Whole Brain Learning for the Violin


It sounds so simple, and it seems so correct:

“The best way to learn your instrument is to practice one skill at a time. Repeat each step until you are comfortable demonstrating it for your teacher and classmates.” Essential Elements for Strings, Page 3

Is that how anyone learns how to walk (To practice one muscular/neurological action at a time and repeat each action until you are comfortable demonstrating it for your parents and other relatives)? Is that how you learned to talk (One phoneme at a time, perfecting each phoneme in turn before moving on to the next)? Is that how you learned to read (Mastering every symbol/sound before moving on to the next)? Count? Shoot a basketball? Make friends? Paint a picture?


But it sounds so correct and simple (One step at a time, perfecting each step before you move on the next).

And here is why it sounds so correct to most of us, at first glance. This is precisely how the left hemisphere of the brain processes data.  

There comes a time and there is a place for the perfectionism practiced by the left hemisphere but not at the beginning stages of anything and especially not for children!

In Essential Elements, the first 27 pages are engaged in presenting data contained in the first five lines of Metatechnical Exercises. This data includes all the notes of a scale, three different rhythmic values, crossing strings, and differentiating long strokes from short strokes. I have had students work through See Saw Swings for four months and then sight read every page of Essential Elements for Strings easily, laughing all the way through because it so easy.

How did this happen? Whole brain learning. This is a system in which children find their way around a stringed instrument the same way that they taught themselves to walk, talk, count, and read. F. M. Alexander had an aphorism that describes this process perfectly: “All together, one at a time.”

Sounds impossible, doesn’t it? And for the left hemisphere, it is impossible, but for the whole brain activated at once, it is child’s play. The following description -found in the website Seesawswings.com- captures the essence of the process.

With a unique approach, Michael Alexander Strauss has created a training system that oscillates a student’s attention-processing between left brain and right brain to generate an accelerated learning curve. These exercises have also been shown to bypass a student’s debilitating habits and effect dynamic changes at the neuroplastic level. Activating whole brain learning also involves lighting up the forebrain, freeing students to apply their own critical thinking to all elementary challenges of finding their way around stringed instruments.

Just to read these five hundred words is hopelessly inadequate. James Bergin, a brilliant teacher/musician, discovered the magic for himself and said to me, “I set the student playing the page and watch them improve before my eyes. And I don’t have to do a thing.” And why not? Because the child is training herself to play the same way she trained herself to talk.

It’s messy! It’s non-linear! It’s childish! It feels like magic! It is incomprehensible to the orderly mechanisms of left-brained thinking (which explains why it has not worked nearly as well in training most adults, whether beginners or remedial).

Some things must be experienced to be understood. Thank you for reading.

Published by Michael Alexander Strauss

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

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: