1- PRACTICE LAYING DOWN:
This is silly and awkward BUT highly effective. The laws of gravity will help a violinist feel a naturally aligned state in their body when they play laying down. This is an incredible tool for teaching the neck to release, support the shoulders finding the base of their sockets and even getting the knees to soften up. Young children especially love this because it feels like a novelty however this practice technique is appropriate for players of all ages and levels. It will create a very unnatural feeling in the bow arm and compromise the sound but the long term results of alignment and awareness are more than worth the short term compromises.
2- TIGHTEN UP:
Go to the extreme to build awareness. Tighten up the shoulders as much as possible for 5 seconds and release. I tell my students to "put their shoulders in their ears." After this intense use of muscles the shoulders will respond with fatigue and rest by staying down in the bottom of their sockets. They may not always stay down for the rest of the lesson or practice but this exercise helps develop the necessary awareness to address tight shoulders. In addition to creating a muscle fatigue and natural inclination to release, this also helps the student realize the extreme of an action so they have more control in choosing where their shoulders go when playing.
3- EVALUATE THE CHIN REST AND SHOULDER PAD SET-UP:
When was the last time you changed their *chin rest and/or shoulder pad? Not only do young students with growing bodies have different proportions in their neck-shoulder-arms approximately every 6 months but their playing needs are also growing. Chin rests and shoulder pads need to be re-evaluated for younger players on a regular basis because of this continual physical and musical growth. Most of us do not live in a major metropolitan area with a large string supply store to experiment with a variety of gear for our violins. In lieu of this, stay up to date and informed of the great variety of chin rests and shoulder pads by subscribing to string catalogs (some links below).
Also, look into the Poly-Pad which I have featured on the “Things I Love” page. This economical shoulder sponge has extra curves than competitors pads and is one of my favorites. When I moved to Oregon 9 years ago I purchased a Poly-Pad in each size and it really helped me individually fit all of my students.
* Click HERE to read why “chinrest” is a misnomer.
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Join the conversation-
How do you help your student keep their shoulders relaxed when they play the violin?