One boy was missing his left pinky. That kid also had ADD and was adopted as a foster child so he was difficult to work with, but he was a fun kid. I adjusted as necessary. I had to make up new fingerings. I taught him how to extend the 3rd finger, and we moved into shifting earlier than I normally would’ve. He had to include more open strings at times. Being good at string crossings and shifting are also good skills. I also modified the repertoire: some etudes are focused on 4th finger dexterity. Looking back I would normalize the changes we made to fit his ability level. I would say things like, “normally we would do this, but let’s do this other thing instead.” I would suggest normalizing the changes.
My oldest student has had surgeries. She has a shaky bow. My initial response to hearing about her chronic pain was, “where is the foundation of your bow arm? where is your weight?” At first I thought that she was putting too much weight on the bow. But we’ve been doing an exercise where we set the bow and we go all the way down and circle back. Through this, she’s gotten crystal clear bow strokes. So we’re trying to do sensory awareness for what changes when you release tension. You can see pretty clearly when someone is holding tension in their body. To experiment with elbow weight I’ll have them lean on a table and lean into it so they feel that the weight on the shoulder is different. In person I would put a hand under their right elbow, but they can do it themselves.
Slightly autistic student started learning at 10, stayed till he was 17. His mother was his caretaker, and they didn’t want much outside input. He was on the positive curve of it where he memorizes everything the teacher tells him within 2 minutes and he benefits from this. He’s in book 4 of Suzuki. I can barely keep him from moving forward without me. Something he does that no other student does: He will literally count during the rest and count all the bars. Even if it’s 17 bars of rest.
Student with Aspergers (he was 11, stayed 2 years). Did not have physical tics, but they would be extremely uncomfortable with discomfort. Things like the chin rest — if it didn’t feel good on one day it was hard for them. As a teacher, it was a lot of following their lead but still maintaining some type of authority in the room, so the student was not taking over the lesson. I needed to get into their world and allow them to show you what’s going to be possible today. Not every day is the same — for us that’s true, but for them x1000.
There was a 10 year old student who had 1 lesson, and she had a complete breakdown. The lesson had barely even started. When we were talking about bow hold, and she broke down crying. She buried her head in her mom’s lap. I did not know how to handle that because I didn’t know what was going on. The mother really wanted her to do it. You don’t always know what’s going on at home. You just don’t, and you can’t ask. I made the decision to call the mother the next day and I refunded her for the lesson and said “maybe come and have her observe a few lessons”...I encouraged her to hold off. I didn’t know what was upsetting her and I said to come back in a month or two if she wanted to come back. That was a tough one. I never heard back.
Resources & Approaches
Teacher Recommendations For:
- Screen readers
- Call and response
- Ear training and feeling
- Encourage them to to violin shop and test things out
- Have an initial conversation about their goals
- Boddy mapping / Alexander technique
Trauma, Anxiety, & Depression
- Deep listing (sound journals, etc.)
- Ask sensory questions (how does this make you feel?, what's the shape of the sound?, do you like the sound?. etc.)
- Lean into vibrations and rhythms
- Modify bow hold
- Shoulder strap
General Helpful Advice From Teachers:
- People hold a lot of tension in their face, but getting them laughing / smiling releases tension. That’s a strategy.
- If we can’t play, we can do listening instead. Deep listening — the goal is to live a musical life, not to be an accomplished violinist.
- Set realistic expectations and goals for students based on their unique needs and situation. Aim for one small achievement.
- Understand the student's emotional journey. Emotional wins will keep the student moving forward, especially virtually.
- Start with questions:
- Are you comfortable reading music?
- Would you like to learn by ear or by reading?
- Have you learned any other instruments?
- What kind of music did you grow up with?
- Effortless Mastery by Kenney Werner
- Alexander Technique for neutral spine positioning
- Stress management coaching
- Neck Strap
- Mechanical Pegs are easier than traditional pegs to turn and use, especially with frail / weak hands.