Unlearning bad habits

November 29, 2006 at 02:50 AM · I am a second year teacher currently teaching 7- and 8-year-olds in a public school setting (I see them in groups of 2-5 at a time). I have about 120 students, many who have not started with me. I need advice on "unlearning" several things:

~A good bow hold - focus on thumb NOT curving inwards

~Collapsed wrist in left hand

~Curved fingers on string (not flat)

~Supporting the instrument while playing

I have been able to help about 85% of the kids unlearn bad habits, but some kids simply do not change, or care to at that. If anything, I want to avoid any future injury! Any and all advice is much appreciated.

Replies (20)

November 29, 2006 at 04:18 AM · Greetings,

you might find some good ideas in `Playing the String Game,` by Phyllis Young.



November 29, 2006 at 04:49 AM · First, your post helped me--I just left it up on the screen as I practiced. Matter of fact, it's going into a page I can use daily... Thanks..

Next, 85% seems pretty good success to me. So I think you deserve a pat on the back to begin with.

But, trying to get at that 15%, hmm. I think I wouldn't think of it in that case so much as unlearning bad habits, as learning 'new' habits.

Can you somehow challenge those without embarassing them to make it fun in getting on board? Even then, I can't imagine getting 100%.

Also, pairing up the good habit person with the one struggling might help too, in a tutor type environment.

And maybe at a minimum, emphasize to them in the process of trying to reach them, what the good habits are... All my teachers and coaches (including Sir Buri), taught me things that still come back to me in a pinch... Maybe you won't be able to see them progress, but down the road, they might remember...


November 29, 2006 at 04:45 AM · I thought we`d agreed on Madam Buri?

November 29, 2006 at 04:48 AM · uh, that was Vivian mamm.. ;)

November 29, 2006 at 02:49 PM · I hope you both enjoy this exchange. I am quite dumb with a way of jokes and find this a bit unsettling.

Buri's comments on technical matters have been right on every time we needed a direction, always complete with fine details. I am afraid I don't find Sir/Madam Buri funny in the slightest.


November 29, 2006 at 05:07 PM · Hi Carolyn,

The above gender confusion aside, I second the Phyllis Young book. Also, I learned from Gallwey's "The Inner Game Of Tennis" to have the mind focused on making a new good habit, instead of breaking an old bad habit. That said, I think there are times when a student is unable to change, and 85% is a good track record.

November 29, 2006 at 05:14 PM · I'm very sorry Ihnsouk... Buri has helped me generously and even intently as well... I think you may have misinterpreted our banter, and simply express my apologies.


November 29, 2006 at 05:18 PM · From a psychological point of view, it takes about 3 weeks to change a habit (or develop a new one, which is the preferred method of getting rid of an old habit). If you can get someone to agree to do something for 21 days, you've got a good shot at changing a habit. Hope that helps.


November 29, 2006 at 05:40 PM · Thanks for all of your advice - I think the most challenging part is when the students leave the lesson, most of them (I am culprit of this as well sometimes...) go back to their old ways as I am not there to reinforce things. I have several young students who are very self-sufficient and will correct themselves; most of them stick to what they are comfortable with, thus making their time without me less productive.

November 29, 2006 at 07:48 PM · Sander gave me an idea. What about focusing one one of the listed areas each week--perpetually--for like 3 minutes a day.... (I should follow my own advice here;0) )


Actually, I try to..

November 29, 2006 at 09:06 PM · Carolyn, could you bring them perhaps photos of correct positions and get them to copy what they see instead of trying to copy you all the time. (that way parents can check the correct position when they do their homework!)it's another way of showing them and also maybe ask the student who has best position to show the others, and get a different student each week to show others until all your students have it ! one thing at a time and a lot of praise!

November 29, 2006 at 09:24 PM · I agree with Benny - I often use other students as examples (those who are doing things correctly) so I'm not blabbing on about this and that. I use the Essential Elements book; there are some pretty useful pictures in there. I also have a mirror in my room which comes in quite handy. Starting today, before my students were allowed to leave the room after each lesson, they each had to tell me one thing they had to work on for their next lesson. We'll see how this works! Teaching is so interesting - as I feel that I become a better teacher, I always find new things that need tweaking and I feel like I'm constantly learning. Guess life would be boring if there was nothing to strive for. :)

November 29, 2006 at 09:36 PM · Sorry, one more question for anyone who might be reading this. Unlike the Suzuki method, the parent is not directly involved in their child's string education. I have suggested to the other strings teacher in the district that we have a "Strings 101" evening for any interested parents - this is still up the air. Does anyone have any suggestions on trying to heighten parent involvement in a child's life?

I have a 30 minute practice requirement per week (same as the band). Last year I had a 60 minute requirement, which was difficult for most students, so I lowered the standards, which I don't like to do. When I started, I had to practice 15 minutes daily - when now all I'm asking is 5 minutes daily and some students don't even do that (the excuse being "I'm too busy!" with which I respond, "Did you have time to eat/sleep/go to the bathroom?" (they laugh) - "then you have time to practice! Make the time!") What do you think is a reasonable practice requirement for a 2nd or 3rd grader? I do have a certificate which they receive for every 500 minutes they practice. Any suggestions on getting a child to practice?

November 29, 2006 at 10:19 PM · If it were private lessons, upon which the parents were spending money it would be easier I think. Today's world of video games and surfing, and families busier than they should be, makes this a real issues not only with practice.

Other than some type of enrichment, like taking them to symphony, or youth orchestra, it seems real tough. You might try to dramatize characters of note from the past like Paganini. Or you might turn them on to the history of violins in vivid ways--do a geography tour of Cremona. Getting their attention is something that one would really have to step outside the box with.

One thing you might do is to dress crazily like Mozart or something, and continuously shock their everyday routines with what seems like hyperbole.

I saw a lecture on getting and keeping people's attention some while ago, and the prof's were using all kinds of antics and tactics like dressing in bizarre clothes, doing period stuff, and things like that.

Kids are over stimulated, and to get at them, sometimes ya gotta join'm. al

November 29, 2006 at 10:37 PM · Greetings,

Dear Ihnsouk, my apologies if you were bothered by those exchanges. They were being done in a light hearted spirit.

Al is going to be a fine violinist , but I am going to have to bang his hea d repeatedly against a wall for the next ten years just to rev him down. I view it as my contribution to society ;)



November 30, 2006 at 01:15 AM · Al and Buri - Glad to know it's all in the fun. Like I said, to laugh I need a big sign, "This is a joke".


November 30, 2006 at 01:51 AM · Ten years indeed. Within 5 Mrs. Buri and Hillary will be asking me to serenade them.

November 30, 2006 at 02:43 PM · carolyn, going forward, one way to avoid the issue of unlearning bad habits is to get parents involved as much or as early as possible, as you are planning to do. they can help provide daily feedback in the teacher's absence.

you sound like a very caring and fun teacher, lucky kids you have there.

November 30, 2006 at 03:05 PM · You said:

"~A good bow hold - focus on thumb NOT curving inwards

~Collapsed wrist in left hand

~Curved fingers on string (not flat)

~Supporting the instrument while playing"

Sounds like 99 44/100% of the kid violinists I see.

Been struggling with these as a parent for 3 years.

November 30, 2006 at 04:49 PM · Don't stop Buri & his jokes; if you don't get them, ignore them, as they weren't directed specifically at you.

I have been missing the prunes for sometime now...

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