Refurbishing Bad Technique

November 8, 2011 at 07:33 PM · Some examples of what I see: (feel free to address just one or all)

1. students vibrating 'sideways'

2. playing on the inside of the bow hair

3. collapsed, stiff thumbs on the bow

4. straight, stiff pinkies on the screw

5. 'palming' the violin

6. L thumb tip pressed into the side of the neck

I find that 'reminders' don't work. The student makes an effort in the lesson, returns home and resumes playing 'the old way'. Some of these students are under the gun in Youth Orchestra, so can't be totally reverted to basics.

My theory is that technique doesn't change unless it is forced to change in order to conquer a given exercise, etude or piece.

Would love to hear suggestions for these sorts of solutions, as well as anything else that has worked consistently for you in your own studios.

Thanks in advance.

Replies (21)

November 8, 2011 at 08:16 PM · Julie,

I've had to deal with a few of these lately. There is really only one way to do it: toss everything else until they've started to change things. For example, I spent an entire lesson on the basic straight bow stroke, using open strings. Then I said don't bring any music to the next lesson, and the next week we did the same thing, with just first position open string scales. Most students do appreciate this kind of work (and if they didn't and wanted to quit I'd say "see ya!"). My only regret is not doing this earlier with some of them. If they need remedial help, DON'T put it off.

November 8, 2011 at 08:23 PM · Ooh, that's a rough one. You have to get them to simplify until they've replaced the incorrect habit with the correct one, and you have to do it in such a way that the student sees/hears the need to change, has the desire to change, and the drive to make it happen. Keep it positive, above all--lots and lots of encouragement...

November 8, 2011 at 08:46 PM · Oh my, yes, totally relevant question!!!! What I will sometimes do is "cross-training"--rather than moving on to the next thing, I'll find a new piece or exercise that will keep things fresh and interesting, but that is easily within the student's ability level so they can FOCUS on the technique point. And then I'll bring that technique point out in EVERYTHING in the lesson. If something in the lesson is too complex to let us focus on the technique point, it can go on the shelf until needed. I am not always as good at that as necessary :/ and I still tend to underestimate the "solidifying" time needed, once the student has the concept, to make sure they keep it. But with this approach I'm usually able to get good results, while still doing actual music. (It's good to have some extra/different books on hand to make sure you have a good supply of fresh, but not-too-hard, pieces)

November 9, 2011 at 02:58 AM · Hi Julie,

I am a 2 month old newbie. I have the problem of straight pinky and collapsed stiff bow thumb.

My teacher keeps on telling me to relax and continuously repositioning my fingers to the correct posture.

As a student, I know these are the problems. But many times, I just don't know how to change. It's like out of my control. Every time I want to do it right, I keep going back to the wrong posture. It's kind of frustrating.

I have received many good feedback from the people here. They had identified the root cause of the problem, which unfortunately, I think my teacher did not share in details. As she just reposition my fingers and simply telling me to relax.

You can check out the post here -

November 9, 2011 at 06:23 AM · I have been there as a student. My new teacher found many things wrong with my right hand. The thing that motivated me most to change was that he helped me experience, during the lesson, how much the sound of my violin improved when I did it right. It went from tinny and scratchy to much more warm and sonorous. And the feeling was different, too: from playing "on" the violin to playing the violin, in intimate and relaxed contact with the instrument. From then on, I knew what to aim for.

So I think it would help to have your students experience, during the lesson, the difference a good posture makes.

November 9, 2011 at 06:39 AM · If a student has multiple problems its important to adress one problem at a time and only move on to the next when the first problem has been solved.If for example a student is working on improving the left hand I might just adjust the right hand without saying anything at all.

November 9, 2011 at 10:53 AM · I think there are two ways to approach this. One is cold turkey. Basically drop everything and make the change. The other is to gradually change the technique with specific exercises.

I think the cold turkey approach might be applicable in the summer, when there are no other pressures to perform. When I was younger, I switched teachers in the summer and he had me play open strings for nearly a month. Then I played simple left hand finger patterns for another 2 weeks. Then I played Mendelssohn VC. I think the changes helped me and I still carry those skills with me today.

For the gradual approach. You can give exercises to work on the specific thing you are trying to fix. The student spends at least a certain amount of time each day focusing on getting that one thing right. For repertoire, or orchestra, that technique is in the back of their mind, but not absolutely required. With time, the technique will work itself out. But if it doesn't, then you can still do the cold turkey approach.

November 9, 2011 at 12:01 PM · i can't seem to wrap my warped mind over this and put it together:

on one hand, we have some drop dead awesome russian violin players...

on the other, some say russians use real guns as starter guns to train runners,,,

you don't say! :)

November 9, 2011 at 03:33 PM · "I find that 'reminders' don't work."

"...technique doesn't change unless it is forced to change."

There's your answer. You probably only see students once a week. Students need to learn how to take responsibility for their own 'reminders' the other six days a week.

It depends on the student, but I tend to tackle one issue at a time.

Take the left L thumb. Scribble out a super easy one string exercise (Example: Open D, E, F#, G, 4th Finger A, up and down repeated) and have the student practice this exercise with the sole goal of keeping that thumb soft, relaxed, and in the proper position.

If that works for a week, give another simple exercise, using another string. If that works, move on to a simple scale. Go from a small goal of a tiny accomplishment into a longer piece or exercise.

Brainstorm with the student on how to be their own 'reminder'. Say "soft thumb" out loud. Tap the thumb on the neck. Whatever works...

Sometimes the rising tide raises all the boats. Sometimes not. Good luck!

November 9, 2011 at 04:08 PM · A couple of days ago I saw an item in the BBC News Magazine about a child maths prodigy. In it a remark by Prof Imre Leader, a Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, who has assessed the boy's maths skills, and believes there is no point fast-forwarding through exams and qualifications unless someone is achieving 99% on every exam, took my attention –

"There's quite an important distinction between progressing, taking lots of exams as fast as you can, getting four or five years ahead of yourself, and relaxing and enjoying the level that you are at - what we call enrichment - doing some harder thinking material on your own level of maths.

That's often a more fruitful thing in the long run.", he said.

Now replace "maths" in the quote by "playing the violin" ...

My teacher would, I think, understand "enrichment" and "harder thinking material on your own level" (two significant elements of the quote) in violin terms as implying working on a piece in, say, Suzuki #4, to a level where you'd be happy to have it heard being performed live on the radio.

November 9, 2011 at 05:20 PM · Refurbishing bad technique doesn't necessarily apply just to students. Some years ago in The Strad there was an article about a professional cellist who did a lengthy concert/recital tour in Europe, at the end of which he was aware that his technique was starting to get ragged. So, when he returned to England he had to spend some time in getting his technique back up to its proper level.

November 9, 2011 at 09:17 PM · I get addicted to refurbishing. I hit lots of walls when trying to master repertoire, and I think if I could understand a basic principle on a deeper, more consistent level, I wouldn't struggle.

November 9, 2011 at 10:51 PM · Sometimes we just need to take time to work on a positive relationship with a student who has come to us from someone else. Build up your credibility by being able to explain reasons for the changes you introduce, and introduce them little by little. Be sure you can demonstrate what you want a student to be able to do. In a private-lesson setting, if you can't play it acceptably, imo you shouldn't be teaching it. (Very advanced students may be able to do some passages better than the teacher if same has several "whiz-kids" and limited practice time, but that isn't the same as only being able to describe w/o doing.) Be careful not to criticize the former teacher. Broach what you want improved as just that; a tweak that could make something easier or better-sounding. Write out assignments, put tapes,stickers or other markers on temporarily for those who can't seem to remember what to do to fix a funky bowhold, thumb positioning,etc. Hunt up great videos, or find pictures for students to study. Do give the student's technique careful assessment. Everyone does these things a little differently, any how. It's good to understand some of the other common ways of setting each hand, so that if your student's is just different, not "bad", you won't be trying to fix things that can be left alone. Sue

November 10, 2011 at 01:41 PM · "Palming the violin"

If you read Roger Rich's* books he recommends this!

* Rugerio Ricci

November 10, 2011 at 05:04 PM · I'm doing a long-term refurbishment (I think of my lessons as rehab or thearpy!). In my experience, continuing to participate in group music tends to hinder my progress so I did cut back for a while, but a couple of irrestible orchestral pieces have pulled me back into the fray. It's been a challenge to not slip back into the bad-habits, but I think I'm seeing some improvement.

In my 'therapy' sessions it's been absolute back to basics by my own choosing. Scales/arpeggios, Sevcik op.1 & just recently long-tones, trying to target the flawed aspects of my technique & re-building them from the ground up. Every session I try to identify 1 or 2 very basic things to focus & work on between sessions. Having something so very simple to do actually makes me more likely to do it... no excuse not to, even if it's for only 5 minutes on a hectic day, and I see the pay off.

November 15, 2011 at 10:45 AM · A lot of these problems are related to excessive finger pressure for the left hand and lack of flexibility on the right. Two exercises I use for fixing these problems. For the left hand I get them to play scales, pieces , vibrato and shifting in "dead note" position. Dead note position is where you are touching the string ,but not touching the finger board and a little more weight than a harmonic. You should notice immediately when they do this exercise that their technique is perfect, at least when they do the exercise. For the right I teach my students flexibility using this technique;

You can't expect them to bend the thumb until they learn this first ,and then it's an easy fix.

I teach these these to my students in their first lessons.

November 15, 2011 at 01:22 PM · Maybe we should concentrate on trying to improve our playing rather than all this gobblygook.

I'm sure the great players do not talk about all this high octane stuff - they just get on and do it. Likewise the best luthiers make instruments using the brains hands and ears, and don't resort to all this mumbo jumbo.

November 15, 2011 at 02:54 PM · Peter, I would say maybe 1 or 2 out of a hundred students need "show and tell " lessons. The other 98 require extra work.

November 16, 2011 at 06:17 PM · Charles, I wasn't directing my comments at you. Sorry if you thought I was.

It was directed at someone else.

November 17, 2011 at 10:29 AM · I have that problem too and I have a better figure than David Oistrakh (had).

November 17, 2011 at 09:16 PM · Hi Julie,

I've recently started with a student like yours as well. She's 12 and is the only violin in the band/orchestra at her school so is given the flute parts. She learned violin in a group setting in school in grade 4 and has had no individual instruction. So unfortunately she's still in Suzuki Book 1 repertoire, but her orchestra requires much more technical things from her. She's very keen and intelligent so I have approached technique with her one thing at a time. It's discouraging for students to have everything corrected at the same time. First we started with her bow hand and did easy pieces just concentrating on that. Now we're working on relaxed left hand posture without squeezing. I still helped her with her difficult orchestra work, but incorporated most of our practice/lesson time on basics. I talked to her know that we can't continue to more difficult pieces until we've fixed some things and explained the reasons why so she could understand what we need to fix and why. She agrees and even though we've had some frustrations, she can tell she's gotten much better already. So even though your students can't go entirely back to basics, having them integrate basics into each practice time will help. I look forward to hearing how it's working for you!

This discussion has been archived and is no longer accepting responses.

Facebook Twitter YouTube Instagram Email is made possible by...

Shar Music
Shar Music

Yamaha Silent Violin
Yamaha Silent Violin

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

Find a Summer Music Program
Find a Summer Music Program

Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases Business Directory Business Directory Guide to Online Learning Guide to Online Learning

Dominant Pro Strings

Antonio Strad Violin

Bay Fine Strings Violin Shop

Bobelock Cases


Los Angeles Violin Shop

Nazareth Gevorkian Violins

Metzler Violin Shop

Leatherwood Bespoke Rosin



Johnson String Instrument and Carriage House Violins

Potter Violins

String Masters

Bein & Company

Annapolis Bows & Violins

Laurie's Books

Discover the best of in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews. Interviews Volume 1 Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn Interviews Volume 2 Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine