Why do we take proper violin setup so seriously?

Anyone else find that video as relatable as I do? Progress in violin lessons can seem painfully slow, especially for beginners. Proper posture and setup is the main focus for beginning violinists, and there is so much to learn, and then practiced hundreds of times before learning the next thing. It takes a while, and students start to wonder not only why their teacher is so obsessed with a good bow hold, but why they're doing that instead of learning new songs. Then they might bug their parents about it, who start to get impatient, and wonder if the teacher can move things along any quicker. Parents, if you get impatient, I don’t blame you; I wish it could be faster, too!

However, we violin teachers who spend so much time on proper setup for our beginners have our reasons for being so crazy. Here they are:

We want our students to sound good. (So do the students...  and parents!)

Playing the violin with a decent sound isn’t as simple as putting the bow on the string and moving it. The bow needs to be held a certain way, the violin has to be positioned exactly right to allow for proper bow placement, the bow needs to be in the perfect spot between the bridge and the fingerboard, and move in a perfectly straight path in order to produce a good tone. Then factor in placing the fingers correctly on the fingerboard to play the right notes. Many steps have to be taken to make sure students can do all of these things correctly when they play their violin, and actually like the sound that comes out when they play. If they hear themselves making a good sound, they’ll be motivated to play and learn more, so it’s important that we take the time we need to learn everything correctly.

We want to prevent discomfort, pain, and injuries.

Basic violin posture is already unnatural and uncomfortable at first, and takes some time to get used to. When there are problems such as slouching, locked knees, and excess tension in the body, it gets more uncomfortable and even painful. Students are much less motivated to play when it hurts. I have known people who have quit because bad habits weren’t corrected and it caused too much pain to play.  Also, many years of playing with poor posture can lead to injuries; I myself have had to go to physical therapy because so much playing while slouching, pushing my head forward, and too much tension did some damage to muscles in my neck and shoulders. I’ve known violinists who have had to go through surgeries due to playing-related injuries. Getting the right setup from the beginning can prevent these injuries, and the discouragement that comes with pain while playing, so it is well worth the time to get it right.

We don’t want our students’ playing to be limited by poor technique.

Students can sometimes get away with bad habits and still be able to sound good for a while, but eventually they will reach a point where they won’t be able to learn more advanced pieces until they fix those habits. For example, a student could progress fairly well through Suzuki Volume 1 with an incorrect bow hold, but when they reach Minuet 2, they won’t have enough control over their bow to manage the fast string crossings. Usually the course of action is to hold off on learning the new piece while we focus on review and exercises to correct their bow hand. Having to stop their progress through Book 1 to re-learn a basic skill is discouraging for students, and can be avoided by setting up those skills well from the beginning, and maintaining them as they progress through more advanced music.

Spending more time on setup now means faster progress later on.

This is a teacher’s dream scenario. When good violin posture, a correct bow hold, left hand setup, and all the other basic skills are second nature, we get to focus on the music itself- and that’s the really fun part! We can encourage students to learn new pieces, and they can focus on learning new notes without the burden of thinking of a correct bow hand or holding their violin higher at the same time. Students enjoy learning so much more without feeling overwhelmed, and learning new things keeps them engaged. A much nicer alternative to spending 12 years learning Twinkle. :)