practice activities not involving the instrument

Amy said: Apr 18, 2012
Suzuki Association Member
50 posts

I am very blessed that in my 6 years of teaching, I have never before had a student who just plain wanted to quit. In a 7-yr-old’s lesson this week, it came out that she doesn’t like having to stand up when she practices. I’d like her to develop posture muscles more thoroughly before introducing the notion that sometimes violinists sit while they play (she’s working on Lightly Row).

Meanwhile, to supplement her standing with the violin practice time, I’m giving her assignments that can be done sitting. So far, we have spider-finger push-ups, listening while following the music score, listening while clapping the beat, listening while clapping the rhythm, ghosting the fingering while her violin is in rest position, singing her pieces and the pieces coming soon.

I’m soliciting additional ideas for exercises that can be performed sitting. She does know that these exercises will not completely replace practicing with the violin standing up. The official ratio is that no more than half of her total practice time should be sitting.

Thank you!

Jennifer Visick said: Apr 18, 2012
Jennifer VisickForum Moderator
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Suzuki in the Schools, Violin
998 posts

Air-bowing, perhaps, without the instrument in hand.

Glenda Walsh Crouse said: Apr 19, 2012
Glenda Walsh Crouse
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Recorder, Cello
Westminster, MD
8 posts

Could there be something that has been overlooked with her posture? Is the student twisting some way? Is there back pain? Some students twist funny (so the scroll is way over the left foot… as in too far left of the left foot) because they are trying to watch themselves. This twisting cause pain the back and left shoulder after a while. Are the knees bent? If the lower back is hurting, the knees should bend a little more and the student can lean back very slightly.

I have had a few young students with this issue and one thing I did was to remove the chairs. They can’t sit, but some of them still try to sit on the floor. Have you tried the penny game? Put some change on the floor, have the student stand on the change and if they stay there they can have the change. You can set of a rule for the amount of time they stay standing or if its just for one piece…etc.

It sounds like you are breaking up the lesson into various activities and breaks so that doesn’t seam like the issue. I agree that she needs the down time. However, if she doesn’t ever have to stand for more then half the lesson then she won’t ever stand for more then half the lesson. Perhaps it would be good to try to get her to stand for longer amounts of time, very slowly.

Could it be that the student always sat down at home for practice and that it was recently discovered? Now the student is now being asked to make the change. If so give the child some time to adjust to the new rule. Or is it that the student sits at home and then is asked to stand in the lesson? Make sure to tell the child why you want them to stand (if you haven’t already). You know why you want the student to stand but sometimes they don’t understand why its needed. A simple explaination of why sometimes clears things up quickly.

Or it may not have anything to do with standing at all. Does something happen during the home practice that makes the child not want to practice? Are the parents demanding? Are they judgemental?

Julia said: Apr 19, 2012
Julia ProleikoViolin, Piano, Viola
Saint Louis, MO
22 posts

Got this from another teacher at a workshop:
Two mugs with little pieces of paper (draw one piece out of each cup)—1st mug has WHAT to play, 2nd mug has HOW to play it. Some of the suggestions were really wacky, like lying on your back while playing Twinkle A or jumping up and down on one foot while playing Monkey…get creative and have it be the treat! The students that I have had have LOVED this!
I agree—first check posture that no physical harm is present. (ALWAYS take pain seriously!) BUT, I have also had youngish students take the standing up as a means to try to dominate in the lesson…

Amy said: Apr 20, 2012
Suzuki Association Member
50 posts

Glenda, Thank you so much for reminding me that her posture could be the source of why she doesn’t like standing. Posture has been a work-in-progress for quite some time, and it hadn’t occurred to me that it could be the source of other issues affecting her enjoyment of playing and practicing.

I love the idea about the double mugs. I may need to start doing that with several students!

Elizabeth Friedman said: Jul 9, 2012
Elizabeth Friedman
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
49 posts

I remember wishing I’d known about the cello because my legs always used to get so tired… and being very jealous that my brother got to sit down because he played the cello. I felt pretty cheated, and have a memory of trying to convince my teacher that I should be allowed to sit down while playing because I’d seen someone do it on Sesame Street! (That violinist was Itzhak Perlman!!!)

The problem was that when standing, I always used to lock my knees—this restricts blood flow and makes the legs tired. It requires more muscle control to bend the knees slightly, but it is definitely worth having a look at your student’s knees to see if they’re locked and encouraging her to keep them slightly bent. As a student is reminded to bend her knees, her muscles will develop and she’ll be better able to stand for longer periods, and this will help transfer muscle use to her thighs rather than allowing her to rely on her small back muscles. I used to use Steve Urkel as an exaggerated metaphor for good posture—he’s got bent knees and a flat back—but I can’t anymore since pop culture references, of course, change over time. But if you have a look on YouTube, I’m sure you’ll be able to see what I’m talking about.

Good luck! Stamina takes time to develop!

Julia said: Jul 9, 2012
Julia ProleikoViolin, Piano, Viola
Saint Louis, MO
22 posts

Elizabeth may have nailed it! …especially with girls, locking the knees is because they over-arch their backs, which can cause pain all over. I have quite a few whom recently that I have been trying to teach to tuck their hips under (from yoga)…also good to check out are Rolland exercises, marching, & variation of activities. Would love to hear if anybody knows any magical tips on this!

Sue Hunt said: Oct 27, 2012
Sue Hunt
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Violin
389 posts

We play twinkle, while doing all sorts of physical activities, like marching, wiggling, doing knee bends and eventually landing up flat on your backs. (very difficult to stiffen up while you are in motion)

I even once watched, awestruck as a group managed to get themselves from flat on the floor to standing without missing a note, but would never dare do that myself.

You could make a lucky dip game using the ideas in 24 Beginner Violin Hold Games and 36 Beginner Bow Hold Games. These games can also be adapted for moments when part of the body get tense while playing. When there is a posture or technique issue, I find that it is useful to practice a variety of short games to cure the problem in between other practice assignments.

Barb said: Oct 27, 2012
Barb Ennis
Suzuki Association Member
678 posts

At what point do violin teachers usually teach their students good seated posture? For me it was beginning orchestra in sixth grade after two years of violin.

If standing is really an issue, other than working on posture, and I suppose maybe not right at the beginning of book 1, why not allow one review piece per day to be played seated… or something like that?

When our community/student orchestra started, I was appalled at the seated posture of most of the violinists. The director was not a string player and so offered no help. I think it’s better now—the local teachers must have realized they need to teach this.

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

Jeremy Chesman said: Dec 31, 2012
Jeremy Chesman
Suzuki Association Member
Organ, Recorder, Voice, Harp
Springfield, MO
24 posts

I have students that wiggle a lot when they stand (or when they sit). Sometimes if you can take the focus off of the standing and onto something else it helps. I put a piece of wrapped candy on each foot (peppermint or jolly rancher or something). I tell them that if they keep it on for the whole lesson, they can keep it. If it falls off, that means they want me to eat it. I make sure to grab it and eat it right away and thank them for giving it to me. That only happens once!

Lori Bolt said: Jan 1, 2013
Lori Bolt
Suzuki Association Member
San Clemente, CA
226 posts

I like your idea, Jeremy….I can see myself using the candy on the feet during piano lessons, or even on the shoulders or top of the head to help different problems.

Lori Bolt

Sue Hunt said: Jan 3, 2013
Sue Hunt
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Violin
389 posts

For the very wiggly ones, I assume that they just need to let off the steam built up after a long day at school. I get them to do a certain number of squats or star jumps etc. between each assignment. It’s scary that some of the wiggliest, also seem to find this sort of activity onerous.

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