One of my newest students came to me with a lefty violin...yes, you read that correctly, a lefty violin. For those that don't know, a lefty violin has the same body as a standard violin, but is strung in the opposite way and has a chin rest that is either center lined, or on the left side. I wasn't sure how at all to approach teaching this student...he had already been turned down. I explained to him that it was a new experience for me as well, and that we would do this together.
I've searched and searched around the web, but there isn't too much on teaching lefty violin. The only thing I have seen so far is generally a negative attitude towards it. Which is understandable, it's different, and for those of us who play our violins and violas right handed, it seems sacrilegious. Of course, one would consider that it is by all intents and purposes the same as teaching a student with a standard violin. So far, I can say that it is...with a few exceptions.
The best part about teaching a lefty violin player is that you can do a lot of mirroring with each other. Mirroring with a beginner on a standard stringed violin can be difficult, especially for the little ones. My lefty student has great posture while holding this instrument and can get around it pretty quickly when it comes to plucking scales and reading music. We've slowly begun to integrate the bow, the hold was not an issue for this student at all. He's very good at following directions and making adjustments. The issue for us now comes down to keeping the bow straight, and understanding the string levels (working with the elbow.)
As for my pee-wees (ages 5-8), my New Year's resolution was to really crack down on their bad habits and be more strict. A lot of these students came to me from other teachers, and besides their bad habits, the big trouble has been making sure that they are improving with their music literacy and understanding.
Here are the habits that I've been combatting with my kids:
- Squished left palms/wrists (everyone's favorite problem!)
- Drooping violins and violas
- Poor posture: Slouched backs, crunching necks.
Some of these problems are easier than others to fix, I usually dog my students about their drooping instruments. But the squished wrists and poor posture are always a bit more challenging. I will adjust my students' wrists or verbally remind them. I saw one good tip on Pinterest about using a velcro monkey to aid the wrist, which worked pretty well for my viola student. But, I don't know many who have these types of toys. I've seen the Wrist Assistant on Etsy, which looks fantastic, but like the Bow Right, may be a wild card with some children. Some of my kids HATE the Bow Right so much, and it is so difficult to explain the reason why they need to keep using it. The other question about these types of learning aides, will they help the student develop the proper muscle memory, or will the student use them as a crutch and not be able to perform properly without them? I've seen it work both ways with the Bow Right, and I'm looking forward to see where the Wrist Assistant takes some of my students.
I have one student who is a particularly difficult case, he's a brilliant child but suffers from some motor delay issues (particularly in his arms and fingers.) He has been playing for 2 years previously with his former teacher, who let him get away with certain posture habits and didn't teach him how to read. I've been so focused on getting his reading up to speed and helping him properly work his bow arm that his habits took the back burner (which was my blunder.) For the last 3 months, I've been dogging him about his habits and adjusting him, but he insists on being stubborn. He tends to extreme center-line his violin, and hold it so low that he crunches his head and neck forward. (It hurts my neck just to look at him!) We've been working on holding the violin more to the side, which has been an ordeal. It's hard when the habits are so far ingrained. The best thing about this situation is that his mother has been extremely supportive and helpful with the process. She's been working so hard with him, and while he has been improving, it's time to keep rebuilding.