Saturday, July 13, 2013

A Healthy Foundation

A Healthy Foundation
by Claire Allen

Syllabification: (foun·da·tion)
Pronunciation: /foun'daSH?n/noun
*(often foundations) the lowest load-bearing part of a building, typically below ground level.
*a body or ground on which other parts rest or are overlaid
*an underlying basis or principle for something
Creating a healthy foundation is one of the most important and crucial aspects of learning to play the violin. In the first years of violin teaching, my goal is to build fundamental musical skills as my students learn how to listen to music critically and to discern what makes a good sound and to build fundamental technical skills, which means that I focus a lot on how to hold the instrument and bow.

Playing the violin doesn't involve motions that are inherently natural or easy for the human body. It's not symmetrical at all, which means that we have to do different things with the right and left sides of our bodies. It takes years to feel completely natural with the violin, and that's why a student's first lesson with me, regardless of their level of playing, will almost always include some changes to their basic setup. Even as students grow and develop, I'm always keeping an eye on those basic technique things, seeking to refine their skills to an ever-higher playing level and finding easier and more efficient ways for them to play.

Without a healthy foundation for their playing, a student will inevitably run into problems. It might be immediately, if they are struggling to make a sound or reach a certain note on the violin. Sometimes it will take years for it to catch up to them, but it does. Even a mostly healthy foundation with just a few cracks can be cause for a visit back to basic technique. The simplest problem a student will run into as they advance is that they'll hit a piece they can't play with their current setup. A student may not be able to play in all parts of the bow because of their bowhold, or they'll struggle to play fast enough with their fingers because of an incorrect angle in their left hand.

If a student plays and practices for years with an inefficient setup, they can develop tendonitis, repetitive strain syndrome, or carpal tunnel syndrome. Too much strain and tension on the wrong muscles can cause these injuries, which are physically and emotionally painful and and can require hours of physical therapy to recover from.

The positive benefits of having a healthy playing foundation are many! They include but are not limited to: feeling physically free when playing, not having to worry about how to create a certain sound, having a natural, ringing, and free sound, and being able to solely focus on the creative process of bringing their music to life.

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