Things 4 Strings Blog

Better Skills, Greater Joy: Posts from our String Studio

PREVENTING VIOLIN/VIOLA PLAYING INJURIES THROUGH PROPER SET-UP by Claire Stefani

Claire Stefani

Playing any instrument means MOVING … a lot!  A properly fitted set-up does not replace the benefits of a postural correction approach, but will optimize its benefits. 

We all recognize the validity of fitting the right size instrument and bow to a player’s body type.  But, when it comes to chin and shoulder rest set-up, the myriad of possibilities to adapt equipment to body type can be daunting.  So before you buy ANOTHER chinrest or shoulder rest, here are some guidelines on what matters, based on my bottom-up experience of fitting/working with some 400 musicians in the past 4 years.

GUIDELINES

Head balance

The head weighs 12 to 15 pounds.  The axis of its balance is at ear lobe level.  The head should rest on the chinrest at the same level as the end of nodding “yes”.

Arm balance

Arms should be supported by the back muscles in the same way as when hugging someone (but not falling in their arms!).  If not, the arms will pull the instrument down with force that can’t be borne by the head and shoulder nor compensated for by the chinrest/shoulder rest set-up. 

Best tool to train arm support? Apply the motion logic of walking, initiated from the hips, to arms: get the momentum going from the shoulder blades.  For more on this, refer to scapulohumeral rhythm from the body mapping approach. 

Instrument position

Up or down, in or out … it should be the teacher’s and player’s preference, not a chinrest or shoulder rest dictating how the instrument is held! One thing to remember though: by allowing a contact point with the collarbone instead of only on the left shoulder, one will notice:

  • a reduced need to clench
  • more freedom in the left shoulder, less strain on the left arm and hand
  • less heaviness, more freedom in the bow arm

Follow the pain

One player’s comfortable set-up could be torture for another.  It’s the same logic as trying on shoes! Initial pain or fatigue with instrument playing comes from muscle tension.  So as early as possible, identify any skeleton imbalance in playing position (vs. neutral position) leading muscle to sustain a static position instead of contributing to movement.  And say NO to the “no pain no gain” mantra, as it only leads to injury.

Claire Stefani, after 20 years of experience with musical accessory manufacturer/distributors (BAM Cases and then D’Addario), founded Volute Service International to provide an active interface between music instrument/accessory makers and orchestral string players and teachers.  Claire’s interest in violin/viola ergonomic set-up and its impact on movement efficiency stems from her experience as an international field hockey player in her native France.  She is a fitter for the Frisch & Denig chinrest line and has helped more than 400 musicians with their set-up.  She is also an avid amateur chamber music violist and violinist in New York City, an affiliate Andover trainee, and an active member of the Performing Arts Medicine Association (PAMA).  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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Fun App for Practicing: Tiny Decisions

Tiny Decisions App Screen Shots

While I am perhaps personally one of the worst cell phone users on the planet (my own phone is rarely charged and I don't use it to receive calls), my students and I have thoroughly been enjoying adopting a wonderful little app called Tiny Decisions into our practice routine. The hardest part of practicing (after actually opening the case) is often just deciding what to practice first! As a Suzuki teacher, for decades I have provided my students with a Review Chart to keep both a record of their progress and help establish a warm up routine. But this (FREE!) app really does the trick in a neat and modern way, and is downloaded and customized for each student within minutes. 

Tiny Decisions is an app to make all decisions fun & easy! Just input your question, add/import options and spin the wheel to get a random answer!

Features:

* Create your own decisions to make
* Built-in decision templates
* Set weight for options
* Select non-repeating options
* Flip a coin
* Share decision with your friends
* Import options from clipboard, one option per line
* Make quick decision

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2018 ASTA National Conference

String teachers! Heading to ASTA?

Hands down, our favorite event all year -- because what could be nicer than hanging and learning with the string bunch that comprise the American String Teachers Association (ASTA)?

Please stop by the Exhibit Hall and say "Hello!" 

Ruth Brons, Things 4 Strings accessory teacher/inventor, will be on hand at our Booth #514 for product demos and teaching advice.

Our new partner Music & Arts will be handling Things 4 Strings accessory sales at Booth #305.

 

2018 ASTA National Conference

March 7-10, 2018

Hyatt Regency Atlanta

Atlanta, GA 

Booth #514

 

 

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Meet Things 4 Strings accessories at the TMEA2018 Conference in San Antonio!

Meet Things 4 Strings at TMEA 2018 ant the Music and Arts Exhibit


TMEA is an organization of over 11,000 school music educators dedicated to promoting excellence in music education. TMEA comprises five divisions: Band, Orchestra, Vocal, Elementary and College. TMEA leaders carefully monitor the actions of all state decision-making bodies on issues affecting fine arts instruction.

Music and Arts will be hosting Things 4 Strings at their exhibit, Booth #417, in the Henry B. Gonalez Convention Center. Meet Bow Hold Buddies and CelloPhant inventor (and studio violin and viola teacher) Ruth Brons, for product demos, news - or just to say "Hello!"

The TMEA Valentine Buzz on Twitter!

 

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10 Thoughts Regarding Organizing Studio Solo Recitals

Young Boy in Solo Violin Recital

Make recitals happen! If you are a teacher, organizing a recital experience for your students takes time and planning – and often can be really easy just to not bother with. But the benefits of a well-run recital to both the individual students and the studio as a whole are undeniable. If you are a student, or parent of a student, please make these special opportunities for growth a priority in the family calendar. The cornerstones of the music education program you have generously invested in for your child, recitals are not just another “activity” like soccer games and birthday parties vying for time on a busy schedule. They need to be awarded top priority scheduling status.


While preparing a student for a recital involves a whole set of tasks revolving around teaching the techniques, rhythms, notes and musicality of each piece, I offer below ten thoughts I haven’t seen much written about that relate to recital planning in general:

1. How many recitals per year? Some studio teachers plan one recital per year, while many plan two recitals. Other teachers may also keep an eye out for other student group and solo performance opportunities, such as at community events or senior centers. The exact number is less important than that all performances are properly planned and prepared in advance.


2. Don’t have access to a proper recital hall? Churches are a great option, an often not too expensive to procure. Music store also sometimes have a recital room. Do you or any of your students have a house large enough? Home recitals are lovely!

3. How many students per recital? My favorite number is around 15 students, but the more important factor, to me, is to keep each recital under an hour in length.


4. Accompaniment: While one can present a string studio recital without an accompanist, I feel it is an awesome, high-priority component. If your students are playing pieces beyond your ability to accompany them yourself, consider hiring an accompanist. Some teachers charge a recital fee to cover the expense for the accompanist, and possibly the venue. Another option is to play a duet accompaniment to as many pieces as possible. Martha Yasuda, for example, has published duet accompaniments to the entire Suzuki violin repertoire (http://yasudamusic.com ).

5. Don’t have enough students for a recital? No problem! Invite other local teachers to either bring students or to invite your students onto their recitals. Networking is gold.


6. The After-Party: in my own current teaching situation at a local university, the venue we use for a Suzuki Group Concerts allows for a little reception afterwards. We simply ask parents to bring a few treats to share if they can, and it as great time for parents and students to celebrate and bond with each other. Because our solo recital venue has a strict no-food policy, we celebrate by inviting all the soloists up on the stage at the end of each program for one more round of applause and a group photo op.

7. Seating Advice to First Time Recitalists: sit in or near the front row, for the best view and shortest walk to the stage!


8. Piece Selection: In my studio, students commit to the piece they are preparing for each recital at least six weeks in advance. Advanced students may even choose their pieces six months in advance. Kids lead busy lives and I find we need to plan ahead to get everything thoroughly prepared.

9. Dress Code? I tell my students “Clean & Decent,” but do point out that the outfit needs allow for the comfortable playing of their instrument. So, for violinist, I warn the girls about the challenges some jewelry, neck-lines, buttons, high-heels and hair-styles might present, and I advise the boys to only play in a suit and tie if they have tried it at home first.


10. Stage Presence: The father of one of former students, who is now a music major at Oberlin College, once told me that the thing he appreciated me teaching his son the most was teaching him how to take a bow on stage. To open each of my recitals, I make the same announcement. After the usual welcome and request to silence cell phones, I remind everyone that we are a friendly crowd who loves to clap! I state our rule that not only will everyone clap every performer onto and off the stage, but that we will keep clapping until the performer acknowledges the applause with a proper bow. This little piece of recital etiquette is worth the few minutes it takes in lesson to prepare the student how to walk and bow while carrying a violin, bow and, possibly, sheet music. We also practice how we will re-check their tuning once on stage, how to stand in the correct orientation to the audience, and exactly how they are going to cue or start their piece. All this practice about what happens immediate before a student plays is like taking out a Positive Recital Experience insurance policy.

Students of Ruth Brons Solo Violin Recital Class Photo

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