Ask the Teacher
From A New Viola Teacher in South Carolina:
â€œHow do I teach independence
between the hands?â€
Dr. Charlene Dell
University of Oklahoma
Professor of Music Education â€“ Strings
How Your Brain Coordinates the Left and Right Hand in String Playing
As performers and as teachers it is very important that we break technique down in order to focus attention on what each hand needs to be doing separately before putting them together. Teaching our students to break materials down will ensure that their technique will develop balanced between left and right hand.
Understanding how the brain monitors input from multiple levels.
The right hemisphere of the brain controls the left side of the body, and the left hemisphere of the brain controls the right side of the body. Usually the brain can keep the two sides separate, but when one side of the brain is so deep in concentration that it â€œspills overâ€ to the other side, the hands mimic each other.
Another way to trick the brain is to involve the midline. Any time one of the hands crosses the center of the body and â€œinvadesâ€ the other handâ€™s space, the brain reassigns the messages as if you really had two left hands. Of course, string playing requires us to cross over the midline all the time!!! It is important to train the skill using one hand on its correct side before you try to do it crossed over the midline.
While both sides of the brain are being used, the information crosses over a thick band of nerve fibers called the Corpus Callosum. Information can only travel in one direction at a time, so one hemisphere must wait to send its messages until the other hemisphere is finished. String players have the strongest and most highly developed Corpus Callosum of all musicians, because messages have to cross over lightning fast. We develop multi-lane neural pathways so that we can get the job done.
Guiding the Left Hand
When learning to play a string instrument, it quickly becomes very evident that the left hand will dominate the right hand. Students are much more likely to ignore bow direction and dynamics when sight-reading, because they are so concerned about â€œgetting the notes rightâ€.
Guiding the Right Hand
The bow hand is the most often neglected component to playing. As with the left hand, developing a vocabulary of bow rhythms at different speeds and bow lengths will greatly help students to become stronger players and sight-readers. Practicing a difficult passage by playing just the open strings that the printed notes are on will greatly clarify bow planes and strengthen the players ability to sight-read string levels.
Teaching our students
Breaking down technique by hands is a very effective way of training young students. It also fosters a more varied practice time, as students can spend a great deal of time on one passage, but focusing on many different elements of that passage rather than just repeating the passage over and over. When we always practice the same way, the brain eventually stops paying attention. Learning to practice with different hand focus is a very efficient way of developing well rounded technique while keeping the student well focused, and makes practice time much more effective and fun.