Why was Vivaldi stuck outside?
Because he couldn't find the right key!!!
This is a joke from my violin book primer Super Strings! At the end of every chapter there's a homework page, and on every homework page there's a fun joke--I find that this encourages children to look at their homework page throughout the week. :)
In my last post I wrote about the teaching strategies for rhythms and violin strings names that I use in Super Strings! Today, I thought I'd explore some of the ideas behind bowing and fingering that I use in the book. So again, my goal throughout the violin book to keep young minds active and learning. Bowing correctly is tricky and can be very frustrating for beginners. When kids get frustrated bowing, the bows often turn into make-shift swords. At least that's what I've found. For me, one of the best strategies has been to channel these sword-fighting impulses into games that actually help with bowing technique. It's also helpful to begin with some silent bowing activities so that both the parent and student retain their sanity in the first few weeks of bowing.
I like to teach the bow grip with a "bunny" hand shape. This is easy for young students to remember. I also use decorated toilet paper rolls and rubber bands to create a practice bowing tube. This helps students gain the muscle memory for bowing without the inevitable scratchiness of the first-time bower. In one activity that I like to do with my students I call out a string name and have them "bow" it (the toilet paper tube will rock back and forth so students can "play" each string). As they bow up and down through their tube I'll play the string for them and help them begin to tune their ears to the pitches of each string.
After we've got the bow hold basically down, I like to play a few games to solidify it. I'll play "peek-a bow" (a game where students spot a bow-grip error), "Vivaldi says" (A Simon says variation), and "pass the cup." You can see in the above illustration that students are basically supposed to pass a cup back and forth using their bows--the key to this game is that they have to hold the bow correctly while doing so. This game really curtails sword-wacking impulses while also teaching bow control.
Another way to keep students engaged is through games and activities. In the activity "Program your practice" above, students use the binary code to spell short words or their names. The zeros and ones translate into open strings and first finger notes. I've had students who love this so much that they never want to move on from their first finger!