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"Erasing" VERY BAD technique


pandora
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Oh fer Pete's sake. First lesson with a new student today, and here we go again: another kid coming to me from the same local school program with very solid, very conscientiously learned, completely horrible technique -- violin pointing straight ahead, scroll angled at floor, elbow on hip, chin clenched, left palm flat against neck, bow thumb arched backwards, death grip in all fingers...and yet she played in tune, with a consistant bow contact point and sophisticated phrasing -- so there's a good little musician buried in there. I've got a pretty good repertoire of techniques for starting anew, but I've used them a Few Too Many Times lately and could use some fresh inspiration. Teachers, how do you go about massive revamping? How do *you* show them how to do it all differently without letting them hear "you've been Doing It All Wrong?" Students who have survived a total recalibration, what worked for you? What didn't?

I keep thinking longingly of those Etch-a-Sketches, turn 'em upside-down and give'em a good shake and voila, clean slate...

( BTW, if this topic has been done to death on a previous thread, point me at it and I'll recall this one)

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From reading your other posts I get the impression you probably already have more ideas on this topic than most of us. :-)

If it was me (a motivated adult), I'd want an opportunity to get it over with all at once and start over, but if it's a youngster or for whatever reason you feel you need to take it slowly, it sounds to me like you'll simply have to apply EVERY trick in your book to this student over time, one issue at a time.

I get the impression that most teachers expect revised habits to infuse a player's technique over time. I suppose the truth of that comes from the fact that even a good player needs to revise and polish their pieces now and then.

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Some bad habits are more serious than others.

To me, for example, bow hold is more important than posture. I would correct students' bow holds first and deal

with posture later. Bow tilts and bow arms should be taught next. etc. I don't mean they are not related.

Once they know, they will clean them up in no time. /yuen/

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I really don't want to touch your problem with a 10-foot pole, because I know from my own experience what it is like when students come in from the public school system.

What I "try" to do is give them the proper technique and "rub it in" every lesson. But I make a deal with them at the very beginning, setting some target piece of music at which time they will complete the technique conversion before moving beyond that.

Some students work immediately to convert, others procrastinate to the very last possible moment. One thing working for me in this is that there are some things they just can't do if their technique is bad enough - using the 4th finger, getting to a higher position (than first), playing whole bows, or articulated bowings.

When I (and the student) are lucky, they quit before we both concede the task is impossible.

I must admit that I have had one cello student come in from public school who had a good ear and pretty good technique with both hands. But others have been taught bad beginner violin technique on the cello - and it just will not take them any distance at all. Violin students are often given a bag of "tricks" that will not take them beyond the use of 1/4 of their bow and 3 fingers of their left hand. WOE unto US!

Andy

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I start with the bowhold, too, knowing that students who will pursue heavily remedial study at a young age are a rare breed. Meeting one, however, is a thrill.

Occasionally a grade-schooler notices what the local high school violin idol is doing to get that gorgeous sound. I have a wonderful graduating senior who started out that way in fifth grade.

The students who are satisfied with their bad technique are most challenging, especially if they are also strong-willed and pessimistic. Even then, you get lucky sometimes. One of my new kids has been sold on improving his technique by his father, who sits in at the lessons, likes his son a lot, and co-incidentally is a physics professor. This kid knows that anything Dad is interested in is extremely cool. He's making progress every week, and Dad cheers him on.

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If you keep getting students from this same program, it sounds like the teacher is doing something right -- s/he's getting them motivated to be conscientious about what they've been taught (and about intonation) -- that in itself is amazing. Would there be any way that you could have a talk with the teacher (perhaps offer to GIVE her/him a couple of lessons to get him/her straightened out on the most annoying habits). It wouldn't be an easy thing to do, but if you presented it right (maybe something like: You keep sending me these motivated students who have obviously worked hard to learn what they've learned, but the technique I teach is somewhat different than what they've learned from you -- I wonder if you might consider teaching them my technique (and here are the areas where I do things differently than you do...). It would save the students from having to relearn so much and give you a better program. (This assumes that some of these students have surmounted the problems and have progressed and become assets to the public school teacher's music program and that the teacher respects you and recognizes that you have helped the students improve.)

It would be more of a preemptive strike.

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Quote:

If you keep getting students from this same program... Would there be any way that you could have a talk with the teacher


Unfortunately, no. Politics. ( I should mention that this is not a true school program, but more of an auxilliary feature, a sort-of Orff percussion/recorder ensemble led by a good wind/piano teacher w/ very little experience in strings who's being forced to work outside her area. Miserable funding, impossible schedule. Very touchy situation. The parents/administration want to hear the kids playing together by Christmas - a full 1/2 hr+ concert - so they're pushed into pieces very quickly.)

In any case. Yuen makes a case for changing one thing at a time, others seem to be saying that learning everything in a brand-new cohesive lump is the way to go. Opinions? Observations? Which way worked for you?

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I've been getting overhauled for about a year now. And it's hard to concentrate on more than a few things at a time. My teacher is taking the long-term approach and changing a few things at a time. My previous teachers were American and my current teacher is Russian and I have a 25 year gap in between the teachers. He started with the bowing. First was flattening the hand, and relaxing the little finger. Earlier in my life, I was taught to make a little circle with the thumb and middle finger and hold the bow with the tips of my fingers. Instead, I needed to relax my hands, bowing long slow bows and hold the bow deeper into my hand. At that time, I thought "at least my left hand is okay..." Later he went to the left hand, and changed the shape of the hand and direction that the fingers were pointing. Earlier, I had been taught basically to make a circle with my thumb and index finger for the left hand, and hence there was no contact with the violin neck except for my thumb. My fingers also pointed west and I had a very pronounced curl to my wrist, with my elbow too far forward. So now I have to relax my wrist, get rid of the straight thumb, have two points of contact with the violin, thumb and side of index finger... Things are progressing as he is now onto my posture. Holding the violin more to the left side, standing up straighter, no tensing the shoulders... But I think if he told me at the beginning how messed up I was, I might have been overwhelmed with discouragement. He did correct the most annoying first, like no foot tapping and violin bouncing to the beat. My American teachers used to play at square dances, and told me to move and tap to the beat. My current teacher prefers the Heifetz-style, hold your violin high to the left and no unnecessary movement. I think he would have gone dizzy if he had to see all the head bobbing, foot tapping and swaying, so he mentioned that before the first lesson at the consultation appointment. It's like my friend when she arrived at her first appointment with tapes on her violin. The first thing the new teacher said, is, "Those have to be off before our first lesson." My friend said, "But this was a gift from my previous teacher." And the new teacher said, "It has to come off before I teach you." So I guess some things are non-negotiable and you must correct right away. Other things you might take some time because it is very hard to try to concentrate on 15 different corrections at the same time. I cannot even remember all of the corrections, but there were many in both right and left hand, right and left wrists, fingers, thumbs, shoulders, elbows, chest, head, neck, chin, posture, even feet and toes (turn pigeon-toes out), and it is still on-going. Maybe I'm just the most problematic, but thank God my teacher is patient.

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I am currently undergoing jusr such an overhaul. I think that as an student it is critical to have conversations with the teacher about the importance of good posture and technique. Once I (as the student) undertand how this affects my long term health and playability I am more able to swallow the medicine of remediation. I expect my teachers to be upfront with me about what they are doing and why and to communicate it in such a way that I still stay encouraged and motivated. My guitar teachers have remedial programs that we students enter into now and again and it is a common practice so the stigma is not so bad.

Personally I think taking and changing things one item at a time would really prolong the process of repair if not make it impossible. I would guess that if the student were inteligent and mature enough at all to understand what remediation is and how things work that I would have a conversation with them about it and let them decide which way to go. All students will choose to play the best that they can and to get there in the most efficient way over struggling with changes and crippling technique for a longer period.

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I think it probably varies with individuals. Personally, I'd prefer having one fault remedied at a time; unless of course a number of faults were inter-dependent. For me, I think I absorb, and can ingrain as habits, single items better than multiples.

Neil

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...unless of course a number of faults were inter-dependent.


That has summarized my thoughts on both posts. I'm working on the tail end of something that went wrong a long time ago through a bad instrument and affected my left hand, and from there postural issues and so on. But I don't know if you can address everything at once even there. Basically it's been a kind of back and forth thing: finger angle toward the strings, what the arm and elbow are doing, changing fingers, back to fingers & thumb, back to arm and now the hips are playing a role, back to fingers, back to arm ... and in the back and forth of gradual adjustments it's coming together more and more. It doesn't seem like an overnight fix. Once in a while a bowing element comes in, because if the posture deviated to accomodate the left hand thing, then the bowing got deviated, and sometimes by working on aspects of bowing, something works itself out on the left hand side and vice versa. It's not always black and white. I even had the occasion recently by simply remembering where I used to "feel" the main presence of my violin, all the technical glitches righted themselves. Now that was a very strange experience. It happened in the middle of playing during my lesson while I was struggling to keep elbows and fingers and hands and postures from straying, and from one moment to the next without my doing anything different it was all right, my intonation went from good to perfect, and there was a brand new tone to my bowing. I still can't quite figure that one out, though I've managed to duplicate it a couple of times.

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I just envy your students, it sounds like they are finally getting sound intruction. Perhaps my experience as a student who's training was neglected might help you in your approach.

I started viola in the public schools in 4th grade. I know I was taught some fundamental things, but really had no real concept of how to play the instrument. No sense of any philosphy on technique, any methodical approach to developing it or even any concept that any of that sort of thing existed. I started private lessons at 11, with a decent teacher - a student at a local University, and then after a year or two, being identified as one of the more talented students, moved to the University's "master teacher". A magnificent violinist who taught me a lot about music but almost nothing about technique in 4 or 5 years of lessons that became more contentious each year as my frustration grew. I knew things weren't working like they should, but when I asked how to do something he'd say something like, 'you just do it'. This was long before the days of VCR's and the internet, so I didn't have a lot of options for going out and discovering new methods for myself. Fortunately I hit the jackpot after highschool and had 2 real master teachers. The first spent the summer after high school totally overhauling me. In 7 weeks I went from being relegated to long bows on open strings to having a completely new technique firmly in place. This involved a completely new bow grip (flat hand, heavy use of fingers with flexible wrist, deeper hold, active and curved little finger), refined right hand position, more stable instrument hold, all motion and emotion focused through the bow. Every facet of my technique was modified or completely overhauled. I was even taught the mental aspects of practicing and how to play in tune by leading with the ear. He was my Sensei. The next teacher spent the next school year shoring up and complementing this technique and pushing my abilities while the first teacher took me (and other students) to see people like Perlman to watch how this method works in action. It was a magnificent year. A year later I was accepted to Eastman, Boston College, New England Conservatory, and Juilliard.

The bottom line is that a motivated, dedicated student, who is frustrated and ready to learn, can gobble it up as fast as you can give it to them. Others, probably most others, need to be led slowly and stealthily down the path to good technique.

What worked for me was being given a method, a logical, well reasoned approach to playing the instrument with a good expanation for everything I was asked to do and why it will work better than what was doing before. As a teacher, is was an increadible training experience.

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What worked for me was being given a method, a logical, well reasoned approach to playing the instrument with a good expanation for everything I was asked to do and why it will work better than what was doing before. [end quote]

What a great summary of how to teach well. But I am still jealous. It leaves unanswered the question of how to find a teacher like that...especially if you have 1.bad technigue because you haven't had such thoughtful instruction or 2. you're older and won't burnish the teacher's reputation...i.e. no youth orchestra, awards etc for you. Probably a different post, but in the same vein...how do we support the local school program/orchestra without subjecting our kids to an experience rife with bad habits? the school mostly wants our money (needed), our chaperoning, our clerical skills, but not much else...i.e they are the teachers, we are not. Also they are required to take all students who want to participate, whether they are taking lessons or not...so, again, for a student who is taking private lessons, and dedicated to their instrument, it can be a trying experience ... I know lots of students(and parents) who wanted to support the school program, signed their kids up but after a year, quit the school program (not music) because it was such a negative experience.

So it sounds like you are getting the in-between students...the one's who didn't go into it with experience, but loved it and want to continue, but realize that there is so much more to it than they are being taught.

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To put a chink in this thread, unlike several on this thread, I would not start with the bow hold. I would start with posture and body/instrument positioning. The only way to introduce tension into violin playing is through incorrect body/instrument usage (as you've illustrated). To correct one or another specific problem is to ignore the root. Correct the genral body/instrument realtionship and the other problems will be much simpler to takle.

This may sound too general and too basic, but as an example, when the body and instrument are in proper balance, the "death grip" that your student uses will not work, hence they will need to adjust and relax for the bow to meet the strings, let alone play. Much of what must be "taught" is unteaching the student, rather than replacing with another paradigm. By this I mean that most movement for the bow and fingering, when the posture (body balance) and instrument are balanced is first nature--it is what the body wants to do, rather than something the body needs to learn to do--it is the path of least resistance--and therefore not a stressful thing.

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Somewhat off topic, but I had to interject this:

Folks, you should be eternally grateful that you have public school strings students with bad technique to have to fix at all. In our area, we are just now this year finishing the first year of a pilot strings program in a few select elementary schools. It's been a fight to even get that, but thanks to the incredibly hard work of my private teacher that was hired for this project, we are THANK HEAVEN finally seeing strings programs in public schools.

All the adult string players in our county are drooling for the day that these kids come out of the schools with something else to play besides a flute, clarinet or horn of some type. No offense to band students or their instruments (my daughter is a public school taught flutist and is wonderful), but it is ridiculous that there have been no strings programs in our schools until now.

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'you should be eternally grateful that you have public school strings students with bad technique to have to fix at all.'

You are absolutely right! Given the route the economy is going, you can only see more chopped arts programs, fewer students to 'fix', fewer students aware of this thing called violin to even start violin!

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I'm not sure how much of it is the economy and how much is the "sports/athletes are gods" mentality in this country. Until such time as the arts get the same respect in this country as bassetbawl, fuutball and bassaball do, this will be an ongoing problem.

But I'm preaching to the choir here, aren't I?

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I'm not sure how much of it is the economy and how much is the "sports/athletes are gods" mentality in this country. Until such time as the arts get the same respect in this country as bassetbawl, fuutball and bassaball do, this will be an ongoing problem.


Oh no! You mean it is that way where you are too?

AAACCCCCCKKKKKKKkkkkkkkk!

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I'm thinking that a new teacher always faces a certain credibility issue, so a neutral 3rd-party opinion might be useful.

Consider steering your student to the Master Class web site. They have some good lessons on items of basic technique. You may disagree on some of the details, but I'm sure it would be a big improvement over what you describe as the status quo. Another advantage of this site is that the techniques are all demonstrated by kids, some of them quite young. This may provide added motivation for your student.

HS

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