Unbalanced Stance

Jenifer said: Apr 26, 2012
Jenifer NoffkeViolin, Voice, Piano, Viola
Melbourne, FL
7 posts

Hello Fellow Teachers,

Can you please encourage me on this subject. My 10-year old violin student stands unevenly while playing. One hip is usually protruding strongly to one side, which makes her little back very crooked. I think it might be straining her neck though she says she experiences not a bit of pain in her neck, back or arms. (She does talk about her calloused fingers which of course has nothing to do with it. haha. Kinda cute actually.) Is this normal? I’ve told her that she should stand evenly on both feet with the left foot slightly forward. She still does goes back as soon as she stops thinking about it. That’s not good for her, right? What do I do? I told her again today with no avail. Maybe next week?!?!?

Jini Wills

Irene Mitchell said: Apr 27, 2012
Irene Mitchell
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Dallas, TX
111 posts

hi Jini!
I have a couple of questions for you:
Could she be locking her knees? I use small books under toes, the exercise ball and the bosu ball (half ball) to help with that.
How about teaching her to use her body for dynamics when she plays (ie shifting her weight to the ‘loud’ left foot for crescendos, and then to the ’soft’ right foot for pianos, weight between both feet for mf)
is her shoulder rest or sponge allowing the violin to be held parallel to the floor by the shoulder/head without raising the left shoulder?
and finally, I have asked parents of home school children to have them checked for scoliosis… that has been an issue twice.
hope that helps!
:o)
Irene

Irene Mitchell

Teresa said: Apr 27, 2012
Teresa Skinner
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
69 posts

I play the “evil teacher”… I sneak up next to them and knock them off balance, several times a lesson, every lesson until they ‘get it’! Standing unbalanced makes them play unbalanced!

I tried a balance board with one student, it worked until he became so comfortable on it, he wouldn’t stand still on it. He went too far to the end, fell off on top of his viola. Broken bridge and more. And this was SUPERVISED!! It happened so fast.

The viola was repaired, cracks in the top were filled, new bridge made. NOW the student stands with outstanding posture. He ‘got it’…

…if you listen to the music, it tells you what to do…

Jennifer Visick said: May 1, 2012
Jennifer VisickForum Moderator
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Suzuki in the Schools, Violin
998 posts

nag. No, really. Insist, set up a non-verbal cue to indicate that it needs to be fixed; use a balance board, nag some more, next lesson interrupt and make them fix it before they can do anything, then interrupt as soon as it happens again; next lesson nag some more, next lesson use incentives, then maybe have a whole lesson explaining how you may not feel it NOW but it’s gonna be a problem in 5, 10, or 15 years; send them to an institute and secretly ask the institute teacher to insist on it too; enroll the parent’s help and have parent nag at home too; walk around while playing, (in an extreme case, I saw an institute teacher have a student play while hula-hooping to get them out of a habitual bad posture), go back to the beginning and do a whole lesson on posture; have the student be the teacher and fix your posture; nag some more; insist some more; expect to do this for several years of lessons; eventually the student will get it.

Ever hear of Kreitman’s 5 priorities of teaching idea? Balanced posture is to violin-playing like breathing is to living. If the student started having breathing problems, would you not interrupt everything until they are taken care of? And wouldn’t you interrupt everything every time the problem happened? So with posture. Interrupt the music until it’s taken care of. Every. Single. Time.

Paula Bird said: May 1, 2012
 
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Piano, Viola
Wimberley, TX
386 posts

Bravo, RaineJen! Absolutely right. Parent should be on board too. I am fond of saying that it’s just as easy to do a good habit as it is a bad one. The cost of the bad one will outweigh the good one over time if not addressed.

“but it feels [weird, different, wrong, better, easier, whatever],” the student says.

Yes it does, I always agree. That’s our first clue that it might be wrong, because bad habits are always easy. That’s how they became a bad habit.

“but it’s hard!” students whine.

Yup maybe so (I always agree to save fruitless argument). But they aren’t the kind of person who is afraid of something hard, right?

Students test my conviction, and it does get hard on me to keep after this, but I’m not the kind of person who is afraid of something hard, right?

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

Eleanor Bennett said: May 1, 2012
 
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Villa Rica, GA
62 posts

What about the student who has a swayback posture. The stomach sticks way out. I have a couple of girls like that. Should that be corrected? As they get older I know their posture will change as there body changes, but what about now?

Eleanor Bennett

Jennifer Visick said: May 1, 2012
Jennifer VisickForum Moderator
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Suzuki in the Schools, Violin
998 posts

Yes, nag them about swayback posture. It’s a common problem, and completely fixable—with the right emphasis and consistent, insistent, constant reminders.

Have you read Susan Kempters’ book, “How Muscles work: Teaching the Violin with the Body in Mind”? Very helpful information. She has done an SAA enrichment course on this topic, too. Also, I’ve found that Alexander Technique ideas, if you have the money to take a few lessons, can be very helpful. I’m very happy with Robyn Avalon’s adaptation of the ideas, I saw her working with kids at the New Mexico Suzuki Institute and also was able to sign up to take a “Living in a Body” course from her. If she’s there this year, Perhaps if you have a reason to go to the NM Suzuki Institute… observing her seminar/work with kids, or taking a lesson with her yourself, if possible, is enlightening.

Jenifer said: May 2, 2012
Jenifer NoffkeViolin, Voice, Piano, Viola
Melbourne, FL
7 posts

Wow! Thank you so much everyone!! Keep it coming! I am certainly encouraged by all of your comments!! Thank you, thank you, thank you! Her lesson is tomorrow and I know that I will have much more power to help her in this area now that all of you have helped me!

Amy said: May 2, 2012
 
Suzuki Association Member
Violin
50 posts

I also find it is helpful to discuss being tall in both the back and front. When we talk just about having a tall backbone, sometimes students will hunch their shoulders in order to feel that they are making their backbone long. We also occasionally discuss puppets on strings and imagine that there is a string attached to the nape of the neck holding the body up (but not holding the body so high that the student’s heels come off the floor!)

Wendy Caron Zohar said: May 2, 2012
Wendy Caron Zohar
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Ann Arbor, MI
94 posts

Here are a few ideas that I have come up with, and have found quite effective in helping my students to visualize and imagine themselves standing free, straight and tall:

I ask them to picture a good posture by becoming an Eiffel Tower, with feet shoulder width apart, knees soft. A small shelf near the top is our collar bone, and the violin rests on that and is held down with the weight of our head via our jaw bone. The strings are parallel to the floor. The head and neck are free, able to move in any direction and not stuck in the chin rest, nor is the head/neck fused in one position to the shoulders. All the while, both shoulders are relaxed, loose, and downward-sloping, just like the Eiffel Tower! Both arms swing and rotate freely at the elbows.

As for sway back, I learned from Suzuki teacher training of the concept of standing on three legs: our two, and the third is like the kangaroo’s tail, behind us, so that we are resting on a stable tripod. I have found this concept works very well with all my young students, who with this imagery can feel themselves leaning back on that tail, with knees soft and flexible and not locked. Standing in this way rounds out the lower back, as an antidote to lordosis, and helps align the pelvis vertically, freeing and elongating the back, which is the desired result. However, that is a sophisticated concept that young children can’t be expected to comprehend, but leaning back on your kangaroo’s tail works very well! Hope this helps!

Wendy Caron Zohar

Wendy Caron Zohar said: May 2, 2012
Wendy Caron Zohar
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Ann Arbor, MI
94 posts

Sorry—I forgot to add that the Eiffel Tower can ’sway in the wind’! It is not rigid, but rather more like a tall juniper or a cypress; firmly planted but graceful, stable, flexible, and reaching upward.

Wendy Caron Zohar

Carol Gwen said: May 3, 2012
Carol Gwen Kiefer
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Washington Crossing, PA
75 posts

All these ideas are extremely helpful! I’m an Alexander student who’s about to re-read Susan Kempter’s book. I’m always looking for new ways to address and old problem.

A child with an extreme swayed back while in playing position may also have the knees extended all the way back, or “locked.” I always address this as the priority. It’s not easy, but I don’t let it slide. It’s possible to pass out from locked knees (blood flow?)

I’ve used a small chair in which the seat is at the height of the child’s knees. Place the chair behind the student’s knees preventing the over extension. This can throw the student completely off balance as the postural muscles are weak. How does this help? It illustrates to both the student and the parent a need to address posture all day long, not just at violin or viola.

Laying on the floor knees bent- semi-supine- before, after, and during a practice may help. The spine floats in the center of the body, however many students think they have an actual “back bone.” What they have are back muscles and the bony bits they feel are the processes of each vertebrae. I tell the parents this not a young child! Release the back, leg and neck muscles on the floor, then try playing position. Knowing how the body works helps but putting it into practice is the tough stuff.

I’ve read and referred to “What every violinist needs to know about the body” for myself and my students. They all know about the A.O. joint. And I constantly repeat myself, ad nauseam.

Mikaela said: May 22, 2012
Mikaela CashViolin, Viola
28 posts

Wendy: I have always played and taught to lean forward on the toes—the front of the feet. I believe this has always produced a relaxed, balanced posture (not a swayback posture). However, I’m always willing to learn new things and correct bad habits! How is leaning on the heels of the feet (if I’m understanding you correctly) more balanced than leaning on the front?

Eleanor: As others mentioned, bent knees usually do the trick for correcting swayback posture. The interesting thing is, when I was reminding one of my teenage girl students about this, she shared that a horse-back riding instructor had said that most women walk around with locked or semi-locked knees—it’s how we tend to carry our weight, unlike men, who have a very wide, open, unlocked stance. So it makes perfect sense that the girls would be the difficult ones to teach to play with relaxed knees. Especially as their bodies change and their centers of gravity changes, balancing with unlocked knees becomes very necessary and sometimes very difficult.

Paula Bird said: May 23, 2012
 
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Piano, Viola
Wimberley, TX
386 posts

Mikaela, jump up and down 3 times as high as you can. See where you land on your feet. Now do it and try to land on front part of your foot. Now try it and land with left foot slightly forward. I gave this up years ago. Balance happens naturally to us when we jump. When we are balanced we can’t be knocked over in any direction. Try Mountain Pose in yoga to really understand this.

I also use books under toes for knee-lockers, and I too knock them over: feet too close, I knock over from the side; feet too far apart, I knock them from front or back. BTW kids think this is fun.

Here is a checklist that might help:

Posture checklist

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

Carol Gwen said: May 23, 2012
Carol Gwen Kiefer
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Washington Crossing, PA
75 posts

Paula, agreed. One can’t break down what balance is. I try to help the student find their own balance through physical movement. Walk backwards, then forwards. What do you notice? Jumping is great for kids. Also it gives them a jolt of energy at the end of highly focused violin/viola playing, which may be a contributing factor to locked knees. (?)

Have you noticed how much easier it is to be a balanced player when the song is a review piece that’s memorized comfortably?

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