Help! Left hand position

Delin Wareham said: Nov 16, 2011
 3 posts

I am a parent seeking advice from other teachers. When practicing at home, my son invariably plays flat with his left hand because he’s not hitting the tapes. He hates it when I stop his song to make the correction. We have a piece of moleskin that we actually moved UP the neck to try to correct this and this issue still isn’t improving.
I don’t play myself so I’m having difficulty coaching him at home.
Are there any physical aids (like a thumb-stop of some sort?) that would help him find his position? I’m at a loss!!
Thanks in advance.

Irene Mitchell said: Nov 18, 2011
Irene Mitchell
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Dallas, TX
111 posts

How often does he listen to his recording?
I would go to an hour a day, every day. EVERY day.
I find that kids just don’t play out of tune if they are listening enough…
another possibility would be that he might have a hearing problem or a head cold. Then it’s hard to perceive the need to be in tune.

Physically, if his shoulder rest isn’t working for him (growing bodies need changing
shoulder rest heights) he’ll try to hold up the violin with his L hand instead of the heavy head/shoulder, and that creates a tense grip rather than a relaxed hand.

Hope that helps!

Irene Mitchell

Paula Bird said: Nov 18, 2011
 
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Piano, Viola
Wimberley, TX
386 posts

How old is your son?

What songs is he working on (what book level)?

Can you take a picture or post a video?

Paula E. Bird
TX State University
Wildflower Suzuki Studio
http://teachsuzuki.blogspot.com (blog)
http://teachsuzuki.com (podcast)

Barb said: Nov 19, 2011
Barb Ennis
Suzuki Association Member
Cello
678 posts

Hi Delin,

I can understand your concern. When the students play flat, or sharp, it really just doesn’t sound very good. To us. Tapes can be helpful, because as the parent you can look and see why it doesn’t sound good, and guide his hand and fingers to the right spot. It’s possible that your son’s ear haven’t yet developed enough to know how the music is supposed to sound. Possibly it really doesn’t sound so bad to your son. He may be more focused on getting the right fingers down rather than having them exactly in the right spots, because it really doesn’t make much difference to what he hears.

When he sings, does he sing in tune? Can he match a pitch? That’s where Irene’s suggestion to listen LOTS will help.

The tapes can give students and parents a visual or tactile cue for starting, but in the end, the ears are boss.

Take your teacher’s cue as to how much to worry about in tune playing at this point. Does he or she interrupt the playing to move the fingers?

I would say first, relax, second, ask his teacher how to deal with it.

There might be other technical issues as suggested above, and the questions Paula asks are important. But let me tell you a story…. if you have a few minutes…

It’s harder for cello students to watch the tapes. Actually, I discourage it, because it puts the body out of position. Many of my students (over the age of 6) didn’t use tapes, only a spot for the thumb to feel and/or a few marks on the side of the fingerboard to line up the fingers for getting started. Once they started to play, I didn’t want them to look.

With one student who started at age 6, sometimes the hand would slip and the notes would sour, and mom and I would just grin at each other. He was getting his rhythms, using the right fingers, and the bow was going the right direction… and even though he could match pitches when asked, the out of tune notes didn’t seem to bother him much. So that was enough at that time. I would tell him how well he did whatever we were focusing on, and move his hand back to the right spot at the start of the next song. In time we paid more attention to intonation and eventually I didn’t need to move the hand. Two years later a festival adjudicator commented on his good ear. His string had gone out of tune, but he adjusted his fingers for it. If he had tapes and had used them, his notes would have been out of tune.

His brother, starting at age 5, already had tapes on his used cello when he started. His hearing wasn’t quite as developed when he started, so he did seem to depend more on the thumb spot for a longer time. Still, his fingers would wander sometimes, and again, we would grin and bear it, and I had him also check his first finger before he started each piece. We didn’t talk about the tapes much, though. Actually, one had slipped and wasn’t in an accurate spot anyway. It was good that his finger was missing that one and he didn’t care!

About a year in, his thumb foamy spot fell off. We were going to replace it, because I didn’t think he was hearing well enough yet. But then, lo and behold, before we got around to replacing it, we found him adjusting his hand on his own and playing more in tune. Did the timing just happen to work out, or did he just start to use his ear when he didn’t have the tactile clue to depend on? I don’t know, but we never did replace that spot and he plays relatively well in tune. When he moved up in size to a cello (with no tapes) he had a few weeks of adjustment, but again is sounding good.

The reason I tell you this is to assure you that even if your son’s fingers aren’t always hitting the tapes and playing in tune now, eventually, he will sound better! I get really picky about intonation eventually, and I try to at least get them all starting with the fingers in place, but I let a lot go in the beginners.

Not all teachers share my philosophy about tapes, but I hope you find hope in my sharing these experiences with you.

Barb
Music Teachers Helper—for individual teachers
Studio Helper—for entire music studios or schools

Delin Wareham said: Nov 21, 2011
 3 posts

Thank you all so much for your thoughtful responses. It really puts me at ease.

My son (who just turned 6) is toward the end of book one, and dare I say in this forum that we are supplementing Suzuki with some fun fiddling songs, so we’re not hardcore Suzuki. That’s our backbone, though.

At any rate, the flat notes are happening primarily on fingers two and three, but at times even on one. I have been ignoring it for awhile for the same reasons you pointed out, Barb2. I’m just not sure how long to ignore it—I don’t want to create bad habits. His teacher doesn’t seem very concerned, but his teacher is also young and doesn’t have many students, so I wanted to check in with you all.

Irene, thanks for your suggestion about listening. I started playing each song for him on YouTube prior to his playing it, and we talk about tone and hitting the right notes. Then I have him play low-2 and 2 so he can hear the difference. He seems to be paying more attention to position now and he has been correcting himself this week, ie playing the same note twice—first badly, then correctly.

So hopefully, this marks some progress!!

Thanks again for your comments!

Barb said: Nov 21, 2011
Barb Ennis
Suzuki Association Member
Cello
678 posts

I don’t know what is in the revised violin books, and my violin experience is limited, but if he were my cello student I would have him spend some good time with the tonalization exercises about now, listening for the ringing tones. I’m not sure if they are as easy to hear on the violin as cello. On the cello you can even SEE the D string vibrating when playing an in-tune D on the A string (equivalent to 3rd finger on violin), for instance.

It does sound like there is some progress, though! Great! Make sure to offer lots of sincere praise when he does play nicely in tune.

I wonder if you played his violin (can you play Twinkle?), would he be able to tell when you play a bit flat? You could make it a bit of a game to have him teach you, maybe?

And keep listening to at least his current as well as next pieces, making sure they are good quality performances!

Before our kids started playing instruments we used to play a match the pitch game with our voices while brushing their teeth—singing “ah” and “eee”. One had a good ear and could match at age 3, the younger one really couldn’t until age 6—so until he could we instead would let him lead most of the time and we matched his pitch. With my students I sometimes have them do the same matching a pitch while we sit back-to-back, but that doesn’t work too well at home if you just have one instrument.

By the way, I really should mention if you don’t “know” me from the forum, that I am at this point still an UNTRAINED teacher. :-) So I am happy to throw ideas out and share my experiences, but don’t take them as professional advice. You can see the credentials of many other professionals here by looking at their profiles or their websites—hopefully if I am off base on anything they will speak up! Paula has a fantastic blog, by the way, with help for parents, and there are some others I’m just not thinking of their names at the moment—check the links of the posters on other topics, too!

Barb
Music Teachers Helper—for individual teachers
Studio Helper—for entire music studios or schools

Irene Mitchell said: Nov 22, 2011
Irene Mitchell
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Dallas, TX
111 posts

Hi again Delin!
Hooray, it sounds like you’re getting wonderful ideas and advice here!
I just wanted to double check and make sure your son is listening to the newest Suzuki recording… it’s played by the concertmaster of the Cleveland Orchestra, William Preucil:
http://www.young-musicians.com/revised-suzuki-violin-school-volume-1-violin-part-and-cd.html
Sometimes youtube performances aren’t exact, and this one is! :o)

As far as fiddle, Lisa Manning Deakins has a fun new fiddle book w/ CD that might be perfect for your son. I just bought several copies for my students… Her webpage is http://www.lisadeakins.com/music.html

best wishes to y’all!
Irene

Irene Mitchell

Delin Wareham said: Dec 8, 2011
 3 posts

We went a step further a few days ago and I put a pin on the side of the neck. It’s a shortcut for sure, but it seems to be helping.

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