How to teach orchestra?

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  • #6700
    nafmeadmin
    Keymaster

    I am a middle school choir teacher but will also be taking on the school’s orchestra classes next year. I have had a couple of years of violin lessons, and know the basics of care of instruments, and how to play each. I could use some hints on how to choose literature, what I need to know to teach orchestra, or ideas of where to go for resources. Thanks for the help!

    #6748
    nafmeadmin
    Keymaster

    Here are a few NAfME resources on choosing repertoire that may help:

    Web article: “Choosing Literature” — http://musiced.nafme.org/interest-areas/orchestral-education/choosing-literature/

    Teaching Music article: “Spotlight on Repertoire: Finding Your Musical Oasis,” October 2009

    Good Luck!
    Linda Brown
    NAfME Staff

    #7172
    nafmeadmin
    Keymaster

    If you can continue your violin lessons that will help a lot! There are a lot of things that you don’t think may be challenging for string players until you’ve tried them yourself, plus the kids generally respect it to see that you are putting effort into what they are doing. Orchestra kids want to know that you want to teach orchestra. Also, familiarize yourself with all of the instruments you’re teaching. If you use a method book, get one out for each instrument and go through it with the instrument, take notes, familiarize yourself with the fingerings. Keep a book or a fingering chart on hand for quick references during class. Find someone in your district or surrounding area that is an experienced string teacher that can help with all of the quick repairs and fixes that comes through experience. BTW, finger tape… 1/8″ auto pin striping tape in the auto parts store… lots of pretty colors!

    For choosing music, just try not to over program. If you’re unsure where they are at the beginning of the year do a lot of sight reading. It will give you a chance to play around with different skill levels of music and see what they know, plus gives them good sight reading practice. If I can recommend one thing, try to make their first concert as successful as possible, even if that means playing a grade easier music than you think they should be playing. You have the whole year to bump up the difficulty, but for that first concert whatever they play should be perfect… Choose a difficulty where they can achieve that.

    Hope that helps!

    #30889
    nafmeadmin
    Keymaster

    Middle School orchestra is a wonderful time to work on tonality, playing in tune, and playing musically. At least in my opinion, starting those concepts early on can only be beneficial. Great pieces to do that are always folk tunes, or something familiar that the kids are in to and ambitious towards. As soon a students hear creative tunes from Appalachia or the west, they’re immediately intrigued and have a blast playing it. Sweet we have them passionate towards the material! It’s not that difficult, the students are connecting, ow we can challenge them further to really get those chords in tune and to really focus in on that crescendo and make the most of it possible. Hope this helps!

    #30909
    nafmeadmin
    Keymaster

    I think a big factor is definitely picking music that engages the students- familiar standards, movie themes, pop tunes. When kids are excited about what they’re playing, I think they’re more likely to try harder and practice.
    A good thing to focus on in rehearsals is playing in tune and playing with good time. I’ve seen all too many young orchestras have a characteristic “string-out-of-tune” sound. If rehearsals are focused on intonation, then the students will eventually become more inherently aware of it. When the students are playing in tune, they’ll start to notice how good they sound, and most likely get even more excited about their playing.
    In the end, I’d say it comes down to keeping the kids engaged and excited about orchestra. Middle school is a big time for people to feel “too cool” to be in orchestra, so it’s important to make sure that orchestra stays relevant in the lives of the students.

    #30966
    nafmeadmin
    Keymaster

    All of the repertoire should be engaging for the students, though you want it familiar at the same time. The whole time of middle school orchestra offers so much for molding the children’s audiation abilities. Tonality and playing in tune is key. Having the students humming or singing melodies and pitches before they play, this will help them develop a better sense of tonality.
    Keep studying the violin yourself though. Modeling will be a fantastic way to teach students, doing so will help tremendously with their bow strokes too. If on simple exercises you could walk around and play with proper bowing as well, then the students would be able to follow you for beats and pitch.
    Just keep the students engaged, and they will be excited about orchestra. As stated above, keep the class relevant to the students and the concept of being “too cool” can be avoided.

    #31825
    nafmeadmin
    Keymaster

    I am a music education student. Your situation is one of my future placement concerns. The only string experience comes from my college string methods class. I don’t have enough confidence in my ability to play middle school music at this level on strings. This doesn’t mean that I can’t teach strings. It just makes it harder to get my point across. I do plan on continuing my string studies, so you do need to get your violin out and start practicing.
    The choosing literature link provided by “Linda B” puts everything into perspective. It made the big picture look a whole lot smaller.
    The best resource I have found is the local orchestra. These musicians have a vast knowledge of instruments, and can point you in the right direction in any situation.They can help you with instrument selections, setting up workshops, repertoire choices, repair shops, and teaching strategies. The students should see and hear a real orchestra to get a better understanding of the instruments capabilities. The orchestra provides a medium to discuss dynamics, articulations, intonation, and rhythm with your students.

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