Implementing my ideas

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    So, this year I am trying some new things with my high school orchestra. The first is a before school chamber orchestra. I KNOW that I have students that will commit to it and interested in its existence. This needs to be an auditioned group, I believe, so the kids NOT doing it (by choice of their own by not auditioning) understand that it’s not a favorites game. I have a VERY mixed bag of kids this year…very strong, and quite weak, all in the same class period.

    Another thing I am going to do this year is actually audition for chairs and sections (really, only auditioning for first violin), so the kids have a fire lit under their butts to achieve something. Again, I know that I have a lot of kids that will be REALLY motivated by this, and will make them feel like they have to do something to do well in my class. Last year, a lot of them complained that they weren’t challenged enough, but, being high school students, they didn’t take that as a challenge to totally nail the music, but it all sounded a little bored.

    My question is, how do I implement these strategies? I have a co-teacher, but I don’t have much support from her, nor do I feel like I will get a fair judging of the results. She has, for the past four years, challenged EVERYTHING I’ve done and insisted I do it the way the teacher two before me did. I don’t want to take weeks and weeks to do this…how can I get it done quickly?


    If you are not evaluating the outcomes of your instruction and considering how they play in their quarterly report card marks, then you must be marking purely on attendance or behavior. When I was teaching high school, I tried to hear every student individually once a quarter. You can have them play excerpts from the forthcoming concert, but you can include scales, arpeggios, a rhythmic exercise, even sigh treading.

    Especially since you have an assistant teacher, this ought to be possible. If nothing else, set up a video recorder in a side room; split the playback with your helper.

    Music is a PERFORMING ART. What grade they earn really ought to reflect how they play.

    Does this make any sense?

    Gabriel Villasurda
    Ann Arbor MI


    I concur: the most powerful tool you have to motivate the assistant teacher is STUDENT LEARNING. set goals, teach, measure results and then reteach.
    What skills do the lower-level players need to develop? What skills are next for the more advanced kids? If you need assistance, American String Teachers Association has a FABULOUS curriculum developed for K-12 schools.


    While I agree that chair placement is a great motivator for driving your students to success, be careful when you are splitting the violins into I and II sections. If you put all of the strong players into the Violin I part, your seconds are going to struggle immensely, and this could cause more headaches than having a very strong violin I section is worth. Put a couple of your stronger players into the seconds. It shouldn’t be split 50/50 of course, but maybe a quarter of your better players should sit with the seconds each season. This will help the balance of talent in the ensemble. Also, rotate the sections, give every player a chance at playing both parts frequently. They will get better by experiencing the harder music than having them only on the second parts their entire time in the orchestra.
    Also, the chamber group is a fantastic idea. If it could become a focal point of the ensemble, it could lead to more groups, and students will work harder just for a shot to make it into the chamber group.
    As for implementing these ideas, villasurdag290 has great suggestions. You want to make sure they are well balanced with both their scales (major and natural minor), their performance pieces, and intonation. If you give the students a list as soon as possible with just 2 scales, an excerpt of something reasonable, and maybe some sight reading, you and your co teacher could knock most of the kids out in a week or two.

    Ryan Critchfield
    Kent State University Student, Music Education


    I think your ideas are great. You are creating a group for students to play more, learn some new ensemble techniques and repertoire of playing in a chamber group, and this will also provide a challenge for your advanced players. In my mind you should always audition for chairs. This will allow you to make sure you have the right students on the right parts, like you said, provide more motivation for students to practice, and also gives them experience with the whole audition process, which will help students who might audition for music school or other performance jobs. Now regarding your assistant teacher, have you fought for your case stating the educational value these ideas would add for your students? Does she not want to put in the extra time to implement these new ideas? Maybe tell her she does not have to be involved in the beginning; you can get outside help to help with the auditions. If you have enough practice rooms you can hire a person to audition each section and you could probably get it knocked out in a day, or have the auditions before or after school. Maybe find out what her thoughts are and try to sway her to see your side, or find out how you can use the tactics of the old director to implement your ideas, sort of like compromising. It just seems like you need to try and motivate your assistant to these new ideas, which to me is shocking you would have to do such a thing, because I believe your ideas are educationally logical. Hope this helps.

    Rob Hassing
    Undergraduate of Music Education
    Kent State University

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