High School Orchestra

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  • #34978

    Hi there!

    I am a music education student at Kent State University with a focus on band. While I am currently taking string methods and have played in the Kent State Orchestra for the past two years (I am a flutist), I feel as though I am more prepared to teach beginning strings rather than high school. I was wondering if someone could provide me some insight on the major differences between teaching beginning orchestra and high school orchestra. Also, what types of warm ups do you incorporate in your ensemble, how often do you have your students sing, and how do you go about choosing repertoire for your ensemble? Also, what are typical issues you see in high school string players’ technique, and how do you address these issues?

    Any insight would be much appreciated!

    Thanks so much!


    Pacing is one of the biggest differences with beginners versus high school. I find that high energy and lots of rote learning get the kids playing. Obviously the students are there to play their instruments. Make sure you instruct less and they play more. Keep your comments clear and concise and repeat play. Here is a sample of how elementary goes:
    I always have a “bell ringer” activity on the smart board before class, take care of checking practice logs and tuning with elementary before the start of class. When I begin formal instruction, I always jump on the podium, grab my violin and say “good morning!” I except an energetic response with students sitting up with good posture (My students are trained with this response as I have taught them how to react when a director steps up on the podium). I start with the open string cycle and/or bowing exercises with a scale. I go through demonstrating difficult spots in the music we are learning and have them echo and repeat. The students are constantly playing or listening to my demo and responding. If it is a good class, we can get through 2 pages in the method book or 3 fiddle tunes as we are working on right now.
    High school because of block pacing is different:
    Class Begins with tuning. 15-20 minute warm up related to the focus of the day. 20-30 minute rehearsal of each piece we are working on is typical. We have sectionals more often when learning new pieces. We try to have weekly playing assessments either live or video recorded. When working with high school students, I tend to try to connect with their mood and alter my pacing with that. If it’s a slow Monday, I might stop after warm up and ask them to do some listening. If we are rehearsing well with a piece, we may continue longer than 30 minutes rehearsing, or we may record sections and playback. Programming your music is also one of the most important parts of instructing high schoolers as well…but that’s too much to write in this post.


    Thanks so much for the quick response, Ms. Gibson!

    I have just a couple more questions if you don’t mind answering them…

    1. When your groups work in sectionals, do you always have a section leader run the sectional? And will this always be the same student? Or will you have a couple students “team teach” the sectionals?
    2. Playing a string instrument requires a lot of ear training and building your students’ aural skills. Which methods have you found to work best when using aural skills in the classroom?


    I have to jump on this to ask some questions. Though I LOVE the concept of setting excitement and the mood for he rehearsal.

    1) What warm-up methods specifically do you sue with your orchestras? From a band stand up long tones, slurs, and chorales wouldn’t transfer so well into an orchestra.
    2) How do you tune the orchestra? Do you use personal tuners like a snark, or some other method?
    3) How would you recommend increasing our own personal playing ability to adequately demonstrate on a string instrument for them? I am only a beginner on orchestral strings, but classically trained on guitar.

    Thanks for any information and help!

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