Starting in the Middle, Part 2

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. Read about the benefits in Part 1.

However, there are some drawbacks to beginning strings in sixth grade:

  • Students won’t be able to learn the skills they need to in such a short time.
  • The band program is too strong, and you’ll never recruit enough kids if you start at the same time.
  • There might not be as many students in regional honors orchestra.
  • Students won’t sight-read at large group orchestra contests/festivals as well as others.

According to NAfME’s Opportunity-to-Learn Standards, instruction on stringed instruments should begin no later than fourth grade. While starting in elementary school is the best, sometimes it’s not possible in every school district. You have to overcome the drawbacks.

Berger states, “If you teach in a district that cannot support an elementary string program, don’t rule out the possibility of starting in sixth grade. You may be surprised what your students can do! We have found many benefits, have kept our program strong, and are achieving at the highest levels at state and national competitions.”

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

— Nicole Springer. September 28, 2010. © National Association for Music Education.