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Friday, January 22, 2016

A Student Hit Me

by Paula E. Bird

Recently during a lesson I asked a student to hit me with her bow. She did. Ouch!

I have tried to get this student to stop playing with a floppy bow hand for a long time. I have tried all sorts of pictures, analogies, and suggestions to get her to understand that her sound was soggy and floppy because her bow hand was soggy and floppy. No energy.

I tried to get the teaching point across to her by shaking her hand using a “limp fish” handshake. Then I shook hands with her using a good, firm business-like grip. The model example did not “take.” Her bow continued to flop and sag, and then she began to lean the bow stick backwards, as if she was pushing her sound away from her. Instead of connecting her musical energy through her body to the bow and ultimately onto the violin, my student was letting the energy seep out of her bow hand knuckles and dissipate into the air. How to change this?

I have been working with my student to alter this energy use for about a year now with no success. I finally became desperate, and out of the land of desperation, many wonderful ideas are born.

At her last lesson, I became desperate to try anything to bring awareness. I explained the problem: her hand was bleeding energy out into the air rather than directing it to her bow hand and the violin. I talked about the 4 types of energy flows and used the descriptions from Ed Kreitman’s book, Teaching with an Open Heart (2010):


My lesson about energy was an easy one with this particular student because her mother’s business is about working with other people’s animals. Since my student is home-schooled, she is able to join her mother often and learn how to work with the animals. We discussed the different types of energy and its effect on dogs, because that is the most familiar experience for this particular student. Pomeranians have more energy; old Labradors have less. That sort of thing.

Ed Kreitman’s book is an excellent resource book for teachers. It is worth every penny. The book contains a beautiful description of energy and the role that energy plays in our approach to the musical instrument and to the creation of our musical expression. The illustrations are very clear, and often once I have shown the pictures to my students, they seem to grasp so much more quickly the teaching point that I am trying to make. I highly recommend that teachers read this book to aid the teaching of musicality and playing with musical expression. For more information about the book, you can order the book through Ed Kreitman's website shop here: The book is also available through the Suzuki association website,

So here is how I got the teaching point across to my student.

"Hit me with your bow," I told her.

She looked at me blankly.

"Hit me with your bow," I insisted.




Her bow hold altered! Her grip or hold had more substance. She directed energy to the bow and ultimately to the side of my head where she hit me. That was what I intended. I wanted her to form an intention to direct her energy to a certain point -- me. From there I showed her what she had done and how the bow hold energy changed, and how it looked.

Light bulb moment! For the first time I think my student "got it." She immediately changed her approach to the bow. She did not squeeze anything tighter; she merely garnered her body's energy to one focal point on her bow and then from her bow to the violin. Instead of letting the intentional energy leak out of her hand into the air, my student focused it into the instrument.

And her sound was fabulous! Gorgeous, focused, and clear! Lovely bow hold posture.

Although I would not advocate a student hitting a teacher (or vice versa), in this case the lesson was perfect!

Happy Practicing!

----- Paula ----- 

© 2016 by Paula E. Bird


  1. I love this story! "Out of the land of desperation, many wonderful ideas are born."

    1. Thanks, Gregory! I've been able to use this new idea with other students too!