So you or your child has just started learning to play the violin -- congratulations!
It takes a while to get good at this instrument, and it's very easy to fall into bad habits that will limit your progress. Here are some bad habits to avoid, along with advice on how to form good habits. Enjoy the video, and/or read the written version below it:
Stand or sit upright when you are playing the violin.
It's entirely too easy to slump when playing the violin. As slumping does not aid walking, slumping does not help one's violin playing. In fact, it can cause muscle and tendon strain, where muscles are trying to work over angled joints. By contrast, an upright position frees the muscles, joints and spine.
The violin should be fairly parallel to the floor, with just a slight tilt forward. The scroll should be neither up, nor down, just straight out. Neither the weight of the violin, nor your efforts to concentrate, nor your music-reading, should cause you to slump over when you are playing the violin.
You should be able to hold up the violin with your head, without the help of your left hand. ("Look Mom, no hands!") BUT. Let's not get too carried away with that. Your left hand will cradle the violin, without gripping (see below), so that there is some interplay between balancing the violin on the shoulder, balancing against the base of the first finger and thumb, and stabilizing with your head.
Your head should not clench the violin, as this will lead to too much tension in the neck. Your spine should stay straight. Here's one way to envision the role of the head: your head is very heavy, like a bowling ball, and the weight of it alone is enough to support the violin. So with the spine straight, simply turn the head slightly to the left, then rest your jawbone on the chin rest. You don't need to tilt the head or clench your neck muscles.
Less frequent, but still a problem, is a posture that involves standing TOO straight. If you are doing a backbend, getting an arch in the small of your back, holding your breath, tensed upward, then you'll need to adjust as well.
When you raise the violin, remember these things:
Grabbing the violin
A lot of people start with the misconception that a violinist "holds" the violin with the left hand. Also, because the instrument feels rather heavy, the left hand wants to help and may unconsciously start gripping the neck. Two bad habits can result from this:
Ideally, the neck of the violin is cradled between a passive thumb (which is usually straight) and the base joint of the first finger (there's a little bone that sticks out there -- the violin generally rests there.) The thumb should not squeeze the neck of the violin. A bent thumb is often an indication that the thumb is squeezing the neck of the violin. For this reason, often a teacher will tell a student to straighten the thumb. A little crooked may be okay, especially for particularly long thumbs, but the thumb should be passive. The thumb should not squeeze or grab the neck, this will inhibit shifting, vibrato and general left-hand freedom.
The left wrist should be straight and relaxed, bending neither outward or inward. If it is bending dramatically inward, it creates a serious strain on the wrist and muscles.
A rigid bow "grip"
The way a violinist holds the bow can be puzzling to a beginner, because at first it does not seem to have any advantage. But there are reasons behind the way we hold the bow, which have to do with having an ideal balance of strength and flexibility in the bow hand.
Your teacher will likely show you where to place your fingers, or you might find this in a diagram on the Internet or in a book. But beware! Your fingers should never be "fixed" in place. The term "bow grip" is terribly misleading -- the bow is ever-moving, and your fingers will need to constantly adjust.
When it comes to the bow hand, no finger should ever be locked in place. The biggest culprit? The thumb. If your thumb is locked straight, you have greatly limited your bow hand. The fingers should remain at their stations, but they should be able to bend and maneuver the stick in many ways. You can help your bow hand by practicing with a pencil -- position your fingers as though they are on the bow and then see if you can bend the fingers, straighten them, move the tip of the pencil up and down and in circles -- and not drop the pencil!
Neglecting your instrument
Violins require some basic care or they won't work well for you. Here are some pointers:
Second-guessing your teacher
Trust your teacher. If you don't trust your teacher, find a teacher you trust. Then follow that teacher's instructions without second-guessing or looking for shortcuts.
Of course, I'm not saying that you should not ask your teacher questions. You should take an active role in your learning. Ask questions when you are confused or curious. But at the end of the day, do the exercises your teacher prescribes, and let your teacher guide you.
Expecting progress without practice
Learning to play the violin fluently is a difficult, long-term project. You have to build skill, muscle memory, coordination and endurance. That requires daily devotion. How much should you practice? Every day, for as long as you can. Don't hurt yourself, don't overdo it. But every day. That will build a virtuous cycle -- the more you practice, the better you will play, and the better you play, the more you will wish to practice!
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