From the very first note a student plays, we work on developing a good tone. Tone is affected by things like a balanced body that stands up tall and a good bow hold. Since many of my students are in the important pre-twinkle and twinkle stages of learning, I thought it might be beneficial for me to blog about the pre-play checklist I go through each time before any of my students play. We want our students to play their absolute best, so it is important that we take the time to ensure they are set up properly. I would like to take a second, however, and explain why the pre-twinkle and twinkle stages are so important.
The pre-twinkle and twinkle stages are where students learn the fundamental skills of violin playing. Foot placement, bow hold, left hand position, playing with a good tone, string crossings and independent fingers are only a few of the many important skills taught in these phases. In fact, I have a 10 page outline that lays out all the skills needed to get from the very beginning until Lightly Row. That is why these stages take so long! In the words of my Suzuki instructor Allen Lieb, "Twinkle is the most difficult piece one will ever learn," and that is most definitely the case! There are so many skills that must be mastered by the end of Twinkle Theme and each skill takes a good amount of time and practice to develop. If we are patient, however, and develop these skills properly rather than rushing through to see how many different pieces we can learn, then we will be rewarded with not only a beautifully played Twinkle, but a set up that allows the student to focus on playing musically and learning more advanced skills by the time they begin Lightly Row. What students learn in the beginning impacts their playing for the rest of their violin career so it is imperative that we give them the best start possible! Let's be diligent about making sure our children are set up correctly before they play and pretty soon it will become second nature to them.
2. Violin on Shoulder - Is your violin up on your shoulder? Some students struggle with placing their violin on the shoulder and instead bring it around in front of them so it is resting on their chest. I have my students place their violin on their heads with the scroll pointing towards the left. They then bring the violin to ear level, touching the button to their ear, and from there take the violin straight down and place it on the shoulder. They then turn their head so they are looking at the scroll and plop their chin/jaw on the chin rest.
a. A soft, straight thumb. The left thumb should never bend and try to wrap around the fingerboard. It merely touches the neck. Remember a heavy head is what should keep the violin up, not your hand.
4. Bow Hold - Again, there are several things to check for here:
a. A good bow hold- Is your thumb bent and pinky curved?
c. Squishy knuckles - Is the bow hand soft and relaxed. I always feel the knuckles to be sure they are squishy. I remind my students to be soft like a marshmallow, not hard like a rock. Knuckles should also be at the same level as the bow and not rising above the bow stick
d. Magnet Test - In order to produce a good tone the bow needs to be in good contact with the string. Before a student plays, with the bow on the string, I try and lift the students bow off the string. If I can easily lift the bow off then the student does not have good contact with the string and will not have a strong tone. I tell students to pretend their bow is a magnet that should stick to the string when I try and pull it off. Make sure that your student is not forcing the bow on the string by pressing down with their pointer finger. A naturally heavy, relaxed arm will keep the bow on the string and produce the best sound.