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A NEW TEACHER DISCOVERS SEE SAW MAGIC

Jonathan Poupore, a professional violinist/violist and dear friend, spent three years owning a copy of See Saw Swing but never used it. Rather, he tried it with one student and nothing happened.

We were having a Zoom session in September and he described having difficulty with a passage in the Dohnanyi Trio. I suggested experimenting with See Saw and he agreed. First, he tried the passage and got tangled in the string crossings. Then, he played the first page of See Saw, slow then fast. I told him to focus on the bow for the string crossings, and to focus on fingers for alternate bars (trusting the bow).

I had him try it at different parts of the bow and I did comment on his frozen right shoulder, and he agreed it might be wise to allow shoulder rotations.

Then, I said to try the passage again. He started and stopped in the third measure, saying “I can’t do this. I haven’t been practicing it.” I said, “Just play string crossings and fingerings. Separate them in your mind. That’s what you’ve been practicing with Metatechnique: differentiating string crossings from fingerings.”

He played the entire page error-free with an ever-spreading look of amazement on his face.”See Saw made the difference,” he said.

He immediately ordered copies for all his students. Here are text excerpts from some of his commentaries:

“But Gosh, I am loving teaching with See Saw so much!”

“I have much to learn but your opening notes are so helpful.”

“Another students showed good improvement through See Saw. AND… can simply play that 3rd mvmt of Dohnanyi without having practiced it since I last played it for you.”

In other words, when Jon experienced whole brain learning exercises first hand, he got it. I pray that every teacher, student, and player will give Metatechnical Exercises a chance. It is a paradigm shift. All Jon needed was the proper guidance to direct his practice. As he said, “the opening notes are so helpful.”

And feel free to contact me at mastrauss2@gmail.com if you have any questions.

Jon Poupore
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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

HOW TO IMPROVE TONE ON STRING INSTRUMENTS

Tone production is mysterious to many players. In fact, it is a linear problem easily solved.

First, if you are not happy with your sound, recognize that you have a HABIT which works your bow for you. As long as you depend on your HABIT to produce tone, you will never improve. So the question becomes: How can you free yourself from the prison of your HABIT?

It begins and ends by doing exercises which your HABIT cannot recognize. In a movie called “The Guitar”, a young woman, diagnosed with terminal fast-acting cancer, locks herself away in an expensive apartment and teaches herself to play bass guitar with instructional videos. She never leaves the apartment. She had a six month lease because she had been given four months to live.

Eight months later, she is out of money and evicted. She feels well and goes back to her Doctor, who declares her cancer free. “What did you change?” the doctor asks. “Everything,” replies the guitarist.

The theory is that the cancer left because it could no longer recognize its host body.

And so it goes with technique. When your HABIT cannot recognize its host, then it will set you free. Here are exercises: 1. Hold the bow up and let it slide gently down, propelled only by gravity. You are not walking your fingers on the stick, but developing exquisite sensitivity in the release of your fingers and your sense of touch. 2. Touch the ceiling, the floor, the walls, with the tip of your bow. Take a giant step to reach the wall, if necessary. Hold the bow in your habitual bow hand but forget about trying to play the violin. Simply notice how your shoulder, elbow, wrist and fingers respond to your gentle lunges. 3. Sit down and put the bow on your lap. Gently lift the frog with your bowhand, letting the tip rest on your other leg. Then, gently let the bow slip out of your fingers onto your lap (Another exercise to develop tactile sensitivity, without trying to play well). 4. Practice See Saw Swing exercises, which easily transfer attention from one hemisphere of the brain to the other. Do not try to play well. 5. When playing, search for the BEAD (the spot on the string, the bite with the hair, the speed of the bow). Every time you change notes on a stringed instrument, the weight of the string changes, which demands adjusting the BEAD.

All of these exercises are METATECHNICAL (above technique) in the sense that if you perform them faithfully, your HABIT won’t recognize what’s happening. These exercises free you from the prison of HABIT and create the possibility of developing HEURISTICS. A HEURISTIC is a mental shortcut, a set of directions that can be given in the blink of an eye. To search for the BEAD is an heuristic. To lighten your grip on the stick: a HEURISTIC. To stroke as if you were touching the ceiling! To go to the edge of dropping the stick. To prevent yourself from stiffening at the critical moment of play. Heuristics all.

Be sure to use your ear to monitor results.

I realize that these directions are not mainstream, but I hope that you realize that I believe in you, and I know that if you perform these exercises faithfully, there is virtually a 100% chance that you will quickly purify and strengthen your tone.

BTW: this blog is merely an introduction, designed to get you going. I will follow up with more data. You can read about all of it in Metatechnical Systems, by Michael Alexander Strauss.

TEACH TWINKLE QUICK AND EASY

By using See Saw Swing and training your beginner to play the first five lines, Twinkle falls into place so easily. Go to the What Is It page to look at the first five lines. Once your beginner can hold the bow, begin by teaching E and then A, so that string crossings happen at once. Have them sing the song: See Saw, See Saw, Will you be my friend, See Saw, See Saw, Yes I’ll be your friend.

The first line asks for the first finger on the E and A strings. The second line adds the third finger. The third and fourth lines add repeats of the third finger. The fifth line adds the second finger, at which point every note is in place for Twinkle.

In fact, when you look at the sample, you will notice that by changing the order of the quarter notes, the beginner can IMMEDIATELY play a variant of the first line of Twinkle.

Most importantly, because See Saw Swing exercises the third finger and string crossings from the beginning, it becomes easy for the beginner to learn the second line.

Before I used See Saw Swing, it would take at least two months to train a beginner to play Twinkle. Now, with older beginners, it takes an hour. With young ones, three weeks.

I know it sounds like magic. Maybe it is.

SUMMARY OF SEE SAW SWING

Summary of See Saw Swing: In 12 lines of music, get a preview of the entire book. The Vivaldi Hypothesis is that any “beginner” who can negotiate all 60 pages of See Saw Swing will be ready to learn the Vivaldi Concerto in a minor. How long does this take. If you assign these pages at regular intervals, moving the student through all the variations at a reasonable clip, less than a year. I’ve had students do it in six months. I’ve had remedial students do it in three months. But because it is unlike anything else on the market, there is no way to process this without trying it.

In these trying times of Covid 19, I hope teachers from around the globe will take a careful look at the summary, found on the What Is It page. What it is is a Paradigm Shift, and I have spent my life moving towards this shift, and I pray that you will try it.

RAPID PROGRESS FOR BEGINNING VIOLINISTS

I received a lot of smiles at the Orlando ASTA convention last week for See Saw Swing, and especially The Vivaldi Hypothesis. This holds that any student who can negotiate all 60 pages in this beginning violin supplement will be ready to learn the Vivaldi Concerto in a minor. How long does this take?

Consistently, beginners can achieve this in one year or less. Of course, they have to practice the exercises. Please explore the See Saw Swing website for more detail. Thank you.