea.
From Hope Paolotto
Posted on July 2, 2008 at 07:16 PM
I am all for the center chinrests. They work best for a lot of people, and don't work for a lot of people. You have to know when to use them.

Laurie, I have a feeling we are very similar in our beliefs and style of teaching...:)

From Jennifer Laursen
Posted on July 4, 2008 at 02:51 AM
I completely agree with Laurie and Buri! I would waste no time in looking for a more positive, flexible teacher. Center chin rests are also helpful.

Boys are often less coordinated and less able to hold a proper stance than girls. Some boys develop this ability as late as age twelve or thirteen. The other part of the equation is that children have their own priorities, and these might not be the same as the priorities of the teacher or the parent. I believe that the teacher and the parent must respect the child's priorities. They feel like they cannot do everything at once, and for some children musical ideas are much more important than the way they hold the instrument.

Honestly, if the student consistently sees a good example of posture, and if the teacher is patient enough, the student will eventually be ready for that posture lesson. Until then, I think you should be delighted with a musical rendition of their current piece even if they look like they are shooting rabbits.

From Tasha Miner
Posted on July 4, 2008 at 03:20 AM
I'm totally going to use "shooting rabbits" with my adults. ;)
From Stephen Brivati
Posted on July 4, 2008 at 04:52 AM
Greetings,
then I`m gonna teach my performing rabbits to shoot humans.
Cheers,
buri
From J Kingston
Posted on July 4, 2008 at 08:31 PM
I address this with my guys by telling them that skills are like an onion. There are layers. So if the core of the onion is missing, the outside collapses, and if only the center of the onion is available, the onion is really tiny and nobody can really see it/hear it. Then we talk about what layer of the onion we are working on. We use different analogies like video games ie: "Can we beat the boss and move to the next level or are we stuck at level one with violin pointing at the floor." Anyway, I think it might help to cook up a metaphor/simile like that he can relate to and finds interesting. In our case, they know what the whole onion is, but don't have to worry about all the layers at one time. Sometimes, and at different stages/ages it is too much all at once and they mentally will "check out", as he is doing with his teacher. The outside is what people see and hear; posture, vibrato, intonation, set up, which reflects what they know and don't know. The inside of the onion, no one sees, is their internal , feelings, and understanding of what they are doing and what they are trying to communicate or achieve...etc. In the end you need some way to communicate why it is important at all to have good posture. He needs to "buy in" to the whole posture issue. Stories and metaphore/similies can help you here.

Video tapes are available from blockbuster of great violinists from the Bell Telepone hour, and there are some great PBS shows of great performers. My guys really like those and when they are at a transition phase I let them watch those or go to live performances. As others have mentioned, I find boys do things to please themselves and you can not always assume they will just obey without a good reason. I don't know about girls but the boys I know including my own are more compliant when they have a purpose to comply. I would probably work on new things like you are. In fact I have done work to expand areas of interest that were outside of lessons so I think you are smart to do that. I am past this discussion with my guys now, but we are always tweaking posture even now. It is vivid in my memory however that it took a lot of patience to get past the "posture is important" discussion. We never worked only on posture though and I think they would have been bored out their minds.

From Nico B
Posted on July 4, 2008 at 09:01 PM
Dear Polina S, with all respect: if you are able to spend the time with your son at home teaching him new pieces, it would be really worthwhile also to coach him on his posture during his practice sessions until it becomes second nature(since you also have been at the lessons and know what the teacher wants). If you don't have one already, invest in a full length mirror and he can always practice in front of that.

I also agree with those who suggested looking closely at your son's setup: if he has a very long neck, or broad shoulders, or lanky arms, you might experiment with different types of chin and shoulder rests, or even a different fractional size of violin.

As others have noted here and elsewhere, avoiding tension, muscle strain and other types of playing issues that can lead to damage down the road, is very important. Especially for a growing child, where spinal scoliosis could occur.

From Jennifer Laursen
Posted on July 7, 2008 at 01:51 PM
My son (now age 14) , who occasionally looks over my shoulder as I write on v.com, has a different take from mine. He said that he had something similar happen to him at age seven and that it was very frustrating. He was held up for eight months in early book 2, and had his vibrato taken away. He hated the experience, but he emphasizes that it was very important. He fixed something fundamental about left hand position during that time, and he plays with a lovely vibrato now. After seeing a lot of bad vibratos, he is really thankful that he was not allowed to develop one. So, his advice is to trust your teacher and do absolutely what she says.

At the time, it looked like he was embarrassed enough by the situation that he resisted our teacher's efforts. He seemed a bit wilty and whimpery during lessons. The teacher asked me at one point what was wrong with him; she thought perhaps he didn't like violin. Despite my misgivings, I carried out her program exactly as she prescribed. He continued to enjoy playing in recitals, and perhaps this carried him through. I think more than that, he was determined to play well and to get what she was trying to teach him, although this was not evident to me at the time. Sometimes we underestimate their internal will and motivation.

From Nicole Stacy
Posted on July 16, 2008 at 02:11 AM
My Suzuki experience, brief though it was, included a memorable six-step procedure to correct posture, which eliminated lectures. Inexperience aside, I thought this was standard; am I mistaken?
From Susan D
Posted on September 3, 2008 at 06:23 AM
I think it is pretty important, but it's a matter of how we explain it. It shouldn't be 'stand up straight!' which can be very stiff. I explain it to my students using my ballet and Alexander Technique experience. I try and explain that good posture (I never call it that) actually makes everything *less* work.

I just go through this (abbreviated as they 'get it'), each time we prepare to play a piece. Something like this:

'Think of a string coming out of the top of your head, gently pulling you towards the ceiling. Now just place the violin on the collarbone - see if you don't bend over, the collarbone does all the work! Now just help the left hand and the bow by keeping the scroll high - see, now the bow doesn't slide away and the left hand is free.

I know holding the scroll high is hard work at first, but you'll get stronger. You can take a break and bring your arm down whenever you need to, but when you play, just bring that scroll up again.'

And that's it. With most, this works really well. Between pieces, I let them relax and stand however they like.

From Henry Butcher.
Posted on September 3, 2008 at 11:31 AM
If you are really keen to be involved in your son’s violin instruction I would encourage you to learn the violin also. Accompaniment on piano is good and should continue but it is very exciting for children to hear the violin played close up. Also very reassuring for them to hear their violin being played well. Maybe it’s bit too late to catch up to minuet 1, but I’m sure you could play some easy harmonies in no time.

Students learn at their own pace, some of my students could play minuet 1 within 12 months in tune with beautiful posture, hardly ever needing correction. But this, I soon discovered, is quite rare because most children need to be told the same thing over and over again. I quickly adapted my method to accommodate this oversight and over time used many descriptions for each aspect of posture, which is only limited by ones imagination.

So each lesson becomes a fun time and they leave looking forward to the next one, and the teacher keeps his sanity. We talk, have a little giggle, relax and try again.

For the ones that take a long time to acquire good posture there are many easy tunes to go on with until the time is right for the more challenging pieces.

Good posture is imperative right from the start, because I would be very reluctant to be the teacher that has to make the corrections and it is required for advancement through the violin syllabus.

So if need be, posture must corrected at every lesson but the teacher must endeavour to make it a fun time to prevent the lose of interest.

From Marina Fragoulis
Posted on September 3, 2008 at 11:40 AM
If you want to correct posture, let it not always be a verbal thing. So much can be learned from nuances. I don't want to harp to my students about posture but often I will walk up and touch their shoulder as they play and they immediately adjust.

And don't forget about positive reinforcement and complimenting them when they do have good posture.

From Henry Butcher.
Posted on September 3, 2008 at 12:13 PM
Oh yeah, of course, forgot to mention that,

so many things to think about,

thank you


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