Excessive Movement While Playing

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said: Oct 19, 2010
 24 posts

My eight year old son moves excessively while playing his violin. I can’t seem to get him to settle down. He isn’t misbehaving, he just sways back and forth while playing, etc. For example: sometimes he closes his eyes, sways gently, and plays very sweetly when the music calls for it and sometimes while playing stop notes and does sharp movements and smiles so I know he’s having having fun. It doesn’t seem to affect his playing or posture and he says he “can’t help himself” that he is just “enjoying the music and having fun”, but I don’t know what to tell him. It bothers me that he moves so much. Other parents always comment about how they like his movement when he plays and so does my family so I feel like everyone else is condoning it. His teacher only made a comment twice about it and well that didn’t help my case becasue she said his movement was “impressive” for an eight year old, but I don’t really know what that means. I just worry about him having a solo performance or an orchestra performance and his movement becoming a distraction to others. I don’t want him to make a scene and bring too much attention to himself because I feel like being a musician is a lot about team work. I’m also concerned that it WILL eventually catch up with him and affect his playing and posture.

Any advice on how to get him to settle down without putting a damper on enthusiasm? For teachers: when you see students like this in your studio what do you do? I just don’t want to seem mean and demanding. One day I had him stop and be still and his face just got all serious and humdrum…I decided to not enforce that because it just really squashed his little character and spirit. It seems like the older he gets the more it happens. He loves playing and practices pretty easily. Right now he practices for about 1.5-2 hrs a day and he starts all the moving and swaying from the onset of practice.

Jennifer Visick said: Oct 20, 2010
Jennifer VisickForum Moderator
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Suzuki in the Schools, Violin
998 posts

It sounds like you’re the only one who is distracted by the swaying. If the teacher does not think it is a problem, perhaps it isn’t.

It is actually better for a body to be able to move instead of being stuck in one position all the time while playing.

On the other hand, too much movement can detract from the sound. It is difficult to determine if it is “too much” without personally seeing it! Have you looked at videos of lots of different professional musicians—soloists and orchestra players—and chamber music too—to see what an appropriate range of motion might be? It varies widely depending on the performer, and on whether or not there is a conductor, and on if a performer has to “lead” other musicians at a particular musical phrase or not.

Jonathan said: Oct 20, 2010
 11 posts

This is a great topic, deenaz81. Thanks for raising this issue.

IMHO, it’s wonderful that your eight-year-old is responding so expressively to the emotional content of the music. It might look awkward or embarrassingly over-dramatic, but it’s probably much better than the opposite fault (a flat/emotionless affect that doesn’t reveal any emotional engagement with the music). Maybe you could see this as part of learning to play expressively!

That said, children can get too carried away with this. For young string players, it can be harder to control the bow when the instrument is sweeping around all over the place. Earlier this year, my own eight-year-old was doing exactly what you describe, and it got to the point where her teacher felt we needed to damp the movement down a bit. What we did worked pretty well:

(1) I didn’t say anything about it until the teacher had raised the issue in her characteristically warm and kind way.

(2) The teacher explained why too much movement is a problem (hard to control the bow well) and then suggested trying to practice the piece while balancing on one leg. This takes a lot of concentration, so the tone quality, bow hold, etc. may suffer, but it will also put a stop to the dramatic swaying.

(3) At home, we’d practice “normally” for a while, then try the balancing trick. We also came up with other versions—for example, my daughter is really into ice skating, so she went through one or two entire practices while balancing on her ice skates (in the living room, with skate guards on the blades obviously!)

I think RaineJen’s comments are good ones. I would follow the teacher’s lead on this (if you’re really concerned, call or email the teacher privately to raise your concern, outside of lesson time). Also, in the long term, many soloists and chamber musicians do engage in a great deal of physical movement while playing. It’s probably less appropriate in an orchestra.

deenaz81

I decided to not enforce that because it just really squashed his little character and spirit. It seems like the older he gets the more it happens. He loves playing and practices pretty easily. Right now he practices for about 1.5-2 hrs a day and he starts all the moving and swaying from the onset of practice.

That’s great that he loves playing so much, and that he practices so thoroughly. I think you’re very wise not to push on this issue.

said: Oct 20, 2010
 24 posts

Thanks RaineJen for your suggestion, I appreciate your expertise. I’ll watch some videos with my son and make sure we talk about what he is seeing. I do take him to lots of performances and we watch lots of videos online too. Perhaps we can have some discussions about how the professional musicians seem to move.You have a point, maybe I’m the one who is distracted by it :( and perhaps I just need to accept it, I was just concerned that the teacher never said much about it because she is so very kind and sweet. I absolutely love and respect his teacher so I listen to everything she says, I just didn’t know if she was being nice to my son about it. She did make a remark at our lesson today (completely unprompted), she told him to try to channel some of that energy and feeling into the bow arm and feel the music with his bowing. He didn’t seem to really “get it” but I think I did and I’ll talk with him more about than when we practice at home.

Thanks for the encouragement jwc_vt :) It is good to know that you have had the same experience too. I do see musicians moving a lot, but I always thought they they earned it because they have been playing for years and they are now trained professionals :). I’ll admit—I can be guilty of over-analyzing things! Your balancing activity made me think of something…the teacher has had him do activities with a little toy laying on his violin while he is playing and keeping a pen in his violin hand while playing…maybe doing some of that will channel his focus when playing new phrases and stop him from moving around a lot. If he can REALLY play a piece well, maybe the movement doesn’t matter.

We’ll see how everything works, I’ll update in a few weeks or so.

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