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DIY Violin Learning Aids
Topic Rating: 4.5 Topic Rating: 4.5 Topic Rating: 4.5 Topic Rating: 4.5 Topic Rating: 4.5 Topic Rating: 4.5 (2 votes) 
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RedViolin
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January 19, 2015 - 6:07 pm
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I've been trying to get back into playing violin for just under a fortnight after not having played for almost 20 years (and even then, only for a short while) - I'm essentially operating as a complete beginner, as I have forgotten everything! This is my first 'proper' post on Fiddlerman.com aside from my introduction post, and I apologise if there's already a thread covering this topic which I haven't been able to find.

In my travels around the net, I've found a few suggestions on how to improve finger placement, bow grip etc. This has been one of the most exciting aspects of trying to pick up the instrument again -when I started, the internet wasn't readily available, and the wealth of information now accessible simply wasn't there.

After a bit of trial and error, I used this video to help me place some 'frets' using the strips between some address labels. Since coming to Fiddlerman.com, however, and seeing Fiddlerman's video on using the First Finger on the G-String, I wonder if I should take these off? Of course, I'm trying not to look at them, and when something sounds "off", then I look at where my fingers are positioned and confirm my mistake. I viewed this as a kind of "training wheels", but am not sure when I should aim to take them off (or if I should just go ahead and try without it... as you can probably tell, I'm quite a nervous beginner!)

I also found a suggestion on Pinterest to use a pencil grip as a pinky nest (similar to what is shown here), which I have found to be really useful in improving my grip and allowing me to practice for longer, but again, I wonder if this is something I should have a goal to do away with soon - I don't want to become too reliant on these tools.

Are there any learning tools that you have found helpful?

DIYViolin-1.jpg

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DanielB
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January 19, 2015 - 6:51 pm
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Tapes are one of those hotly debated points, where you aren't likely to get a clear answer one way or the other.  Some respected teachers swear by them while others claim they are the root of all that is evil.  I don't really know, myself.

I can say that I definitely see where some teachers who teach classes of maybe more than a dozen students in schools consider them an absolute necessity.  Even just going around and spending as little as a minute or two checking and correcting each student's intonation would use up almost all of the class time.  While some folks might feel that is a fine way to use class time, it would make progress in the class so slow as to be discouraging for many students. 

But when it comes down to it, they are not frets.  They will not make you play in tune.  Only your fingers and ears can help you do that, with or without tapes.  Personally, the only big risk I see is thinking you need them too much, and having them become a "security blanket".  But if they seem to help at this point?  What the heck, it's your violin and your playing, and you have to do what you feel is best for you at this time.

I don't really think it matters that much, and the biggest drawback is someday having to clean the adhesive from them off your violin's fingerboard.  Which is not all that big a deal.

Pinky nest?  I made and used one for a while back in my first year on the violin.  With everything else I had to be learning to do correctly, that dang bow hand pinky kept floating up off the bow. LOL  The "nest" fixed that immediately.  After a month or two I took it off and have never had that problem since.  The good habit had been formed.   Even if you left it on or put it back on, though, it doesn't interfere with movement and playing.

My thought with such add-ons is try them, and if they help, use them for a while.  If they don't help, throw them away or give them away.  For all we know, 50 yrs from now, they may be considered as much a standard part of the bow as the chin rest and shoulder rest are considered a necessary part of the violin by many folks these days.  Those were add-ons once that people argued about too.  (They still do, actually.. LOL)  

My advice would be to use whatever seems helpful to you.  Worry less, and focus more on enjoying playing.

"This young wine may have a lot of tannins now, but in 5 or 10 years it is going to be spectacular, despite the fact that right now it tastes like crude oil. You know this is how it is supposed to taste at this stage of development." ~ Itzhak Perlman

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MrYikes
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January 19, 2015 - 9:46 pm
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I used paper label tape cut into very, very thin strips.  The good thing about the tapes is that the adhesive wore off in two weeks, so another had to be put on.  After 6 months of replacing the tapes, I became tired of the process and left them off.  I now have three dots between the a and d strings which help me with location.  I will remove them when the time is right.

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NoStringsAttached
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January 19, 2015 - 10:41 pm
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I bought a cling-style wrap-around guide before my violin arrived. Decided I'd never use it, but tried it out of curiosity before throwing it away. Ha! Immediate jump start for me! Im only a few days into this, but i have no intention of going "pro". Ergo, the guide stays at least until I can do "lightly roll" without peeking.

Love the pinkie nest idea. I'm otherwise pleased with my bow hold, but eventually will want to know the pinkie's gonna be there when I need him.

...nice topic, Red!

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Jacques
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January 20, 2015 - 12:37 am
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As long as your strings are tuned in 5ths -- your third finger will harmonize with the string to the left and your fourth finger will harmonize with the string to the right. So to me the tapes are useless but for maybe children who might not pay attention to sound as much as they should. In summary, whenever you play music you can check your intonation with your third or fourth finger. And know that your first finger doesn't go all they way to the nut and that your second finger goes next to the third. I hope this gives you confidence and the proper tools hone your intonation

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Jacques
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January 20, 2015 - 12:40 am
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Oh and when I tune my instrument I like to use my third or fourth finger to make sure each strings third or fourth note is lined up correctly. Thus, a G on the D string is parallel with D on the A string; so on and so forth 

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RedViolin
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Thanks for all of the responses. DanielB, you make some good points about classes. Maybe some of these arguments apply to self-teaching as well? I certainly take your point that only your ears & fingers will make you play in tune though smile

Good point about "downgrading" to little dots too, MrYikes. Perhaps this should be my long-term plan! When I was formally learning violin as a young child, my violin had little dots on it also, but I didn't find them that helpful at the time. Like NoStringsAttached describes, this has been a "jump start" for me, so I'll do as DanielB suggests and focus on enjoying playing :) NoStringsAttached, I'm still going through the basics before I get to "Lightly Row"! Perhaps this should be a benchmark for the removal of our stickerstongueWhat book are you using (if you are using one)?

I'm not too worried about having to clean off the stickers, as I've already shifted them twice! (I could tell something was "off" and using my tuner confirmed this).

It's good to hear that the pinky rest resulted in good habits for you even after you removed it, DanielB. (And I really liked your point about the debates over "accessories". I'm reading "Stradivarius: Five Violins, One Cello and a Genius" by Tony Faber at the moment, which has been quite fascinating).

Jacques, thank you for your advice also. It took me a couple of read throughs, as I have no musical knowledge to speak of, but I think it makes sense now, thank you!violinI'm using the learning tools here on fiddlerman.com and some theory videos on YouTube to try and improve my knowledge and abilitylaugh

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kylesito
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January 20, 2015 - 7:04 am
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Do you hear that?  Sounds like a can of worms cracking open....

 

As a true beginner who has never played a string instrument, can't afford the time/money to take lessons, and has lost the 'ear' from his saxophone-playing childhood, I feel they are essential.  Similar with your mention of an electronic tuner in the last post, without my "don't fret" sticker I don't know whether I would have had the patience to start learning without them.  It helps bridge the knowledge gap between 0 and Novice which is important to help build and maintain interest.  Someday it will come off and I look forward to the day, but not yet.

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BillyG
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kylesito said
Do you hear that?  Sounds like a can of worms cracking open....
    

  LOL !   I have no opinion on the matter other than "let everyone do what works best for them"

  For my own part, I've never used stickers, but I have a "reasonable ear" and play other instruments.   And as far as the violin goes, I now have three of them (one re-strung as a viola, one is an EV, and the other is the FM Concert).   I play and swap between them on a regular basis.  Both of the acoustics have pretty much identical nut-to-bridge lengths - within a mm when the bridge is correctly set and not "leaning" etc etc.....   But, the nut-bridge length on the EV is very close to a full cm longer.  (Don't ask me why - it is a cheapo, but really quite playable - and - as it happens the string ratio is correctly maintained at 3:2 ).  And the bridge position on the EV cannot be moved, as it sits in a routed out channel just above the piezo pickup.   Because of the different lengths, clearly, for proper intonation, the fingering positions are marginally different.   And yes, I started my violin journey on the EV, and when I went to the acoustic I was "fighting to get reasonable intonation" - but after a few weeks - it just became automatic.   Each instrument feels different, even the two acoustics - they just "feel different in my hands" and somehow, just somehow that I can't really explain, when I swap between the EV and one of the acoustics - well - there just is no problem now.  Admittedly, I will usually run a couple of scales when changing between instruments - I guess that "re-trains" the fingers or whatever.

My intonation is equally bad on either. (that was partly intended as a joke by the way!).

There is another interesting point here - in referring to the EV - what I also find is that with the solid body EV there is significantly less cross-string resonances and of course no significant body resonance - and - with more "complex tones" which are generated by an acoustic - I suspect that some people's ears may struggle to identify the "fundamental" note being played.  So although the plain EV has a bit of an un-interesting and sterile sound, it may arguably have its place for intonation practice.  Just a thought (in fact, I've heard, or read, references to some folks breaking strings when tuning - because their ear is homing in on the 2nd harmonic and not the fundamental - and continue tightening the string until it goes "pop" )

At the end of the day - everyone should just use whatever works best !

I find this an interesting area - I would LOVE to get my hands on a proper viola as distinct from my re-strung violin, or even a cello for that matter, just to see "how long it would take" to home in on the proper fingering/intonation.    In fact, I'll bounce this question at @Barry - and I will bet that having played the violin for - what was it Barry - 5 years or so?  - I will bet that within a day or so your fingering was just-fine on the viola.  I will also bet that you can swap between violin and viola without a moment's thought - or maybe just run a few scales - I'm interested - let me know!

Bill ( who has FAR too much time on his hands right now - get on with STJ Bill and stop thinking about these things! )

I seriously recommend not copying my mistakes.  

Please make your own, different mistakes, and help us all learn :-)

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DanielB
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kylesito said
Do you hear that?  Sounds like a can of worms cracking open....

Yeah, should we break out the first-aid kit?  Or make popcorn?  Maybe both.  LOL

 

The "tapes vs no tapes" debates tend to be endless.  But at the end of the day, it's your violin, it's your music, it's your life, and you do what you feel is best.  If anybody else doesn't like it, they can go... well, this is a family friendly forum, so I'll leave that sentence unfinished. LOL

I was kind of surprised to find out that most teachers I've talked to consider the tapes useful.  Marks on the bow, too.  

Another thing I found interesting was that the consensus was mostly that you teach adult students exactly the same as small children.  Maybe make some adaptations to make some of the games a bit less "kiddie" when you present them, but still find a way to do them.  The reason I was given was that an adult beginner and a 4 yr old beginner still have to learn all the same things to learn how to play.

The exception sometimes will be if the adult student has prior experience/education on another instrument, since then they'll already know some things that can apply to violin and may have developed some ear.

The one definite difference that I recall that was mentioned was that for very small children (think 3-5 yrs old), you can start them with a "Thumb Under Frog" bow hold.  They may not have the hand/finger strength or control to be able to hold the bow in the "Professional" way at first.  

Back to the issue of tapes (not to mention marks on the bow or a sticker at the octave point of the fingerboard and etc), I didn't find them essential when I was starting on violin.  They looked kind of comfortingly like frets the first few days (I'm primarily a guitarist).  But after that I just ignored them until they wore off.  No big deal.  But I've played assorted instruments over most of my life, and I can hear when I'm in tune and not.  I have noticed that some adults who did not get much music education in their early years do seem to have trouble with that for the first couple years, until their ears develop a bit.  People aren't born knowing what a major and minor scale or a Dm7 arpeggio should sound like.  If tapes or some other marker help the folks that are new to music or haven't used their ear in enough years that such things help.. well I figure it is a good thing if it gets them playing.

Just figured I'd toss a couple more cents worth of gasoline on this fire. LOL

rofl

"This young wine may have a lot of tannins now, but in 5 or 10 years it is going to be spectacular, despite the fact that right now it tastes like crude oil. You know this is how it is supposed to taste at this stage of development." ~ Itzhak Perlman

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BillyG
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DanielB said

 

Just figured I'd toss a couple more cents worth of gasoline on this fire. LOL

rofl

LOL !  What fire ? ( !!! )   mehhh... good post Dan, I always appreciate them !  

It is always worth while taking the time and effort to explain things which we, "as individuals (each one being different)" see or understand them...  and that's exactly the point - everyone is different, and as learners with such varying backgrounds from no music at all to already competent/professional players on other instruments - sure - our needs are different.   Pretty well summed up there @DanielB, IMHO

I seriously recommend not copying my mistakes.  

Please make your own, different mistakes, and help us all learn :-)

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mischa91
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When i was first learning, back when i was in my early teens, i used small red dots where my first 3 fingers would go.  My teacher put them on my instrument and i just never took them off.  I found them very helpful.  When i picked the instrument up again i seriously considered adding the dots to the new violin to help me get back in the swing but ultimately decided against them as i really wanted to be able to develop intonation without assistance (sometimes i wish i still had them though).

 

I think for a beginner those types of aids can help make the violin less frustrating and more enjoyable at first, and in that way can help new players stick with playing.  I say it's up to you, keep them on, take them off or keep them until you feel you're ready to remove them.  If they help you that's great!

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coolpinkone
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I love this topic and I am very neutral on the topic. Whatever it takes to get your brain, fingers and ears working together.  GO FOR IT.1st-place

 I can share my experience and a complete new beginner to the violin 3 year, I learned slowly from January to April online.  I watched Fiddlerman's videos and I had no tapes on my violin.  I was using his videos and I was making progress fine without tapes. dancing

I decided I could squeeze a lesson or two in each month.blink  I went to meet my teacher and after I decided that I would use her for my teacher, she asked if she may get my violin ready..........    ..........  ........... She immediately cleaned it, and put on two tapes.  E and F# (first and second finger tapes).  Note, I had bought a little self stick fretless guide, but I didn't use it much.  I showed it to her on the first day.  I think she repressed a scowl..confused.. and yet put the two tapes on it.   ;)   These were very useful for me.  After a dozen or so lessons, I branched out on my own again and began self teaching.

I longed to have better ears and consistent finger placement... but I was spoiled with the tapes.   In December on 2013 I was given a new violin.  I was told "no tapes"  by my violin bud.  So I had to stop cold turkey.

I stopped cold turkey and I felt like I was in HELL for three months.  devil-violin

A year later ... there is a part of me that wants my tapes, but I will never go back.  

THERE is a huge part of me that wants ONE DANG dot to help me shift.   But apparently with my tape addictionfacepalmfacepalmfacepalm and the way it was hard for me to break... well I will get through 2nd and 3rd position without tapes.

I say it as a mantra.. "my ears and my tuner are my best friend.."   And it is true.violin-1267

Do whatever it takes to help you learn. THERE IS NO WRONG way.heartviolinheartviolinheartviolin Enjoy your music and your journey.

Vibrato Desperato.... Desperately seeking vibrato

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Barry
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@BillyG 

 

The intonation came pretty easy, but I have to remind you guys, that I owned a cecelio viola for a while before buying the concert viola, si Ive been at it a while. Switching back to violin.. meh... dosent work for me, my fingers fall more naturally on Viola, have to struggle and scrunch on violin

There is no shame in playing twinkle, youre playing Mozart

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NoStringsAttached
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Red, my finger guide is like the DontFret, but slightly different. No adhesive, just a self-cling clear wrap around. Amazons best selling aid @$9.

Discovered one one of my issues is a lack of sensitivity in my fingers. I can instantly find my correct left and right hand placements, but am caught off guard, for example, when I discover my left thumb has slid down an inch or so. At 68, it's probably something I have to really work at getting such a late start.

I started off wanting to perfectly play all the notes on the G, but realized for me to truly know the notes, I had to be able to find them at will.  "Lightly Roll", at least the version FM includes with "Notes on the G String" lesson, is exactly that. Sounds better than just squawking up and down the scale, too.

Another "aid" to discuss...My niece suggested and highly recommended Jade rosin. She's been playing 9 years, said it made a huge difference. What the heck, I ordered a chunk just to see.

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Fiddlerman
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January 20, 2015 - 5:23 pm
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Funny, we sell the First Frets finger guide for violin but we have never listed it on the site. LOL
Somehow when players ask for it, Michael has been setting them up but I just assumed that we weren't selling that many. We'll get that listed soon. They are easy to put on and easy to take off.
I don't want to pretend to be an expert in any way since I have never really had beginner students except for my online experience here.
I think that using them for a short while cannot hurt too much. In fact it might be great to get a quick basic idea of the distances between the fingers. The danger is to keep them on for too long and be dependent to them. It's like typing while looking at your fingers.

"The richest person is not the one who has the most,
but the one who needs the least."

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RedViolin
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LOL @kylesito, I didn't realise this would be a "can of worms", but I can understand why that would be the case - @Fiddlerman's point about typing while looking at the keyboard is a good illustration of this.

Bill, I am using an electric violin since I live in an apartment, and it's also my first full-sized. I used a 3/4 as a kid, and when I received a violin as a gift in my 20s (which I never really used), it was also a 3/4, as I hadn't grown much! So there is a bit of difference for me to get used to there also. I also found the measurement from nut to bridge was a little different on the EV, but interestingly, when I used http://www.musicbyear.com/fing.....alculator/ which seems like a really helpful site, the measurements suggested were not in tune. I wonder if there is something different about the setup of EVs?

I hadn't heard about marks on bows, @DanielB. I was interested in your comment about teaching children and adult beginners in essentially the same fashion, regarding games etc. too. I have actually pinned a number of violin learning games to enliven practice times on Pinterest with the intent of making my sessions a bit more varied and to dissuade myself from just sticking to what I am comfortable with. As you say though, I think it really depends on the learner (and also, what I am willing to do to myself, I may find condescending if someone enforced it upon me externally!)

LOL at "tape addiction" @coolpinkone! It was interesting to read about your teacher's attitudes towards the fretless guide vs. the tapes she applied. I wonder what her rationale was.

After watching Fiddlerman's video on the D string again today (for some reason, I seem to be having more trouble with this string than any - the others sound clear and open, but this one is always whispery...) I realised that I could probably do without the stickers, so long as I could be confident that my thumb is in the right place. @NoStringsAttached I agree it's a struggle, especially when starting out, to make sure everything is in the right place at the right time!

Thanks for sharing your thoughts as well @mischa91 and The Fiddling Violinist... it's fascinating to see so many perspectives from different (former) students and (their) teachers about various "levels" of aids. laugh

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coolpinkone
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@RedViolin 

I am not sure why my teacher did that.  She is a very very good teacher.  She is wonderful.  I was very very shy in the day.  I rarely asked too many questions, truth be told I was so shy that I was nervous about my lessons.  

One time I she asked me to spread my fingers further apart on the bow.  And OF COURSE I did it.  But I was brave enough to offer that I had gotten some feedback online and was told to put the fingers closer together. She kinda said, "who is your teacher..?"  I see that... I was only curious for the reasons that I wanted to know... I fully intended to do it her way.. just As an adult I know there are different bow holds. Anyway...

I want to get back to some lessons.. and I am forever grateful that she took me as an adult violinist... I was turned down by a few.

But over all I think as a teacher it must be frustrating in the last decade that their students go on line and learn other things, especially different from what they are teaching... or people like me that established bad habits that she would have to correct??

Anyway.. for me it's all good.

Vibrato Desperato.... Desperately seeking vibrato

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Fiddlerman
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coolpinkone said
......I want to get back to some lessons.. and I am forever grateful that she took me as an adult violinist... I was turned down by a few.

This is how teachers survive. They need to teach and get paid doing it. They should be grateful for you Toni. The ones who turned you down should go and ........ nevermind ;)

"The richest person is not the one who has the most,
but the one who needs the least."

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DanielB
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Ok RedViolin, I'll explain about marks on the bow, since they actually would relate to your original question as much as tapes and etc do.

You're likely to keep hearing "play with nice full bow strokes" a lot.  But what is a full bow is NOT always the entire physical length of the bow.  Some people's arms are a bit shorter than others, or the shoulder moves just a little bit different, while bows (except the fractional ones) are all pretty much the same.

So what is *your* full bow?  Well, you stand with good posture and use good form (checking in a mirror or having someone who knows how to play watch you) and do a few strokes and see how long a stroke you can draw without your elbow going 100% straight and without messing up that form and posture.  If you can get all the way to the tip without that happening, great.  Then your natural stroke is long enough for "full bow" to mean the whole physical bow.

But if you can't go quite that far comfortably, then you put a marker like a little bit of tape or a small sticker to mark where you should stop.  If you want something that won't show (even if you were playing at Carnegie Hall), then tie a loop of thread there and trim the ends very short.  

That is probably the most important mark, since going past that runs the risk of injury.  Very important with say, a little kid who just got moved to the next size up of fractional violin, and they haven't really "grown into it" all the way yet.  But also important for any adult where their arm/stroke doesn't naturally allow using the whole physical length of the bow.  If you extend your arm all the way out straight, especially when playing enthusiastically, you can easily overextend your elbow joint.  If you don't know what is bad about hyperextending the elbow joint, then you can ask any tennis player.  Especially the ones who can't play for a few weeks or more right now and have something like an Ace bandage or brace on their elbow while they heal up.  

The other reason not to go past that point (and why some feel it is worthwhile to mark the point at least until you are sure you will not forget with the ton of stuff you have to remember anyway when playing) is your form.  If you reach down further than you can comfortably go while keeping good form, then your form automatically suffers.  The upper arm will have to go back or the right shoulder will have to slouch down, etc.  You end up "practising something wrong", just like everyone worries about when they are starting out.   

Now, from some of your posts in this thread, it sounds like you just might be a little smaller than the average adult, if I read correctly?  So you might want to check for that. 

Other marks, in brief..

Well, if the person keeps hitting the frog when playing down near the frog, maybe an extra visual warning can be good for a while.

A mark at the center of the bow can help with having a better idea of where you are.  I'll admit, I have a piece of thread tied there on mine.  I probably don't need it anymore, but it doesn't interfere with playing and nobody notices it, so I never got around to taking it off.  LOL But for beginners, depending on the "school" of teaching, the center mark can serve an additional purpose.  The person I was learning from prefers to start beginners with using the whole upper half of the bow and using strictly a martele stroke for the early exercises and pieces.  I can explain the reasons why if you like (I asked), but I'm trying not to de-rail your thread and so I'll stick to the topic and move on.  Suffice it for now to say it shows the beginner exactly how much bow they are supposed to be using on the first exercises and very early pieces.

Other marks are sometimes added, sometimes just for a few lessons, for exercises on timing or later for more advanced exercises like trying to get 8 nice even staccato notes out of one bow stroke.

"This young wine may have a lot of tannins now, but in 5 or 10 years it is going to be spectacular, despite the fact that right now it tastes like crude oil. You know this is how it is supposed to taste at this stage of development." ~ Itzhak Perlman

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