To establish good violin technique, it is essential to have a good teacher and to develop an awareness of how you are moving and thinking about the violin. In many ways, helping students develop the skills needed to assess their movements and thought processes is one of the hardest skills to teach. The best teaching tool I’ve discovered thus far to aid in this regard is the stop, think, play method.
The concept of stop, think, play was first presented to me in a Suzuki Violin Pedagogy course. The idea is that before a student plays you should have them work on halting the progression of movements that occur after they bring the bow to the string. Then, prompt the student to think about playing, and finally allow them to play. This progression of events allows the student time to put all their ducks in a row. That is, check their bow grip, contact point, and left hand posture.
From the perspective of the Alexander Technique this concept is very similar to inhibition. After realizing the connection, I wondered if I could help students develop their awareness and ability to change physical and mental habits by combining the stop, think, play principle with that of awareness, inhibition, and direction.
I employ this slightly revised version of stop, think, play when a student is having a particularly difficult time learning a certain movement pattern on the violin. For instance, when a student is having trouble putting a finger down before a string change with the bow. In this situation, I will either use the method to first teach the skill or if they have performed the movement incorrectly (by moving the bow to the new string before the finger has been placed on that string) I will use it to change their movement patterns. In the latter example, the student has the difficult task of reeducating their movements by halting the impulses created from the habit they have formed and then moving correctly to create a new habit of movement.
The way I help the student reform their movement pattern, is I have them play the section of music that contains the specific motor behavior they need to change. However, I try to influence HOW they are thinking about the section by breaking the section in to distinct parts. For instance, to amend the previously stated motor issue I have the student start the section of music right before the problem area. I then have them freeze right before the movement, without taking down their bow. At this point they practice releasing any desire to continue by thinking of ease in their neck and back and then taking a moment to appreciate their feet. Then, I have them place their finger without moving their bow and finally have them move the bow to finish the passage. In other words, I have them STOP, THINK, PLAY.
Alexander Technique teachers will not be surprised when I say the most difficult part of this exercise for the student is the full stop right before they are supposed to perform the movements necessary to progress. This difficulty is due to the powerful nature of the subsequent involuntary functions associated with the voluntary choice of performing the action. So, as the teacher what I must do is really work with the student on the idea of stopping. This is critical, otherwise the student will spend hours trying to reeducate a habit in an enormously inefficient fashion. It’s a of waste time and can cause undue frustration.
However, the Stop, Think, Play method supersedes this frustration by reprogramming the movements in the most efficient way possible. It influences How the student is thinking directly about their movements rather than being at the mercy of their habit.