Rhythmic Developmental Practice for Violin, Viola, or Cello

Let’s talk about improving rhythm on a bowed instrument. Here is the unique problem: sometimes the bow and fingers change together, but more often than not the bow may be holding a half note while the fingers are playing four eighth notes, etc. This is further complicated by string crossings.

Begin the canonic entrance at the second measure. Then replace eighth notes with dotted rhythms, or any rhythmic combination. There are 58 pages of melodic, rhythmic, string crossing, and shifting variations in the teaching supplement, See Saw Swings.

The See Saw process presents a powerful rhythmic teaching tool. I spend at least ten minutes in every lesson playing See Saw Swings in canon with my students, and they always return to their music showing dramatic improvement. So when one player has four quarter notes, the other is playing four eighth notes and a half note, with any number of possible rhythmic variations. The quarter notes provide the beat! Also, we alternate the quarter note bars, which helps improve the pulse. When I begin, my student can imitate me, which also speeds the process. When we substitute different rhythms in the fingered passages, it spices things up!

Canon practice in See Saw Swings is efficient training for ensemble work because the student learns to fit eighth notes into quarter notes and quarter notes into half notes. As I remarked in the lead paragraph, slurs change everything; it is easy to add slurs to See Saw patterns, creating new challenges.

As in all practice, relentless repetition is a key element, and my students find it easy to play two or more pages of See Saws without pause. It builds endurance. And the See Saw Swings pattern of alternating string crossing bars with rhythm bars generates an oscillation between the brain hemispheres. It is a well-known fact that classical musicians have a well-developed corpus callosum, the nerve network that communicates between the left and right brain. Rhythm improves when my students switch their attention from the detail mind (left hemisphere) to the pattern mind (the right).

My students also apply this to home practice by making a recording of the two pages. The student plays in canon with their own recorded performance. They learn a lot about their rhythm by having to play together with themselves!

Playing in canon is fun, and improved rhythm is but one of several benefits.

Published by Michael Alexander Strauss

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

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: