Starting in the Middle, Part 1

Orchestra Director Diane Berger at Sequoyah Middle School in Edmond, Oklahoma, says the benefits of starting string instruction in middle school (grades 6-8) far outweigh the drawbacks. Berger was concerned when she moved to a school district that started strings in sixth grade instead of fourth or fifth grade. In time she found that most of her ninth-grade players in the high school orchestra had caught up and were playing at the same level as those in nearby districts. To her surprise, she found many benefits to beginning strings in sixth grade.

  • You have more time to teach. Most middle schools schedule orchestra during the school day, and many teachers meet with students daily for orchestra. Posture, finger position, bowing, and note-reading can be monitored closely.
  • Sixth graders learn faster. Sixth graders are more physically and mentally mature than elementary students. Technique comes faster for them, especially when it can be reinforced daily. They are also able to get a decent sound from the bow in less time.
  • Less transition means less attrition. We often lose students “between schools.” With only one transition between schools (middle school to high school), our high school orchestras have larger string sections.
  • Sixth graders are eager to learn and be responsible for their instruments. Incoming sixth graders are so “pumped up” about finally getting out of elementary school that everything they do is a really big deal. Parents are often as excited as kids!
  • Everybody knows your name. In middle school you are part of the curriculum, not just another pullout program. By working at the same school each day, all the administrative staff know who you are, and the principals know your teaching techniques; they know you will be back tomorrow helping students master a new bowing or rehearsing for the upcoming concert.

Adapted from Strings in Middle School: And the Surprising Benefits One Teacher Discovered by Diane Berger, August 2004 Teaching Music.

Part 2

— Nicole Springer. September 22, 2010. © National Association for Music Education.