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Checkpoints for Successful Instrument Setup from the Start

By Bob Phillips | December 14, 2017

Checkpoints for Successful Instrument Setup from the Start

Setting students up for success starts on day one with how to sit, stand, and hold their instruments. Getting it right in the beginning is better than having to remediate in later years. To do this, I've created simple checkpoints that will work for heterogeneous string classes, helping all students achieve great positioning from the start.  

In very large beginning classes, it is not possible for teachers to be “hands-on” with each student, the same way a private teacher would. The primary solution is a clear process that takes advantage of the principles of large muscle movement with clear checkpoints. This process works well for all situations and addresses the issue of muscle tension in the students with a setup motion that promotes relaxation or the release of muscle tension.

A good example of this is setting the bow on the string. Lifting the bow directly to the instrument adds tension. If students hold the bow over their head first, and then lower it down to the string, the large muscles relax as the bow lowers.

Individualized instrument checkpoints can be done for each instrument at the same time, even in heterogeneous settings, using common number commands, solving the issue of keeping all students engaged. Once the students learn the sequence, the teacher calls out the number and thus leads the student through a set up that results in tension-free position. Here is an abbreviated list of the checkpoints I used (Additional setup tips are on page 3 of Sound Innovations for String OrchestraBook 1). You can certainly personalize this routine as you wish but I would recommend using one every day until holding the instrument correctly becomes a habit.

Violin and Viola

Basic steps to establish correct standing or sitting position:

  • Checkpoint 1: Hold the instrument, scroll up facing out, in front of the student’s face with left hand holding the neck and right hand on the bottom right bout.
  • Checkpoint 2: Lift instrument above the head. (This lifting motion usually adds muscle tension.)
  • Checkpoint 3: Lower instrument to left shoulder. (This motion usually releases tension.)

Cello

Basic steps to establish correct sitting position:

  • Checkpoint 1: Hold instrument at arm’s length facing out, in front of the student’s body so it is vertical resting on the endpin.
  • Checkpoint 2: Bring the instrument back until it touches the body. (This motion usually releases tension.)
  • Checkpoint 3: Slightly turn the instrument to the student’s right.

Bass

Basic steps to establish correct standing or sitting position:

  • Checkpoint 1: Hold instrument at arm’s length in front of the student’s body so it is vertical resting on the endpin.
  • Checkpoint 2: Bring the instrument back until it touches the body (This motion usually releases tension.)
  • Checkpoint 3: Slightly turn the instrument to the student’s right. (How much to turn depends on whether they use French or German bow.)

Logical sequence, clean pages, and clear explanations combined with MasterClass videos and varied accompaniments will foster better comprehension and better execution of technique. Emphasize playing with a characteristic beautiful sound with Sound Development and Creative Warm-Up books. Adjust the pacing and focus of your teaching throughout the semester with the new resources at SI Online, plus access the accompaniment tracks and MasterClass streaming videos for Books 1 & 2 in one convenient place. Learn more at alfred.com/si.


Bob Phillips

Bob Phillips is renowned both as an educator and an innovator in string education. With over twenty-seven years experience in a public school classroom, and as a teacher trainer, Bob brings a wealth of knowledge and a sense of humor to his presentations. 

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