Parent: How do I get my daughter to stop doing the “panhandle”?
Teacher: The “panhandle”?
Parent: Yeah, sticking her wrist up against the violin - so her hand looks like a panhandle!
Holding the violin with the left wrist cocked upwards is undesirable, because it removes agility in the left hand.
Because it also pulls the fingers out of alignment, the panhandle also tends to “warp” the fingers out of tune.
It usually starts because we haven’t taken the time to help the student establish a good violin position. They aren't sufficiently aware of how to hold the violin securely with the head and a supportive shoulder rest. The instrument feels like it will slip and fall. So they feel they need to support the instrument with the palm of their hand.
(If you have not read the first step of Learning Violin, now would be a good time to review that, since it explains why the position of the violin comes first, and also goes into some of the balance issues that arise.)
Now that we know...
This practice tip is a great example of how visualization works. Now that we know that the left wrist should be straight, how do we accomplish it with the student?
Maybe a better question is, How do we get kids to change persistent wrong habits? It would be tempting to say to this student, “Keep your wrist straight.” That is necessary to explain, and I often do. But students need something more to help to get the idea to stick.
The trick is to visualize something that automatically causes their wrist to go straight.
For me this something has turned out to be: The Mousehole.
“A mouse,” I say, pointing to the area under the violin’s neck, “has to go through here.” I point to the area just above their wrist and below the neck of the violin.
Laughter, and often some embellishment of the story, comes next. Then they are able to picture that as they play, and the wrist problem takes care of itself!
Later, I can refer back to The Mousehole, knowing that they will understand because we have already established the vocabulary. It has become a kind of code.
“I don’t see your Mousehole!” becomes a reminder I can use while they are playing something else and we are working on remembering to do it.
PRACTICE THE MOUSEHOLE
- Talk about the mousehole , asking the child to explain it back in his or her own words.
- Take a pen or marker and place it under the neck of the violin, just above the child’s left wrist.
- You are using the pen as a way to show the child where the mouse is supposed to crawl.
- TWO MOUSEHOLES. If I see a lot of squeezing, I also put the pen through the opening between their thumb and palm. “There are two mouseholes!” I say in that case.
- Let them play a Twinkle rhythm, or easy piece while you hold the pen in place.
- Now see if they can play it again and keep their Mousehole open.