How important is technique (child)

Edited: October 29, 2018, 5:55 PM · Hi everyone, maybe a stupid question: but how important is good technique? And can you manage to make it good if you have bad technique?

Some backgroud why I ask this. I have a 6 year old daughter who loves her violin. She is playing for over a year now and can't keep her hands of the violin. She is playing everyday for about an hour and during holidays a lot more (no pressure from us, she just wants to play). Offcourse we are happy that she has something in her life that she is so fond off.

The problem is: she is going so fast that her technique can't keep up, if you know what I mean. She can sideread very well and just picks up every piece she finds and plays it. Her teachter (who is absolutely great!) is trying to shape her technique in the proces, but that is a hard task (besides that, our daughter is very strong willed. If she doesn't see the purpose of something, she won't do it).
She recently played at some councours and we got a lot of comments on her technique. Her right elbow is way to high (constantly), her bow grip is not good enough. But her sound is great though. And what I don't understand: there were kids who had great technique, but not a great sound. They got better feedback at the councours then my daughter and they told me they gave more points for good technique. So why is it that good technique is so important? And more important than a good sound? For the record: I'm not a tiger mom ;-) Just wondering how this works. And if it is necessary to fix and if so... how?
(And sorry, I'm not English speaking. Don't mind the mistakes :))

Replies (25)

October 29, 2018, 6:24 PM · Sound = technique.
If it ain't broke, don't fix it.
October 29, 2018, 6:26 PM · Technique is a means to an end, the interpretation of music. What might seem acceptable for a beginner may lead to major physical issues down the road, so focusing on an adaptable technical approach that meets the needs of the students and grows with them is likely a good way to look at things.

It's the same for athletes...sometimes a child can accomplish something in tennis, baseball, or other sport with relatively rough technique because they have other skills to compensate with. Without ongoing technique development though, they will eventually reach a limit where others will surpass them.

October 29, 2018, 6:28 PM · Good technique helps you produce good sound consistently while being comfortable and relaxed.

October 29, 2018, 7:29 PM · If she’s relaxed then the teacher can use her enthusiasm and talent to walk her slowly over to a more solid setup. Remember, because she’s growing setup has to keep evolving too, and that can be used to help things along.
October 29, 2018, 8:28 PM ·
A person having poor technique, but playing without tension may sound better than a one who has a lot of tension issues with good technique.

Poor technique destroys consistancy and Tension destroys dexterity, or vice versa.

October 30, 2018, 2:26 AM · Thank you all. I thought: she must do something right, because the sound is very good (very clean, good pitch, good intonation). I just find it straingh: there are kids playing out of tune, but with a lovely technique and everybody is thrilled about the way these kids play. And then I'm thinking: why? I'm not a violinist myself, so I don't understand this. Besides that: Janine Jansen her shoulder is way to high, but in my humble opinion one of the best violonist in the world.

Her teacher says that she is trying to let our daughter "feel" why she needs the technique, so she wants to improve it by herself. I see how that sometimes works. And offcourse she is very happy with her violin, she want to become better. That will help as well.

Edited: October 30, 2018, 3:06 AM · The rational brain is slow. In things that happen fast, you want to transfer as much "thinking" from the rational, conscious brain to the faster automatic, unconscious brain. That includes muscle memory, every detail of fingering, bowing.
Technique is anything that is basically a good habit - anything that makes things easy to do automatically and well without thinking about them. It's the same in bridge. You can't sit at a bridge table thinking for half an hour per hand. You speed things up by knowing finessing probabilities. Suit-splitting probabilities, ruff and discard techniques and so on.
In music being relaxed is usually good technique (but being tense is sometimes good technique, e.g. sometimes when things are very fast and very loud), so I really don't know what Charles is trying to say.
Technique is that which frees the brain to be musical.
If you're thinking "does Galamian say the arm precedes the hand, or does he say the hand precedes the arm?", then the music will be dead and buried.
Edited: October 30, 2018, 3:34 AM · It's possible to sound good with certain types of poor technique. The most obvious example to me is playing with a high right elbow. But good technique doesn't just help with playing the music, it also prevents injuries. You may be able to sound pretty good with that high elbow, but it's going to cause chronic back and shoulder pain in the long run.

I know this from experience. I auditioned for and got into an elite community orchestra when completely self-taught, so obviously didn't sound terrible despite flawed technique. When I finally went to my first lesson, having played viola for 16 years, the first thing my teacher noticed was the amount of tension in my right arm and hand. I spent a whole summer practicing little other than open strings, reworking my bowing technique from scratch. I don't think I sounded much better afterward, but it cured the chronic back pain that had been causing problems in my daily life for years!

October 30, 2018, 9:36 AM ·
Andrew F- Playing Double Forte isn't tension. Playing Forte then going to pianissimo, but still holding onto the bow tightly is tension, or playing forte with the left hand and the right-hand muscles also contract, this is also tension.
Good technique is also having good muscle independence and muscle release.

Edited: October 30, 2018, 9:57 AM · I didn't say playing ff was tension. On a piano if you want to play a succession of loud chords very fast, you have to have a deliberate rigidity in your forearms and hands - that is the technique - you can't do it relaxed. I'll let people with more violin experience than I find analogous situations.
October 30, 2018, 12:10 PM · Playing out of tune is not "good technique". Neither is playing all the notes in pitch with poor tone and even inappropriate phrasing (wrong/careless accents, etc.)

Technique is essential to an inspired music performance-the seemingly eternal conflict between a "technical" vs a "musical" performance is a made-up, false dichotomy. You may not be perfect technically, but every work must have a decent amount of technical prowess to convey the better musical message.

Thus, it's important that students of any age work on technique, in whatever means works best for them (and both parent and teacher, whenever applicable.) Even if it may delay some "piece progression", ultimate violin mastery requires this. Once the pupil doesn't have to think much about the basics and the later, more advanced techniques, this "piece progression" will become even faster than it was for the seemingly talented, but "technique-neglecting" violin student.

Happy practicing.

October 30, 2018, 1:53 PM · I have a kid, now 13, who sounds similar. He was always extremely self-motivated, and learned pieces quickly. He figured out all of book 1 in just a few months and could play book 4 pieces about a year in (age 5). However, his teacher made him go through and perfect every single piece in all the books, slowly. His solution to this was to sneak off and learn hard repertoire when nobody was looking. I remember him being about 8 and sneaking off to teach himself the Mendelssohn. This is not necessarily a good thing, either, though, because he didn't necessarily learn all the requisite skills correctly.

He did OK like this until he got to advanced level repertoire. We started seeing issues around Bruch Concerto 3rd movement. Since he could play anything he was given up until that point and played musically, he got away with it. But he eventually reached a point where his lack of bow arm technique really started holding him back. His left hand is more or less OK -- just needs small tweaks. But his bow arm is a work-in-progress. Now, at 13, he is spending a lot of time focusing on that, and he is old enough to now understand why it is important.

I will tell you, there are plenty of kids still working to fix technique all the way through college. So I would not be too concerned if some aspects of the technique are behind others. What we always tried to do was focus exclusively on one thing, like bow hold or posture or bent thumb or elbow. We would choose 1 or 2 regular pieces that we worked on that one thing on. And then we would let him have one more advanced piece to satisfy his playing hunger. As they get older, you can shift that technique practice to scales, etudes, and to some extent solo Bach.

October 30, 2018, 3:31 PM · Mikki,from my limited observations during students' concerts, seems it is common that some young kids are able to make a relatively good sound with poor postures and techniques. Maybe they are good at imitating sound? Or maybe it is just more nature and relax for young bodys? I also noticed that young kids who had studied with russian school teachers usually had a more seemly good posture and technique, but maybe not with a good sound. Two different pedagogical methodologies?
October 30, 2018, 4:31 PM · Ideally, a young student should have good technique AND good sound. This really shouldn't be a "this or that" type of situation.

With that said, teachers have to work around the imperfections of students, including their unwillingness to change technique for the better because they feel they're able to make an adequate sound with their current technique.

Sometimes we have to "buy time" by just allowing the student to use their crappy technique until they're old enough to understand the eventual benefits of better technique. I actually think this approach isn't as negative as many think it is, because it keeps them motivated and continuing to learn other concepts, and when it's finally time to truly unlearn bad technique, it usually happens surprisingly fast, in a matter of several months (assuming that those months are *dedicated* to only relearning the technique, and we're not trying to push the repertoire envelope at the same time).

Other times we have to be a bit more firm and tell the student that they're only allowed to pass a song once they can play it with the required technical change (e.g.; "you can pass this song if you can play it all the way through with a lower right elbow"). I generally find it's not ideal to ask for ALL the technique changes at once, but rather to require one technique modification per song.

At the end of the day, we try to make the least concessions possible while still keeping the student motivated. That's all. There is no such thing as "either technique or sound" and it's important we don't think of it in this way, a false dichotomy.

Edited: October 30, 2018, 4:56 PM · My teacher tells me quite often how impressed he is that I can generate decent sound and solve technical problems doing things totally incorrectly. Well of course he says this when the limits of my incompetence have been irretrievably proven.

I was not taught proper technique as a boy. I wish I had been taught properly instead of being given more advanced pieces that I could not play. The other side of that coin is that I (in my ignorance) enjoyed my lessons and practice and did not quit until I got to college, whereupon I concentrated on the piano more.

Susan is totally right that there are plenty of "advanced" students who have serious issues with basic stuff like bow hold, posture, intonation, etc. Sometimes I think their teachers have worked on it and worked on it and eventually realized that with that student that particular thing just wasn't going to change without some kind of demoralizing breakdown happening, which isn't productive either.

November 1, 2018, 9:55 AM · I'm curious as to what exactly is the "lovely technique" of the other players. Playing out of tune implies some deficiency in left hand technique. Maybe it depends on to what degree is the out-of-tune-ness but it would be hard to call consistent intonation issues "lovely". Also, maybe there is a language barrier here but what is councours - competition, festival, exam? And how do you know what the other scores/feedback were and that "everybody" was "thrilled"? (Who is "everybody" - audience, judges, other players, attending family?)

It also depends on the level of the repertoire. The high elbow or inflexible(?) bow hold that was mentioned - you can perhaps get away with that on some pieces but there would come a time when, if not addressed, it prevents you from playing a more advanced piece fluidly, with artistry, with physical comfort, etc. The technique adjustment doesn't need to be made RIGHT NOW as a beginner but surely needs to happen on the way to higher levels, with the teacher guiding the balance between technique and repertoire.

November 1, 2018, 6:14 PM · "Technique is a ladder which allows you to climb higher walls"

Ideally, we build each ladder before we reach the wall, but we also don't want to carry around a really long ladder before it's time to use it. Thus, the height of the ladder should always be increased shortly before the next wall is reached.

However, some people like to just blow holes in the walls and say they climbed them.

November 2, 2018, 12:31 AM · Our teacher always demonstrates to my son, why one way is better than the other, and why a certain mistake is bad. If my son argues that the current approach is fine, the teacher gives him a task, where from it becomes obvious which technique is preferable. It works. For a small child, it is very difficult to focus on something, that has no meaning for them.
Why he/she should spend time to fix something, which is not a problem yet. But if the child sees, that it is a problem, then the internal motivation drives him/her to practice correctly.
November 2, 2018, 12:31 AM · Our teacher always demonstrates to my son, why one way is better than the other, and why a certain mistake is bad. If my son argues that the current approach is fine, the teacher gives him a task, where from it becomes obvious which technique is preferable. It works. For a small child, it is very difficult to focus on something, that has no meaning for them.
Why he/she should spend time to fix something, which is not a problem yet. But if the child sees, that it is a problem, then the internal motivation drives him/her to practice correctly.
November 2, 2018, 4:23 AM · @Erik. Thanks for the metaphor overdose!
Edited: November 3, 2018, 10:58 AM · Well, Mikki Doix, this is certainly not a matter of black and white or good and bad. Since your daughter is playing with a better sound and a better intonation than these other kids then it is obvious that she has a better technique on those specific matters no matter what the experts say.

She has an ear, she can hear how these kids play, there is no way that you can motivate her to change her technique by comparing it with those kids. That would feel like telling her to play with a worse sound and a worse intonation, because that is the result she can hear when listening to those kids.

No, the motivation to change her technique should be based on matters where she knows that she need to do something about her technique in order to succeed. Once that motivation is present it is faily easy to do something especially since she has a strong will. The main difficulty or challenge is probably how to bring about the motivation.

EDIT November 3, 2018,
Just to elaborate.
Note that I did NOT say that her technique in general was better. That is important. I clearly referred to those specific matters and only that. See my next reply below Lydia Leong's reply just under this for further remarks.

November 2, 2018, 3:51 PM · I strongly disagree with Lars that her technique must be better than the other kids. I don't think that assumption is in the least bit true.

Intonation is mostly ear-guided. The OP's child likely has a more accurate ear than the other kids. You can do all kinds of bad things with your left hand and still get the notes in tune, but you may have to do weird things to make that the case. Left-hand problems can make it more difficult to get accurate intonation, and those problems get magnified as the music gets more difficult -- as the notes get faster, for instance, or there's more rapid re-placement of the fingers on different strings, etc.

Similarly, a beginner's sound is mostly focused on the single challenge of how to draw a non-awful sound from the violin. As a student advances, though, they need good technique that allows them to draw a whole range of sound qualities -- different articulations, different dynamics, different colors, etc. So what might be a technique that's functional enough to sound good for a beginner can completely hinder advancement.

This is the whole reason why beginners need teachers. You can kind of work your way to technical solutions that are sufficient to play simple music in a vaguely adequate fashion. But those solutions generally won't serve as workable building blocks for more complex music.

Edited: November 2, 2018, 5:30 PM · Important:
Note that I did NOT say that her technique in general was better.

But whatever technique she applies to accomplish those very specific matters simply works because she demonstrates that it works. And she does use a technique although it is a technique of her own. That doesn't mean that it is not a technique.

In order to improve her technique in general and get her technique aligned with mainstream technique, so you can build on it, you must work on technique for reasons that she can relate to, and therefore you need to work on finding out how to awake her interest and motivation in that direction. And that is a challenge.

November 3, 2018, 9:15 AM · Mikki, et al.,

At the age of six years, fine motor control is developing, but far from completed. While Suzuki is correct is saying that "Music is a language" the other part of the equation is that playing an instrument is a skill that requires fine motor control.

To me, the duty of the teacher of the highly motivated young musician is to guide them towards that level of fine motor control that is required to gain "technique."

That being said, I recently saw a program about Pearlman. There were lots of close-up shots of him playing and I noted that his bow was often at an angle where I would chide my student about keeping the bow straight, and his arm shoulder were often in the "wrong" attitude/position. Yet, this is Pearlman and yes, he is in a wheelchair. In the end, prefect technical positions don't always lead to great playing.

The key for her teacher will be to avoid entrenching bad habits to the point where they are next-to-impossible to eliminate.

Edited: November 3, 2018, 2:22 PM · "Technique" falls into several categories that support each other. Sometimes when people say "technique", it means "how advanced of a player someone is". This is a valid definition. It can also mean "how healthy and relaxed a player's movements are when they play". That is also valid. To have truly good technique, both must be true. I would argue that the second definition is more important, because without healthy technique, advanced technique cannot be built. For example, if a player pressed their thumb hard into the side of the neck when they play, it makes shifting more difficult, and it slows down their fingers. WORSE, however, is the fact that it sets them up for carpal tunnel syndrome. Does that help to answer your question?

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