Reply To: Addressing Different Entry Points into an Orchestral Lesson

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Hi Ruiza412,

I’m in a very similar situation to you! I am in my first year teaching, and I’m also struggling to plan rehearsals and lessons which are interesting for the advanced students but within reach of the beginners. This particular group is a middle school string orchestra, and the students (who all meet at the same time) range from 6th grade to 8th. Some have zero experience before this year, and others have been studying privately for 5 or 6 years. I’ve done a lot of arranging to accommodate the beginners, and I’ve gone so far as to write out parts which are exclusively open-string pizzicato. Even these parts can be challenging for these kids because they have to remember string names, count rests, keep tempo, etc etc. I have done a lot of sectionals, in which I break up the students into several different categories, depending on the day: instrument groups, skill level, grade level, etc. In this case I elect group leaders to run the rehearsals, which (thankfully) can run simultaneously in practice rooms. As part of this, though, we need to discuss what makes a good leader, how to practice, and how to stay on task–all good skills for the students to learn and talk about. The more experienced kids are also working on a totally separate piece which is appropriate for their level, and so when I need to focus on the others, they have some challenging music to work on together.

I am frequently overwhelmed because there’s so much I want to/need to teach the beginners, but when I take the time during class to pull them aside and do a lesson, I feel as though I’m neglecting the advanced kids. They don’t mind, since they like the independence, but there are many skills and techniques I need to develop in them, as well. A few of the less-experienced ones are able to meet me for one-on-one lessons in study halls, which has been invaluable. This also gives me a chance to encourage them, and work on exercises which are tailored to them specifically and which support the work we’re doing in a large group.

Another strategy that I’ve found successful is to have the whole group together in one room, but rehearse certain sections of music with certain groups of students. I ask those who aren’t playing to listen critically and offer suggestions for improvement. They like the chance to be the “teachers,” and they’re (usually!) constructive in their comments. I have a larger goal to develop their analytical listening, and this is one step towards that goal which helps us improve our repertoire at the same time.

In the time since your first post, Ruiza412, have you found anything that works particularly well for your kids? I’m doing a lot of trial and error, and I’d be happy to swap stories of triumphs and disasters!