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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.

The well balanced Violinist (Violist, too)

Why playing without a shoulder rest is better – for bowing and fingering.

Heifitz is the key to learning to play without the cantilevered shoulder rest.

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I am impressed to read personal stories of violinists who removed their training wheels (I mean, shoulder rests) because they wanted to emulate Heifitz: they could see and hear what the old players had but couldn’t get there. This is because they continued to play by holding their violins with their heads, and no shoulder rest, or tried to hold the violin with the left hand having no understanding that the left hand of an unbalanced violinist is completely different than the left hand of Heifitz, the most easily balanced violinist I have ever seen.

I have more than 30 students and am currently taking them all into well-balanced violin playing where you have to ride your bicycle without training wheels. Yesterday, 3 students set themselves free, they all sounded better, and when I asked, “Did you miss your shoulder rest?” all looked surprised and said no.

As you experiment with the two basic exercises, you will experience new sensations that may be incomprehensible. First stand holding instrument and bow in Mountain Pose.

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Look to your left and up. The instrument rests in your left hand, as comfortably as possible. Hold this pose for as long as you are able. Work your way up to five minutes. Feel free to lean left and right, floating on your knees. Tuck in your butt, support your abs, feel your latissimi dorsi (side-back muscles) at work. Get comfortable in your skin.

The well-balanced violinist uses the whole body. And do not expect to be comfortable without your training wheels until you have spent enough time strengthening your core, while relaxing your lungs, stomach, guts, and everything. Be certain to have the left hand under the neck.

Place the fingers on notes. Work the fingers.

Be creative. You can’t do it wrong,

but if you don’t try it, you won’t

be exercising your core.

Twist from side to side. Lift your arms up and down.

Feel the violin resting in your hand and on your arm. You are practicing balancing the violin lightly on your arm, controlled by your hand. The violin must be centered on your arm. You must spend TIME doing this. There are no short cuts.

Historically, playing with the cantilevered shoulder rest changed both our bow technique and our fingering technique. Why? :

Training wheels meant players never needed to learn to balance the violin  or themselves;  furthermore, the bow and left hand never needed to be part of the instrument. When using training wheels, players never needed to strengthen their core. The cantilevered rest developed neck muscles, which interfered with the freedom of the arms.

Enough explanations. There is no way to explain the transition from training wheels to balance. I cannot describe how it feels to be balanced, except to say that it’s like flying.

RAISE YOUR LEFT ARM AS HIGH AS YOU CAN!

The instrument rests

on your left hand;

it feels lighter

because of the new

balance. You know

what comes next!!

LET THE INSTRUMENT SLIDE DOWN YOUR ARM AS YOU BEND YOUR ELBOW, UNTIL IT LANDS IN THE SPACE CREATED BY YOUR RAISED SHOULDER.

As you lower your arm, letting the fiddle slide into place, you may notice the lats relaxing. DO NOT LET THEM FULLY COLLAPSE. These are the major support muscles for both the bow and the fiddle.

Hopefully, your chin is over the tailpiece. If it is not, then you are not yet balanced. Repeat the exercise until you let the instrument land well balanced on your collarbone and under your chin.

Bend your right arm and play. If you have practiced your strengthening exercises enough, you are automatically holding the violin with your left arm and a well-supported torso.

Now go back to the beginning. Put your shoulder rest back on and play. Is it the same or different? Do you need to depend on your training wheels or have you begun to develop balance and strength? Do not expect instant results, especially if you are doing this without guidance.

Hey friends, I believe we are all self-taught. No matter how many directions I give and exercises I assign, the only students that learn are the ones who think along with the process and adapt it to their own needs. In my first lesson with the legendary Eugene Lehner, he said to me, “You will always be your own best teacher.”

And here’s the second exercise.  Lots of pictures, first.

HOLD THE VIOLIN UNDER YOUR RIGHT ARM WITH THE BOW

LOCKED INTO THE STRING

FLIP VIOLIN UPSIDE DOWN, LETTING THE INSTRUMENT REST ON THE BOW, AND USE THE BOW TO PUSH THE VIOLIN UP ONTO YOUR SHOULDER.

This exercise is radically different from the first. It requires no strength at all. It is sort of like practicing a la chitarra, but since the bow must be on the string, and the instrument is cradled touching the humerus of the right arm, it is unique. While cradling the instrument, work your fingers. Play a melody, or a complete dance movement from Bach.

Don’t try to be right but do move with the utmost ease. NEVER TAKE THE BOW OFF THE STRING. You may cross strings with the bow, but do not stroke at all. Silencio!

IF YOU ARE BALANCED CORRECTLY, YOU WILL FEEL ABSOLUTELY COMFORTABLE AT ALL TIMES.

IF YOU FOLLOWED THE DIRECTIONS, YOU ARE NOW DEEPLY IN THE STRING, WITHOUT EFFORT,  PRODUCING THE HEIFITZ SOUND!!!

Exercise #2, which you should now repeat, helps develop the sensation of the neck resting on the ball of the first finger. This contact only gets lost when vibrating a low first finger in first position. At all other times, the ball of the first finger has a job to do.

There are no short cuts to learning to balance the violin/viola. Exercise #1 strengthens the core and the arms, while training you to balance the instrument. Exercise #2 relaxes the arms and the hands, while training you to let the instrument rest on the ball of the index finger and using the bow itself to support the fiddle.