One of my teachers shared with me long ago that the body is the first instrument. After spending decades teaching and spending hours every day watching how the body's posture impacts the instrument's sound, I agree.
When we play the violin, both shoulders tend to tighten up and cause negative issues in our playing. Here are 3 tips to help violinists gain awareness in their shoulders and keep their violin playing healthy.
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. Laying down while playing the violin is an incredible tool for the following three techniques:
1-Teaching the neck to release tension.
2- Supporting the shoulders in finding the base of their sockets.
3- Getting the knees to soften up.
Young children love this because it feels like a novelty, however, this practice technique is appropriate for players of all ages and levels. Laying down while playing the violin 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 use this verbal cue: "put your shoulders in your 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 session, but this exercise helps develop the necessary awareness to address tight shoulders and fix this problem in violin playing.
In addition to creating muscle fatigue and natural inclination to release, this tip will also help a violinist realize the extreme of their range of motion so that 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 your *chin rest or shoulder pad? Young students with growing bodies have different proportions in their neck-shoulder-arms approximately every six months and, 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. Instead of this, stay up to date and informed of the variety of chin rests and shoulder pads by subscribing to string catalogs (links below).
Also, consider 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 11 years ago I purchased a Poly-Pad in each size and it really helped me individually fit all of my students.
Interested in more tips for playing the violin? Here are 3 M4YV tutorial videos on vibrato, pizzicato and bow hold "bunny flips" that share ideas to help you bring out the best in your music making!
How do you help your student keep their shoulders relaxed when they play the violin?
Guest author Adrian Martinez helps tackle one of the most popular questions - how long does it take to learn how to play the violin?
How long does it take to learn the violin? We’re going to start by responding to this question with what is perhaps the most frustrating answer: it depends.
First, it depends on what you mean by “learn.” Within a day, you might possibly be able to play a few notes - within a week, you might be able to play those notes in a way that kind-of-sort-of sounds like a song. You might then say you’ve “learned” the violin. On the other hand, if you’re asking how long it takes to master the violin, you might fall back on Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours, or you might be really impish and say that absolute mastery is impossible. After all, music is ever-growing and changing, and even micro-adjustments to technique can produce totally different sounding songs.
We might then look at the extraordinary variety inherent in humankind. There are so many different students, each with different levels of experience. Someone who has played the guitar before might find it easier to develop a left-hand technique than a total novice. On the other hand, another guitarist might find the lack of frets daunting and disorienting, which could curb their progress.
How you’re learning can also be a pretty important factor. Whether or not you’ve got a personal instructor, if you’re taking online music lessons, if you have access to sheet music, or you’re just trying to guess for yourself.
Other factors include:
Of course, you’re not here reading this blog post for the answer “it depends” - though elaborating on why it depends can help you narrow down what your goals and potential barriers might be.
We’re going to make some assumptions, then. We’re going to assume you’ve never played an instrument before, you don’t know any music theory - that you’re basically a complete beginner. We’re also going to assume you practice for around 5-6 hours a week (an hour a day with a day or two off or 45 minutes every day) and that you have a teacher.
The first month is all about the absolute basics. You’ll learn how to hold the violin and the bow (and yourself). You’ll also learn the basic anatomy of a violin. It’s unlikely that you’ll use the fingers on your left hand during the first month; instead, you’ll focus on your bow technique. You will do exercises like this & this (click on the links for some fun YouTube tutorial videos from M4YV).
You’ll also begin to learn the basics of music theory - mainly how to read sheet music. Learning about music theory is an ongoing discipline. There’s an incredible depth, diversity, and richness to theory, especially once you start going outside of the Western canon, so there’s a lot to learn here.
A clever solution to a tricky problem.
As violin teachers (or parents of young violinists) our technique development can all be categorized as tricky problems so here are a few photos of "hacks" I have used in my studio to offer solutions for my students. For more, please visit the Violin Hacks & Bow Hold Helpers page.
This is the perfect collection for the young violinist (aged 4-7) who is just beginning to learn how to read music. The large music font makes it easy to see notes and was formatted for plenty of room to write in. Once purchased, teachers and parents can print out as many copies as they like for multiple educational uses. As a teacher myself I know that I sometimes want to revisit pieces and write in pitches or fingerings. I also love using color with my students and having multiple use copies with this digital download format gives me versatility and creativity in my teaching.
The scales and beginner level pieces included in this collection were chosen because they complement the foundational skill set established for a student who is at the Suzuki Violin Book 1 level but are also appropriate for any young beginner.
I owe a special thanks to my precious young violinists over the years who have taught me what pieces light them up and keep them invested and working hard. Popular tunes like Jingle Bells, Happy Birthday and the Itsy Bitsy Spider Song are pure violin teaching gold for teachers working with young students.
Happy Music Making!
Children experience all the same emotions as adults, and this includes frustration, shame and disappointment.
Children speak in code because they do not yet have the maturity to word their feelings for the full explanation of their emotions to be articulated.
"I hate playing VIOLIN!!!" = I really just hate this terrible feeling of defeat and inadequacy inside of me.
"Please do not give up on me, I need your support and your years of wisdom to guide me through this challenge in a healthy way. I am counting on you to shine a light to a higher path for the challenge at hand. My strong reaction right now even illustrates my need for a healthy emotional expression in life and music is a perfect fit for me and this necessary release. Please do not quit before I do. Please look 20 years into the future and help me through this challenge. I am counting on you."
This girl became so focused and fulfilled with her music that she went onto major in violin performance in her undergraduate. She continued to fall in love with music and even pursued a graduate degree in violin performance with an emphasis in Suzuki Pedagogy. She has been teaching for 15 years now and is extremely grateful that her mother was so devoted to a higher vision when times got emotionally rough growing up.
I know that little girl who used to shout out in home practice very well because that little girl was me. Thank you mom for believing in me at such a young age and for staying focused on the higher purpose of this work. I am so grateful for your endearing support all of these years.
Art & War
Beginning Violin Music
Blue Jello Cards
Boil Them Cabbage Down
By Ear Tune
Check Off Chart
Easy Violin Music
Free Gift With Purchase
Free Holiday Music
Free Sheet Music
Free Violin Music
How To Attract Students
How To Build Studio
How To Buy Violin
Inspiring String Players
Jingle Bells For 2 Violins
Jingle Bells For Beginning Violin
LARGE Print Music
Left Hand Technique
Make Practice Fun
Music Mind Games
Ode To Joy
Praeludium & Allegro
Violin Sheet Music
Violin Teaching Tip
Hi! It's me, Heather. I absolutely love working on the Music for Young Violinists project and all the many facets: blogging, website, music, teaching materials, freebies, videos, newsletter and giveaway contests. The best part is connecting with you so feel free to drop me a line. You can learn more about me on the "ABOUT" page. Thanks!