Introduction to See Saw Swings

In the course of 8 progressive chapters, the student practices 1) a basic finger pattern, 2) a different basic pattern,  3) rhythmic applications 4) learns to form a 1st finger bridge, 5) practices hooked bowings, 6) a 2nd finger bridge together with triplets and Lydian tetrachords, 7) slow double-string crossings together with fast single-string crossings, and 8) receives a creative introduction to shifting that culminates with chromatics.

Bowing Principles

See Saw Swings presents three basic bowing challenges to the beginning and remedial student: long strokes, short strokes and string crossings. As the student switches between see saw motions and fingering patterns, it activates each side of the brain in turn. When practicing a string crossing, put all attention into tone production. When practicing fingers, put all attention into fingers, and let the bow take care of itself. The oscillation between brain hemispheres activates neuroplasticity, i.e. an accelerated learning curve!

The drawing of the children on the front cover illustrates the See Saw Swings approach: string crossings use a see saw motion, but in each bow stroke the arm swings back and forth! See Saw! Swings!

Getting Started

Sing See Saw before playing it on the instrument. The words alone are good but also use solfege, preferably movable do. Young children have always been surprised and delighted to discover that the entire book is based on one simple theme.

In See Saw Swings students begin by oscillating between two strings instead of one at a time. It also insists on adding fingers as soon as possible! This is the essence of whole brain learning.

Advancing through more complex music

  1. As soon as the student can play the first line of See Saw Swings, teach the first two measures of Twinkle: the notes are the same, just in a different order! Practicing the second line prepares the third finger, which easily trains the student to learn the B section of Twinkle. Most beginners have trouble putting the third finger cleanly on the A string but See Saw practice accelerates the process. Playing the first four pages of See Saw Swings prepares the student to easily learn every Suzuki song through Perpetual Motion.

  2. As soon as the student can play the first two songs of See Saw Swings in A major, move forward to Autumn Feast (D Major) to demonstrate the symmetrical nature of our strings. Be certain to have them read the notes, especially making the connection that the fourth measure of Spring Showers is identical to the second measure of Autumn Feast. Once comfortable in D Major, students will easily read the D Major Suzuki songs.

  3. Spring Flowers introduces the 4th finger and gradually leads back with stepwise motion to the first line. It takes five minutes at a slow tempo for the student to play these first four pages, Spring Showers and Spring Flowers. This approach conditions the student to play an extended piece of music from the beginning of their study.

  4. Summer’s End introduces the low 1st, low 2nd, and low 4th fingers, which leads quickly to the practice of a Bb Major scale. All 12 major scales are embedded in See Saw Swings. As soon as the student has found the low second finger, return to Spring Showers and write in G naturals on the E string, while maintaining C# on the A string. This practice conditions the student to learn the three minuets near the end of Volume I.

Constant repetition of these exercises makes it easier to train a well-formed left hand and to improve intonation. (Sevcik style from the beginning, but in a child-friendly package!)

After a student has mastered the shifting exercises at the end of the book, return to the beginning and perform in different positions.

Ensemble Adaptations

See Saw Swings lends itself to an easily improvised piano accompaniment: arpeggios, block chords, canonic action and free improvisation can turn any page of See Saw Swings into a charming recital piece. I highly recommend playing these pieces together with your students in canon. Canons can begin at the measure, half measure, or quarter measure. Playing in canon trains the student to hear contrapuntal rhythms from early in their development.

Closing Thoughts

The key to mastery is thoughtful repetition, so be certain that the student is always reading the notes while striving to play beautifully and in tune. It is crucial to apply the rhythms, and once the student has become comfortable with the shifting exercises, to return to the beginning of the book to practice in third and fourth positions, and entirely on a single string. Add variations: add slurs, accidentals, and rhythms, different tempi, and anything else that challenges the student to learn new skills.

When a student has made one pass through See Saw Swings, they will be prepared to learn concerti by Seitz or Vivaldi, supported by continuous practice of fundamentals.

After a student has mastered See Saw Swings with variations, s/he can go to the next level by studying See Saw Slides, Volume 2 of the Bowing Magic sequence (shifting, glissando, ear training, and vibrato).

Michael Alexander Strauss

Published by Michael Alexander Strauss

Professional violist and teacher. Creator of See Saw Swings and Bowing Magic.

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