Adult Students over 60

Joanna Pepple said: Oct 2, 2013
Joanna Pepple
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Tallahasee, FL
9 posts

Hi! I have a question for those of you who teach adult students!

I have about 16 children in my violin studio, but I also have a few adult beginners. One of them started taking in May 2013, and she is 61 years old. She’s doing quite well, playing all of the pieces through Perpetual Motion, with great sound and intonation.

She struggles, however, with her wrist locking and some pain associated with that. It is not a lot of pain though. She’s says it is more a discomfort when it locks than an actual pain. We’ve tried a few different approaches: bringing her elbow around more to keep a comfortable angle on the wrist, having her practice after her wrist is warm, and using some stretches (palm against wall, straight arm) that I learned from my teachers. We’ve also worked on relaxing her hand by tapping her thumb and fingers gently to release tension.

It seems that her wrist locks up after 5-7 minutes of playing, and she says she wished it didn’t as then she would practice a lot more since she loves it!

Has anyone worked with older students in this case who may need extra care in terms of their joints? I don’t think she has arthritis…and her muscles are strong… Are there certain stretches or exercises you might share?

I appreciate anything insights you all may have!

Joyce McGlaun said: Oct 2, 2013
Joyce McGlaun
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Suzuki Early Childhood Education
39 posts

Hi Joanna, I am a 63 year old violinist with some joint problems myself. Maybe I can help. Does this happen when your student uses her 4th finger? Or is it independent of that finger? I have noticed as I age that playing with a tight left hand is very debilitating when I am in an orchestra rehearsal and many times it begins with 4th finger work. If I am able to warm up slowly, putting my 4th finger down lightly on the string and to also play slowly, I have a much better chance of warming up without pain and playing the rehearsal without pain. If my left thumb is tight, squeezing even just a little, or there is much action with the 4th finger right away in the rehearsal I am likely to have pain all day afterwards. In breaks between rehearsals I do self massage in the joints of my hands, incorporate stretches and try to keep the muscles as loose as possible. After rehearsal I use ice, deep tissue pressure, and try to float my arms in a warm bath of Epsom salts water. Every little thing helps.

Joyce McGlaun
Strings Unlimited Violin Studio & Quartet
Baby Music of Abilene, http://suzukibabymusic.blogspot.com
325-677-5766; 325-829-4440
www.stringsunltd.com

Joanna Pepple said: Oct 2, 2013
Joanna Pepple
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Tallahasee, FL
9 posts

Wow, thanks so much, Joyce! This is really helpful… I will pass this along to her, and she will be sooo appreciative! :) Thank you for your personal insight!

Oh…and she just started using 4th finger in Perpetual Motion…but she was having the same trouble before. But I’m sure your ideas could help with any of the fingers!

Mikaela said: Oct 3, 2013
Mikaela CashViolin, Viola
28 posts

I just started an 86 year old man on violin last week! It’s always been a dream of his to play the violin, so I’m honored to be a part of that dream. Unfortunately, he’d already begun working on violin and bowhold without me, so he has already started struggling with his left hand wrist. We worked a lot on making sure he was holding his violin with his head and not supporting it with his left hand—sometimes that can free up the tension in the left hand. I also look forward to incorporating some of your ideas, Joyce.

And, while I’m on here, I’d love any and all tips on teaching adult students—especially one of this advanced age! My feeling is that some things are just not as important as they are with children. Most adult students are so results-oriented—if they don’t get those results, they quickly become discouraged. So where is that balance of giving them results and not overdoing it on the theory and technique, but making sure they are well-equipped to be successfull musicians?

Daniel Gladstone said: Oct 4, 2013
 
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Southold, NY
4 posts

She might try holding the violin further out to the left, which would tend to put the left hand in a more open, relaxed position.

Marcia said: Oct 5, 2013
 
Suzuki Association Member
Violin
Tulsa, OK
3 posts

I am 65 and have had tendinitis, so I have learned to hold my violin more to the left and to have my elbow angle appropriate for each string level so I do not have to strain my hand or arm in any way. I have learned and now teach to use the weight of my arm letting my fingers hang on the string with the balance coming from the 3rd and 4th fingers instead of from the first finger. This has enabled me to have a very relaxed left hand and wrist. I am not very good with wording, but I do hope that this helps.

Leslie Brown Katz said: Oct 5, 2013
Leslie Brown Katz
Suzuki Association Member
Violin
8 posts

My friend Hal Grossman, who is a violinist and teacher, has developed a method addressing these issues. You can access his work and contact him at TheGrossmanMethod.com. I use these techniques not only with my students—as prevention, but as a daily routine for myself as a violinist in the Los Angeles Opera!

Linda Louise Ford said: Oct 6, 2013
Linda Louise Ford
Suzuki Association Member
Violin
Rochester, NY
16 posts

This is excellent and actually well said.

Linda

Linda

Hal Grossman said: Oct 8, 2013
Hal GrossmanViolin
1 posts

Hi all,

The Grossman Method© incorporates kinesthetic awareness into violin and viola training to alleviate stress, reduce anxiety, and prevent injury. Violinists and violists from high school age on up can learn to recognize muscle tension and find ways to relieve that tension before it leads to pain and discomfort. Students learn to channel their nervous energy, going beyond basic training of hands and fingers by incorporating large muscle awareness, breathing exercises, and mental conditioning.

A few years ago I presented the stretch workshop component of The Grossman Method at an adult string chamber music workshop. After the session three wonderful women came up to me with tears in their eyes. They told me it was the first time in years that they were able to play without pain. It filled me with such joy. THAT’S what I hope The Grossman Method© will bring to our string community!

If you’d like to see more, please visit me at TheGrossmanMethod.com

Wendy Caron Zohar said: Oct 8, 2013
Wendy Caron Zohar
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Ann Arbor, MI
94 posts

Hi Hal! Hi everyone!

What a great subject. Physical limitations, tension! Whether they are adult beginners or children, helping students overcome problems such as muscle tension, pain in various parts of their body, locked wrists and elbows, stiff back, knees, spine, neck, shoulders, and left hands that are stuck in a poor position with stiff joints and knuckles, is one of the aims of my teaching approach. Best is to nip it in the bud, but not all my students had the chance to have their first lessons with me. And as for older beginners, there is inherent stiffness that sets in, mysteriously. And stiffness sometimes sets in with professional players who reach middle age, or who experience over-use syndrome of various kinds. Why it is this happens could make an interesting conversation topic to pursue on its own. If you watch healthy babies in motion, they have none of these problems. There’s a lot to learn from babies.

Adult students are probably the worst sufferers of these types of ailments, but I even have had some younger students who were exhibiting the stiffness more typical of adult beginners. One high school beginner actually had early arthritis in both her hands, causing stiffness and making it difficult and painful to use her hands freely. I was able to help her to a high degree, and though her arthritis was progressing, she was excited to feel that learning to play actually made her hands feel better.

It takes a basic understanding of physiology of playing, balance in the body, freedom of motion, and awareness of inner musculature and tendons, to be able to empathize with all the possible aches, sorenesses and limitations that one finds in students’ bodies. But we take our students as we find them! Learning to play the violin with awareness is one of the best forms of physical therapy (and other therapies too!) that there is, so that’s good news!

The approach I’ve devised is effective at relieving tension, opening and relaxing muscles, and through all this, achieving a beautiful, open sound, fluid bowing, and great intonation. It would be difficult to describe what it is that I do, in this post, as it’s a lot of touch, response, and movement awareness, finding spots of tension (which is highly subjective—so different for each individual!) and freeing those areas with special actions, “body whispering”, and quiet breathing.

I’ve also had several students who’ve broken arms and sprained wrists from falling on Michigan ice, or tripping on the school race track at meets, or riding bikes. In each case I had them back to playing, and feeling comfortable and whole again in their playing, in less than half a year. Helping a student return to playing after being immobilized in a cast for 2-3 months has unfortunately become another of my specialties!

With my accident prone students I’ve had four occasions in the last decade, to help them overcome their injuries, and successfully get them back to playing. Finding the specific and progressive gentle exercises that extend the range of motion after a bone’s been broken is a delicate but important task. But it’s essential for students who want to go on learning to play their instrument. If they wait too long, they may just give up because the tendons tend to tighten, muscles lose their flexibility, and joints lose range of motion. Physical therapists are done with their patient once the hand and arm can accomplish basic tasks. But that leaves the student far from ready to use the arm, whether right or left, for the complicated movements necessary for playing the violin.

For these reasons I feel my work as a violin teacher has included being an occupational and specialized physical therapist, all rolled into that of being a musician, counselor and spiritual booster and guide. (!)

If any of these conditions apply to any of your students, please feel free to private message me about it. Hope everyone here, and your students, stay pain free, accident-free, motion-full, and happy with your/their playing experience!

Wendy

Wendy Caron Zohar

Alice Painter said: Aug 4, 2015
 Violin
Springwood, NSW, Australia
6 posts

Wow! Some great resources here, thanks! I’ve been thinking a lot about teaching adults as I just started teaching a wonderful retired man, and have another adult student starting this afternoon. I’m keen to use the Suzuki repertoire as I feel it has such a great progression of skills—but we’ve been adding in other things and will continue to do so. One thing I’ve noticed is that he tends to just wade in and start playing pieces he finds that are really a little too hard. I suppose it’s one part of being an adult keen to get ahead! He definitely likes knowing why we do things, too.

One thing came up this morning in his lesson that took me by surprise—I thought I’d get him to play through the Twinkle variations (we’ve been working on bowing and intonation). He got through Variation A with no problems, as expected, but was totally floored by my suggestion that we try Var B, which doesn’t have all the music printed for it. Just could not get his head around it (the rhythm itself was fine). Has anyone else come across this?

Debbie said: Aug 6, 2015
Debbie BarretteGuitar
Rancho Santa Margarita, CA
3 posts

I have students ranging from ages 5 to 75 and there are a lot of differences for sure. I love all of the above comments. Everyone is right on. I, myself, am 52 and find my left hand is often more stiff and sore than I’d like. I do a lot of stretches, ice and hot water to relieve periodic problems. There is great DVD called Yoga for Guitarists that I use. I’m sure it would help violinists too. It targets shoulders, back, arms, wrists/hands.

Older students are generally much slower in their joints and lack the flexibility of younger students. Also, the mind tends to not be able to memorize as quickly. So, I just help them along and encourage them to be patient with themselves. I modify certain fingerings if there are things they simply cannot do. It’s important to be realistic with expectations of what repertoire can be played. I offer a lot of praise and encouragement since I am happy to be a part of helping them accomplish something they’ve always wanted to do. I remind them that it’s not a race and to just find joy in the learning process. I tease them and say, “You got a pie in the oven? There’s no hurry here.” It’s a journey and as adults there is a tendency to be very self-critical and not notice the small improvements along the way. Keeping a sense of humor goes a long way. After all, playing an instrument is supposed to be fun!

Debbie

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