We used some basic equipment to improve balance, mobility and spatial awareness. The students made their own versions of this equipment which they used during practicing throughout the week. They reported that these tools challenged their senses and coordination, bringing a new dimension of control to their playing.
The musicians found that when they played standing on a balance board, it was impossible to stiffen their legs. Necks freed and raised shoulders released. Bowing and fingering felt easier. The idea was to keep the balance board moving from right to left in a slow, steady movement while playing normally. Our balance board has two rockers attached to the bottom from right to left (like a sideways rocking chair) to make it more stable than those with a half ball underneath.
Violinist and violists tend to pull their heads down toward the instrument, shortening neck and spine. This can affect their basic balance and quality of movement. Putting a bean bag on the head was an automatic reminder to the neck muscles to lengthen, and a signal to the brain to pay attention to the head while playing. This also helped them to release the neck when trying out a new chin rest or shoulder rest.
Violinists tend to lock their vision by looking constantly at their fingering hand. Putting on a blindfold while playing fine-tuned their other senses: the sense of touch on the strings and bow, and the awareness of the movements of their joints. They also reported that by eliminating visual stimuli, they could listen better to what they were doing: for example, improving bow control by listening to the sound. One student found that playing in the dark helped her to get used to the new position of her violin. (read more in Musician-stories >>Iren)
Students often combined the use of two or three of these tools at the same time while playing to refine their balance and awareness further.
Read also how we used mouth guards to monitor and decrease jaw pressure >>face/jaw: easing the pressure