HOW TO HELP BEGINNING VIOLINISTS ADVANCE FASTER AND EASIER!!

The Science of Accelerating Violin Students begins, like all scientific inquiry, with an hypothesis. The hypothesis has to answer a burning question. In medicine, the question was: what makes people sick? The hypothesis generated during the 19th century: germs.

I propose that the conventional approach to developing skill on stringed instruments is sick. The sickness comes from a left hemisphere approach to learning: the idea that the student can only master one new concept at a time and should never go on to the next until the immediate problem has been mastered.

It sounds sensible but it’s wrong. This is not how children learn to walk, talk, use a toilet, or read.

In See Saw Swing -the Metatechnical approach to instrumental study- Whole Brain Learning combines with Musical Phonics to accelerate students in quality of tone, intonation, and the ability to master new music.

It employs an essential idea from Alexander Technique: “All together One at a Time.” In other words, the longer the teacher waits to teach a student a new finger pattern, the more difficult it is for the student to learn the new pattern.

Whole Brain Learning is the essence of Montessori Education, in which children are given agency in choosing their activities and allowed to progress at their own best rate.

See Saw Swing presents an hypothesis: Any student who can negotiate all 60 pages of See Saw Swing is ready to learn the Vivaldi Concerto in a minor, or a piece of like complexity.

I regularly take my beginners from Twinkle to Vivaldi in one year or less. With remedial students, it takes as little as three months before they can study Vivaldi.

For all violin/viola/cello teachers reading this blog, I invite you to use scientific method and experiment with See Saw Swing (formerly known as See Saw Swings). The trick is to move the student forward through all eight chapters before you think they are ready, while continuing to teach them your favored developmental musical pieces.

I predict that they will learn their songs faster and better if they commit to at least ten minutes of See Saw Swing practice every day.

WE LEARN BY DOING!

The John Dewey educational philosophy; Dewey was an apostle of F. M. Alexander.

WE ESPECIALLY LEARN BY DOING EXERCISES!

Thank you for reading, and I invite you to purchase a copy of See Saw Swing at Amazon.com

How to Accelerate a Beginning Violin Student

This is simple. Use this book, See Saw Swings, soon to be retitled. The exercises are easy to learn and are progressive. There are fewer than 60 pages. When your student can play all the pages, they will have learned every chromatic note up to fourth position. If you follow directions, and pencil in slurs and accidentals in the early exercises, your student will comfortably read slurs and accidentals. If you then have them learn the beginning exercises in 2nd, 3rd and 4th positions, they have learned to read those positions.

Any student who can do the above is prepared to learn anything at the level of Suzuki Volume 4 or Barbara Barber Volume 2.

How long does this take? Well, Haley came to me as a decent beginner violinist who was finishing up Suzuki Volume 1. She learned most of the 58 pages in three months and yesterday, sightread the first movement of Seitz Concerto #5, at an easy tempo, but comfortably reading all the accidentals. After three months of Metatechnical Exercises.

Julie, a total beginner, learned the book in 6 months and moved immediately to volume 4 songs.

The best thing is that my accelerated students play with strong tone and excellent intonation, because these exercises are designed to strengthen tone and intonation, all by using various exercises based on one simple theme. As I said, this is a new technology.

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Thank you for your kind attention.

Beginner learns eight Suzuki songs in her first eight weeks of lessons

And she sounds good, really really good.

How?

Because from her first notes, she used See Saw Swings, Volume I of Metatechnical Exercises.

By the way, this beginner is eight years old and in fourth grade. In the first lesson, she learned to hold the bow by holding pencil and then flipping it into a bowhold. Then she did a sequence of exercises to solidify and practice the hold: tip to her toes, tip to her nose, frog to her nose, shake the frog above her head, twirl the frog on her head (Catch an ant, ant to your nose, ant to the frog, shake ant into your hair, squash the ant).

Five minute of fun and achievement.

Then, yoga pose. Mountain pose, arms to the side, bow in bowhold, violin balanced on arm. Slide the violin up to your chin ad you bend your arm. Repeat. Then repeat catching ants.

Five more minutes of fun.

Sing the Song…See Saw See Saw Will You be my Friend. See Saw See Saw Yes I’ll be your friend.

Repeat Ants. Repeat Mountain Pose. Repeat Song.

Five more minutes.

Put bow on A string (viola) and with guidance, play See Saw See Saw Ten times. Repeat Ant catching. Repeat Mountain Pose. Sing Song. Play See Saw.

Five minutes. Rest.

Hold up left hand in letter L and crook first finger. Sing, Will you Be my Friend while working first finger in air.. Then hold viola, put left hand on neck, Play See Saw Saw Saw, and add…Will You be My Friend. Then repeat it on the D string. Repeat ten times.

Have all these exercises written down and also, if possible, videoed.

Your first 30 minute lesson is done, and you can play four bars of music.

In the Second lesson, Neha transferred the first line of See Saw into the first line of Twinkle, and learned the second to fifth lines of See Saw, employing three fingers on both the A and D strings.

She was playing Twinkle straight through in her third lesson, along with four pages of See Saw Swings. First she played Twinkle Theme, then we added Mississippi Hot Dog.

In her fifth lesson, she basically sightread French Folk Song, while adding more pages from See Saw Swings. She was a good practicer, playing her See Saws and her Twinkles every day.

In lesson six, she added Allegro and Song of the Wind.

In lesson seven, she added Lightly Row and Go Tell Aunt Rhody.

In lesson eight, she essentially sight read May Song and Long Long Ago, with no anxiety. She wanted to write in the fingerings herself, before she began, and was quick and accurate.

Neha is a very bright child from an academic family. Her progress may not be typical for an eight year old. At the same time, a seven year old only learned Twinkle, Allegro, Lightly Row, and Go Tell Aunt Rhody. Like…ok.

Go to Seesawswings.com opening page and click on a picture of the book for one stop shopping. if you teach beginners, this approach just may change your life.

Thank you for reading.

Habit: Final Chapters

VII

As you read, you can monitor your own HABIT.

As I write, I do as much.

The entry question is: Where is your head?

Where indeed?

I intend this question both physically and metaphysically, literally and figuratively, visually and mentally, this and that, here and there, black and white, up and down.

The typical Alexander Teacher approach will be to use hands to guide the head into the proper relationship with the body. I take issue with that, and so apparently did my teacher Marjorie Barstow; beginning in her late 80s, she began to tell us not to try to be right, because we did not know what was right. Neither did she. In her younger years, her posture was upright, but after several severe falls, she developed a hump in her back, and her head no longer appeared at the top of her spine, but somewhere in front of it. In her famous video for Nebraska Public Radio when she was only 81, her posture was always perfect and she used her hands to take her students’ heads in an upward path, tilting slightly forward. Such long necks appeared on all of those young adults!

Lengthening the neck may be a positive side effect of addressing your HABIT, but it becomes a question of causality: does the quality of movement improve because of the lengthening of the neck, or did the improvement in quality, (i.e. HABIT} produce the giraffe neck?

The fun thing is that whether it is I sitting here writing, or you sitting somewhere, reading, we can both experiment. Here, after I asked where my head was, I chose to lift it slightly, at which point I came out of my habitual slump, my shoulders widened, my hands arched over the keyboard, and I felt a slight stiffening in my spine. I didn’t like the stiffening so I experimented, first by slumping slightly, and then by adjusting my chair so that I have a new relationship with it, the chair. I sat back into the chair, letting the chair support me.

Oh my, can a person have a friendship with a chair?

You may as well ask if a writer can have a friendship with a reader. Sometimes it happens, and sometimes it doesn’t. As I sit back in my chair, I keep the arch in my hands but now my arms need to extend. How absurd that I should be sitting so nicely, because I am listening to a recording of Glenn Gould playing Bach toccatas. I realize that he is no longer a celebrity partly because he passed in 1982. However, he was famous for sitting on an absurdly short legged chair, so that he had to reach up to the keyboard to play. His posture was hideous, but his technique and tone were crystalline. He had severe health problems, both mentally and physically, and a stroke killed him in his 50th year. He was a weird dude but once his HABIT was in place, he never betrayed it. He was who he was till the day they pulled the plug on the brain-dead body in a Canadian hospital. The angels weep.

When listening to his recordings, it is easy to relate with him not only because of the sinuous, twisting, crystalline musical lines, but because he was playing along with his own singing, his own often audible singing. Since the piano is contrapuntal, he could only sing one line at a time, so it is always clear which line he favored.

Enough about me, and enough about Glenn. How about you? Where are you? Where is your head? Does it feel heavy and set rigidly on your shoulders? What happens if you lift your chin an inch? What happens if you look up at the ceiling, and then when you look back at the page not go all the way back to where you were? If you try that, you learn that you have a choice about how to carry your head.

This is the end of Chapter 7. Mr. Gould has just begun a fugue. His singing sounds insane, but the music is the very model of rational thought.

VIII.

What is the difference between having habits and having a HABIT?

What is your reading habit?

Do you plow ahead as quickly as possible, often skimming, and rarely taking time to think?

Or do you take the time to dialogue with the author?

And then do you take time to talk with yourself?

Perhaps take time to ask the location of your head?

Here is the next question: WHAT IS YOUR BODY?

What is my body, now? Why, it is a typing machine controlled by a writing mind. And yours? I suppose it is probably a sitting machine, controlled by a reading mind. I have a writer’s eye, and you a reader’s eye. And whatever I think, for a passing moment, you are sharing the same thought, as certainly as you are reading this word, and this, and this, and this, and this one too.

Tedious, it is, to read this, and this, and this, and this. Tedious too to write it. But the repetition produces a new pattern which can become a habit, and that habit may influence your HABIT, but that particular habit cannot be your HABIT. As I said earlier, HABIT is like a suit of clothes worn beneath the skin. Everyone wears their HABIT, as dramatically portrayed by Mr. Glenn Gould, an unmistakable presence.

The next question is, WHO IS DRIVING? You see that I just assumed that the body can be likened to a car, or an airplane, or a submarine. All of these conveyances need a driver…except when the airplane is put on autopilot, or the car is one of those newfangled robot cars.
Do you see where I am going with this?

Thinking is fun, but if you are letting your HABIT drive the car for you, then you are not thinking about how to steer, or anything. You can be sound asleep, going along for the ride. That last phrase may become a motif. Here it is again….going along for the ride.
I know children who have been driven to their school three hundred times but have no idea how to find their school if they had to do it themselves (No mental map because they were just GOING ALONG FOR THE RIDE).

I have been letting the sound of Bach carry my thoughts forward for these last two chapters. I believe that music is the flow of thought, and it feels as if my fingers and words are flowing along on the river of music. The sound of the keyboard and Glenn Gould humming.
To reiterate the questions: Where’s your head? What’s your body? Who is driving? What is the difference between my habits and my HABIT? And finally, what is the difference between habits and technique?

The answer to that final question is: THINKING. I thought for a moment that I had created a circular piece of reasoning but then realized that I hadn’t; if you are going along for the ride, you can’t possibly think about the driving. You are however free to think about anything else, like…WHERE’S MY HEAD?

I am going to take a break now, play some music, go for a walk, eat dinner. I hope to pay attention to who I am when practicing my viola, working my legs, cooking, eating. I could let my HABIT run the show for all these habits, but I may get more out of it if I choose to be awake. And so it goes with the practice and teaching of violin exercises, like See Saw Swings. The more conscious you can be of the three basic bowing problems, the more you will get out of the exercises. And what are the three basic problems?: long strokes, short strokes and string crossings.

IX.

Back to the theme: how can we better understand our own petty discontents? Freud created an industry for treating “neurosis.” Over the last thirty years or so, the psychology industry, in league with Big Pharma, created an industry for treating “depression.” Karl Marx called religion “the opiate of the masses.” Wow. That is one of the great slogans, catchy and easy to remember. It all fits together, because Freud wanted to replace the church with his own supposedly scientific approach to misery, psychoanalysis, the delusion that if you can remember the childhood trauma that launched your neurosis, the insight would provide relief. But now that we read the research of Elizabeth Loftus, we begin to understand that nobody can remember anything very well, and when we think we do, our memories rarely match the memories of others. “Rashomon” was the movie that described how different observers have radically different memories of the same events. Every reader has different memories of the first three thousand words of this essay, based on…what? Your childhood trauma? Your education? Your mood?

Or is there a more simple all-encompassing basis for how we form opinions, for how we remember, for how we express ourselves? And is this basis something everyone understands implicitly? And could it be as simple as a suit of clothes that we are wearing but forgot that we had put on?

Ah, that sounds a little like Freud, when I say we forgot we put it on. But it is not Freud because I say it does not matter that we cannot remember how we put on our HABIT. It only matters that we are wearing it, and it is running our lives right now.

If everything is fine for you, and misery is not a problem, then you can pleased with your HABIT. But perhaps you have a child, a friend, an employee, a colleague, an acquaintance at church, who is miserable. You see them repeat the same behavior, the same feelings. The psychologists will label this poor behavior “repetition compulsion,” as if it were a disease to be treated. But nothing is wrong with the brain of the miserable person. Even if he has been diagnosed with depression, there is another option, that I am putting out there as I listen to Bach, this time Bach that I myself recorded. In this performance, I can hear how I have changed my HABIT. I can hear how I have finally trained myself to hear every sound that I produce. I did this by using See Saw Swings, which is heavily influenced by Alexander Technique. Musically, I aspire to the clarity and expression of Glenn Gould, while not being trapped in his deadly posture. Also, Gould took Thorazine beginning before he turned thirty years old. Thorazine, a heavy duty antipsychotic medication. Why? Was he insane? Many people thought he acted nuts, but he was a high functioning concert artist and recording artist, who throughout his short, miserable, hypochondriac life constantly learned new music and improved his interpretation of the piece that made him famous, Bach’s Goldberg Variations.

X.

Goldberg Variations will be my final metaphor for understanding HABIT. In classical music, theme and variations is a form in which the composer uses a single melody as a text to test his creativity. Mozart wrote variations on Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. A filmmaker produced a movie on Glenn Gould called 32 Short Films About Glenn Gould.

The theme represents that composition’s HABIT. That HABIT will be present in every variation, underpinning a variety of scales, arpeggios, pedal tone passages, virtuoso flourishes, meditational adagios, wild fandangos, sexy waltzes, sad torch songs, passionate love songs, dry scientific treatises, naïve fairy tales, world weary murder mysteries, confessional memoirs, all expressed in musical tones. But when the piece is over, the composer puts that HABIT aside. The Bach of the Goldberg Variations does not PRODUCE the same HABIT as the Bach of the Chromatic Fantasy or the B Minor Mass, although as an artist, he does wear the same HABIT in every counterpoint that he generates.

In other words, having a HABIT is not a disease. No creature, whether human, canine, avian, feline, porcine, piscine, or whatever, can survive its lifetime without the benefit of its own unique HABIT. As William James observed, the tiger in the cage did not burn bright when the cage was opened but obeyed its HABIT of being confined.

“Tiger tiger, burning bright, in the forest of the night, what immortal hand or eye, could frame thy fearful symmetry?”

Ah, bless William Blake for framing the essential question that connects William James’ caged tiger with the caged tiger of our own HABIT. I say, let your tiger roam free. Your HABIT will change, and so so will you.

Where’s your head?
What’s your body?
Who’s driving?
When?
Where?
Why?
And for whom?

Habit (Continued)

V.

I recently reread that little book by William James called “Habit.” It is best called “A Little Book on Habits” because he only writes about habits in the plural. He understood the importance of habits, telling a story of a tiger whose cage was opened after a train wreck, but after sticking his nose out, the tiger returned to his familiar home, the cage. James comments, “Habit is thus the enormous fly-wheel of society, its most precious conservative agent. It alone is what keeps us all within the bounds of ordinance, and saves the children of fortune from the envious uprisings of the poor.”

Of course, James fell into the fallacy of generalizing from one frightened tiger to society as a whole. Within 25 years of his writing this, the Russian Revolution did not save the unfortunate daughters of the Czar “from the envious uprisings of the poor.” He goes on to opine on the importance of reinforcing new habits, but concludes that “With mere good intentions, hell is proverbially paved.” William James himself, of course, was a famous suffering man, an illness without a diagnosis. “There is no more contemptible type of human character than that of the nerveless sentimentalist and dreamer, who spends his life in a weltering (sic) sea of sensibility and emotion, but who never does a manly concrete deed.” His younger brother was an officer in the 54th Massachusetts and almost lost his life in that hopeless charge of Negro troops at a Southern fortress. William stayed home. No concrete deeds for him.
Is See Saw Swings a “manly concrete deed?” Probably not, but at least it exists, and is designed to reinforce good habits while helping to eradicate bad ones. That is at the surface level. If a student uses this book with all possible variations, it will probably alter that student’s essential HABIT.

VI.

Mr. Alexander’s discovery is rooted in the hypothesis that the relation of the head to the body determines the individual person’s quality of movement. This has led to Alexander teachers everywhere using their hands to lengthen a person’s neck. If you are an actor or a musician, you may have received training in this lengthening of the neck and broadening of the back. If you are not in the arts, there is a high probability that you’ve never heard of it, in spite of the efforts of thousands of devoted acolytes who have spent a century advertising. I myself studied the technique for fifteen years with Marjorie Barstow, who was herself trained by Frederick Alexander in London beginning in 1920. She was 20 when she began her lifetime study and 84, when she gave me my first lesson. (I was 27) I promise you I didn’t understand it, even though something powerful happened. She put her hands on my head and lifted while I fiddled on my viola, and suddenly it felt like my arms had gotten longer and my hands were far away, which made it impossible for me to control my playing using my HABIT. And it sounded better. And I had no idea why, or how, and was completely unable to reproduce the results later on.

So, friendly readers, I don’t expect you to understand this yet, either. Please bear with me as we take this journey of discovery, a journey that began for me as a student and continues to this day with my violin students, who teach me far more than I could ever teach them. Obviously, everything that I have to say about playing the violin will apply to typing, writing, walking, talking, thinking, chewing, and taking it easy. And by the way, the reason that all the advertising has failed is that Mr. Alexander’s theory about the head/body relationship is bunk. And yet, even though it is wrong, it often produces good results. Science is full of fortuitous accidents. How can something be wrong but useful, right but useless? This is beginning to sound like the Tao, the pathless path of contentment and good government.

VII.

When I began lessons with Marge, she was taking people’s heads way up high. My first instruction was actually with a pulchritudinous violinist (and AT student) who raised my head up high and asked what I was feeling. I told her, in no uncertain terms, just how uplifted I was by her gentle hands on my stiff neck, but mostly I was distracted and it didn’t help me play my viola at all.

By the time she turned 90, Marge was paying less attention to how far the head could move. As I said, the theory is wrong. Alexander Technique is not about the relationship of your head to your body, though it seems that way, and it often helps.
Here is a teaching story from Marjorie’s studio which may shed some light. A student asked, “Will this turn into a habit?” Her teaching assistants smirked because she had always told them that constructive thinking is not habitual. But then she said, “Yes.”
A personal anecdote: I spent two weeks in Alexander camp with Marjorie and 70 other searchers from all over the world. (Including Australia and Russia). When I returned to work in the orchestra that September, a colleague in orchestra asked me if I had been lifting weights. No. Why? Because your shoulders are broader. Oh. And I had no idea how that happened, nor did I even feel it.

Marjorie would always use her hands in helping people in and out of chairs and initiating a walk. She would ask, “What did you feel?” More often than not, I honestly said, “I didn’t feel anything.” Because after that first experience with Marjorie when my arms seemed to grow a foot longer, the work never had that much impact. Now I understand why I felt nothing.
My HABIT was so entrenched that it could not recognize the alien sensations. And that explained why I could not take the work home with me. It was all about mindless training, no matter how much Marjorie asked us how we were feeling and what we were thinking. (Now, as I am typing and writing and thinking and remembering, I am actively using Mr. Alexander’s discovery to ease my path. I have questions that deactivate my HABIT with such gentleness that I can feel everything happening all together one at a time. (One of FM’s aphorisms).