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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Quick Teaching Tip: Fasten Your Seat Belts!

Some of my students have long referred to me as the rubber band lady, because of my heavy reliance on rubber bands for various things. I make loops out of the bands to hang things on my music stand or studio door (like nail clippers). I use rubber bands to form a secure holding assembly for wedge sponge shoulder rests. I use rubber bands to give added tension to the claw feet of shoulder rests that have become a bit too stretchy and loose for the width of the instrument. I use rubber bands as visual demonstrations of the elasticity of our brain power. If you give me a need, I can usually invent a method to use a rubber band to address the need.

I use a rubber band wrapped around my frog to give me a feeling of security when I use the bow. My hands tend to be dry and slippery on the bow, and the added rubber band gives me the feeling that I have a secure hold on the bow stick. It weighs next to nothing, but that feeling of the bath mat nonstick surface really helps me to maintain a comfortable hold on the bow.

I have noted though that there are additional benefits. I can feel my pinkie on the rubber band on the stick, and that allows me to "sink" into the pinkie side of my bow hold. This sinking into the pinkie helps to turn on the outside muscles of my bow arm, which are the relaxation muscles. I therefore turn off any unnecessary tension in my bow arm and right shoulder when I rest my pinkie on the rubber band. And the beauty of the rubber band is that I can feel this at all times and can gently remind myself to relax while I am playing. Sometimes the rubber band wrapped around the frog is too tricky for my very young beginners, although the older students, including my university students, find the rubber band "addicting." We have even jokingly referred to our addiction as the "Rubber Band Club."

Sometimes students start leaning on the index finger (which I call pronation) and the pinkie starts to lift off the stick. I check to be sure the student has enough rosin, because this could be one reason the student has done this. Another reason could be that the student has relaxed the bow hold too much. Although we do not want tension in the bow hold, the student still needs to "engage" the bow hold energy. The bow thumb still needs to work to hold up all the other fingers, like Atlas holding up the world on his shoulders.

Other students might let their bow hold slip by not curling the fingers around the frog and stick enough. The stick should sit in the first knuckle joints of the fingers. I have a few students with some double-jointed fingers, and if the students do not place the bow fingers low enough on the stick to reach down to the first knuckles, the stick presses against the fingers in a manner that engages the finger's double-joint. The solution is to bring the bow fingers down far enough, but this is sometimes difficult for students to remember to do, and parents are not always vigilant about maintaining this good bow hold habit.

Personally I had this problem myself with my bow hand pinkie, and I never addressed it until I was well into my adult career. Then one day I hit on a solution in my particular case. For a few weeks, I brought my ring finger down lower on the frog than is customary or correct. I did it on purpose and for just a few weeks. When I lowered the ring finger, my pinkie had to curl up past the point of engaging the double-joint. When I played like this for a few weeks, my pinkie joint muscle got stronger. Now I cannot even engage the double-joint on command.

This was a great solution for me, but the question arose as to how to help some of these students who had bow hold issues. Recently, a young string teacher shared a new use of the rubber band with me -- the seat belt.

With a few deft twists around the frog, the rubber band creates a seat belt and an "X" across the top of the frog. The X is for placement of the pinkie, which lands just behind the X on the back of the top of the bow stick above the frog eyelet. The seat belt is for the ring finger. For some younger students I might also add a small patch of Dr. Scholl's Molefoam as a little cushion for the ring finger. We call this the car seat. Here is a brief video showing how to wrap the rubber band around the frog to form the seat belt.

By using the car seat and seat belt analogies, which all young students are familiar with, we also reinforce the concept of getting ready before playing. Students understand that the driver should not begin to drive off before all the car passengers are strapped into their car seats and other seats. So my students learn to check that everyone is "strapped in" before beginning to play.

The rubber band is easily wrapped around a larger size instrument bow, but occasionally the band is too loose for the smaller sizes. In these cases, I begin my frog wrap from the end of the bow rather than inside the bow, and that extra loop takes out the slack in the rubber band.

Recently I overheard two young students, about 7 and 8 years old, comparing notes. "Do you have a seat belt too?" Maybe I'll have to start a "Seat Belt Club."


  1. love this!! I have been concerned about my dd's super-relax bow hold for a couple months now, but couldn't find reasons to convince her to keep her pinkie on the stick (it has taken off...). I am looking forward to try this. Thanks for sharing!! I am certainly thankful I have found your blog!

    1. Let us know how it works for your dd! Thanks so much for leaving a comment. I love it when we all work together.

  2. She was happy to try it (having her read your blog about turning on the outside arm muscle convinced her). Right now, she just enjoys "feeling" the rubber band under her ring finger and pinky (may be my rubber band was too tight - we tried a thick one and a thin one.). It has been five days, her bow hold has already improved - pinky wasn't airborne much today and the ring finger stayed more in the frog hug position than before without me having to remind her but a few times. It also helps her to move her index back a little from past her second knuckle to between the first knuckle and second knuckle. Will continue to look for the right seat belt though. :) Thanks again.


    p.s. Now I am looking forward to using your coloring book idea (somehow your blog posts come just at the right time when I'm desperate for solutions!).

    1. The seatbelt for the smaller bows is a little trickier. I have tried winding it around the frog another half turn (or starting it a half turn earlier) to keep it from being too loose, but I fear that it may become too tight. You are absolutely right about the index finger being between the first and 2nd knuckle joints. Technically, it should be in the first knuckle, forming a "hook," but to the observer it would appear to be between the two knuckles (but feel like it is in the first knuckle to the student).

      You've given me an idea for a shorter post about the "gang influence" found in the bow hold. Stay tuned.

      PS: don't wait until you're desperate. Write me! I've probably struggled with the same issue this week!

  3. Paula I found your blog out of desperation. After reading numerous websites and blogs yours has been a Godsend! This seatbelt idea with the rubber band is brilliant! Your blogs have been expertly written for someone in my position who needs great technical advice fast for the super young beginners. Keep it comin, what a refreshing, inspiring teacher you are! Thank you!!!

    1. Thank you, anonymous! How very sweet of you to write this comment! If you ever have any particular questions or situations that you would like me to address, please feel free to write me about them: