Qualitative Movement Diagnosis: A New Approach to Violin Pedagogy

Violin teacher and student in a music lesson.

November 2, 2023

I’m Erika
 I’m a violinist and teacher based in the Seattle area. I love learning everything about the violin, how to be a more effective teacher and holistic player, and new ways to approach repertoire and artistry.
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Originally published August 28, 2021

What do violin teachers look and listen for during private lessons? 

There are so many elements to consider: tone, rhythm, articulation, phrasing, character and color, vibrato, intonation, bow distribution, posture, movement efficiency, note accuracy, etc.

Teachers not only need to know what needs to be fixed but also why and how—and they need to do all of this on the fly.

Let’s say I’m teaching a violin lesson, and I notice that my student is struggling with their tone quality. 

First, I have to determine if the underlying problem is conceptual or physical. Is the student consciously choosing an appropriate tone color or texture for the situation? Or is the student struggling with the physical components of bowing? 

If it’s a physical problem, does the student understand the fundamentals of technique? Are they playing with excessive force? Or are they exhibiting an inefficient movement pattern? And if the problem is indeed movement-based, how do I determine the cause and come up with an effective, anatomically and biomechanically accurate solution? 

In kinesiology, the study of movement, this kind of analysis is known as a qualitative approach. We’re making perceptual judgements of our students’ quality of movement, technique, and sound. 

(In contrast, a quantitative—or numerical—approach to movement analysis uses scientifically gathered data to analyze the biomechanical efficiency or effectiveness of a movement or technique.)

Many athletic coaches and music teachers use qualitative approaches to assess skills. However, qualitative analysis—whether in athletics or in music—is subjective and occasionally unreliable.1 

Most violinists don’t formally learn how to evaluate technique and movement in ways that are grounded in anatomy and biomechanics. We learn technique from our own applied teachers and violin treatises, but our ideas of correct movement are often based on long-standing traditions rather than scientific fact. 

If a teacher uses inaccurate or out-of-date conceptual ideas of movement and balance to fix technique or postural issues—or if a teacher doesn’t know what to look for—they may struggle to accurately diagnose and correct the source of the problem. 

Unfortunately, this can cause students to suffer injuries or require remedial pedagogy interventions later on. 

I see a need for violinists to learn pedagogical principles not only for communicating information about movement, but that provide guidance for evaluating and diagnosing movement and technique issues. 

Enter Qualitative Movement Diagnosis, or QMD. 

QMD is a research-based framework for diagnosing and fixing movement errors. Developed by kinesiologists Duane V. Knudson and Craig S. Morrison, QMD draws on principles from kinesiology, sports psychology, exercise pedagogy, and physiology to provide a more systematic and objective approach to qualitative movement analysis. 

QMD is made up of four cyclical stages: preparation, observation, diagnostic evaluation, and intervention. When I came across QMD in my dissertation research, I immediately realized that we could extend these four stages to violin pedagogy. 

The preparation stage occurs prior to the applied music lesson. It encompasses all knowledge required for teaching; e.g. instrumental technique, artistry, practice strategies, teaching strategies, anatomy, student psychology, etc. This is the knowledge we gain through experience, studying with experts, and learning about new advancements in the field. It can also be the preparatory work we do for each individual student we see. 

During the observation stage, the teacher observes the student perform and gathers relevant sensory information. Predetermined strategies called systematic observational strategies can help teachers determine what to focus on and how to observe it during the lesson. 

The observation stage is separate from the evaluation and diagnosis stage, where the teacher evaluates the strength and weaknesses of the student’s performance and diagnoses which weaknesses should be addressed first. QMD offers multiple strategies for evaluating movement performance beyond the detection of errors, and different rationales for prioritizing future interventions. 

In the intervention stage, teachers provide an intervention, like a verbal comment or demonstration, to help improve the student’s performance. Popular intervention tools in QMD include feedback, modeling, manual and mechanical guidance, training and conditioning suggestions (e.g. stretching), practice modifications, and attentional cues. Once the teacher has tried an intervention, they can return to the observation and diagnostic evaluation stages to see how the student’s performance has changed. 

Why should violinists care about QMD?

Most professional violinists will spend at least part of their careers teaching private lessons or masterclasses. However, only a few collegiate institutions offer comprehensive pedagogy degree programs for violinists—especially compared to the number of vocal and piano pedagogy programs offered nationally. 

Instead, the classical music world favors the apprentice model, where we learn the craft of violin playing through weekly lessons with our collegiate instructors. We learn how to teach by absorbing their instructional styles, playing techniques, and practicing strategies. This can be a fantastic experience for students lucky enough to work with thoughtful, empathetic, knowledgeable, and flexible teachers. But others may end up studying with emotionally abusive instructors or violinists with poor communication and instructional skills

Learning how to play the violin is not the same as learning the craft of teaching.

Many music schools relegate pedagogy courses to elective status, if offered at all. My own graduate school didn’t even offer a class—we had to design our own special independent study projects. While some institutions make up for this by offering opportunities to get certified in methods like the Suzuki Method or Royal Conservatory of Music system, most violinists will have to spend their own time and money outside of school to learn more about teaching techniques, working with different age groups and abilities, body mechanics, and musicians’ wellness.

I’m not against the apprentice model or spending money on continuing education courses. But universities and conservatories can, and should, do more to prepare students for the realities of this profession.

Collegiate violin pedagogy curriculums have to evolve beyond literature reviews of violin treatises and surveys of pedagogically appropriate repertoire. I think it’s worth exploring what professionals in other educational fields—whether it’s general or music education, athletic coaching, or dance—learn, and bring these elements into our pedagogy curriculums.

Approaching violin pedagogy through the lens of QMD is helping me think about how I teach in new ways, including how I read pedagogical treatises and observe students in lessons. 

We can use systems like QMD to structure collegiate pedagogy curriculums and to introduce science-based methods of observation, evaluation and intervention; educational psychology principles; age-appropriate and student-centered learning strategies; and biomechanics and anatomy to violin students. 

In short, we can better prepare violinists for holistic teaching careers.

If you’d like to learn more about QMD and how to incorporate it into your teaching, check out my free workbook, Athletic and Mindful Approaches to Music Teaching!


  1. Roger Bartlett, Introduction to Sports Biomechanics: Analyzing Human Movement Patterns, 2nd ed. (Routledge: New York, 2007), 47, http://www.profedf.ufpr.br/rodackibiomecanica_arquivos/Books/Introduction%20to%20Sports%20Biomechanics.pdf. ↩︎
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