Tips on helping a 5YO reduce tension in bow arm?

Shannon Farley said: Dec 19, 2012
Shannon Farley
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Violin
Madison, WI
11 posts

I have a 5 year old twinkler that uses way too much arm weight when he bows. Does anyone have any tips on ways to reduce the urge to use so much weight?

Jennifer Visick said: Dec 20, 2012
Jennifer VisickForum Moderator
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Suzuki in the Schools, Violin
998 posts
  • talk “light” “breezy” “beautiful” “clear” “clean” vs. “fuzzy” “scratchy” “hard” “dirty” “sandy” “gravelly”. Don’t expect immediate results: 5 year olds don’t usually care if it sounds ugly, they just want to “do” something on the instrument, and are usually too busy “doing” to be “listening”. So you’ll have to slowly teach them to connect what they DO with how it SOUNDS. It may take months (or years).

  • demo “My turn” and you do the bow on the child’s violin while the v. is on the child’s shoulder; then again “my turn” and possibly a third time “My turn”, then “can you make it sound the same? Your turn!” —repeat the sequence at least four or five times, giving instant feedback for trying, for changing something, for closer to the sound you made or for farther away. Each time, you can change the question: “Can you make it sound the same? Your turn!”
    “Can you make it look the same? Your turn!”
    “How heavy does the bow drop the violin into your shoulder? Can you make it feel the same? Your turn!” etc.

  • do the same exercise but demonstrate a different kind of tone quality. E.g., be ugly on purpose, but specifically ugly away from the bridge (or near the bridge—doesn’t matter as long as you choose something specific) and give feedback again—for example “That was squeaky, but mine was scratchy, listen again…” or vice versa, etc. The idea here is can the child control contact point, bow speed, bow distributiion, etc.

  • talk “soft” —soft hands, soft shoulders, soft neck, soft thumbs, soft feet, wiggle your toes

  • talk (to the parent) & show (with the child) “balance”—get the knees unlocked, check setup & that shoulders aren’t lifting to help keep the v. up; do some arm swings w/o v. to loosen up, etc.

  • don’t be afraid to slow down; if you have the parent on board with how important this is, insist that both hands and shoulders are soft and the stance is balanced and “easy” before you let the child play or move on in the lesson, consistently, several lessons in a row. They usually get it.

  • demo how light the bow is! Do bow hold games about light bow holds: “can you take the bow out of my hand?” “was that easy or hard?” (make it easy. Then do it again but make it hard). I do this all the time and 95% of my students immediately want to demonstrate to me that they can do it both ways, so they are usually coming up and saying “can you take the bow out of my hand?” and showing me both ways. Do it with the parent too… and then have the child take the parent’s bow out of their hand….

  • Find the balance point of the bow with the child. With a spotter, see if you can balance your bow on two fingers, and then on two strings…. then, obviously, it’s harder to balance on the strings, so you can “help” the bow with a very soft bow hold but only a little tiny bit of help!

  • then, try pulling a soft, quiet sound out of the v, from the balance point, from the “balanced on two strings” bow hold….

  • Getting extremes out of the student may be easier to start with than getting subtle changes; so be happy with a too fluffly, too light, surface/harmonic sound. After “crunch” and “surface noise” are reliable on command, then add “what about in between?”

Sue Hunt said: Dec 20, 2012
Sue Hunt
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Violin
390 posts

Is he using his upper arm muscles to push the bow hand down, or is he letting the arm dangle? There is a big difference between resting the hand on a surface and pushing it into the surface. Take turns in demonstrating this on each other’s shoulders or forearms. You will be able to feel what he is doing. What about using a magic word like Suzuki’s “Tuna fish” when it is just right. Once he understands, you can use it as a trigger.

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

I’ve never had a 5yr-old applying too much wieght. A much more common issue is pressing down and moving the bow with the shoulder, rather than the elbow.
1) Working through this issue, flying pizzicato (an idea I acquired from this discussion board) has done wonders. For this, students pizz—without the bow—and follow through with the hand in the trajectory it would use if the student were playing with the bow.
2) I also talk a lot about gravity (even with very young students). Gravity is 100% reliable and non-negotiable. It’s not going away. So, we as violinists need to figure out how to make gravity work to our advantage. If we (or our students)try to force the issue by pressing down on the string, we’r not letting gravity do what it does best.
3) With slightly older students, I discuss human anatomy and how the shoulder girdle is a hanging structure. The shoulder blade should be able to support the weight of the arm and bow and still stay balanced on the spine. But if we try to add extra pressure to the bow, we disrupt the balance of the body because the shoulder girdle is not able to hang freely.

Shannon Farley said: Dec 20, 2012
Shannon Farley
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Violin
Madison, WI
11 posts

Thank you Amy, Sue and RaineJen! I can’t wait to try some of these exercises with him at our next lesson!

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