The First 5 Lessons: From Nothing to Something!

Orchestra director Lindsay Ladman deals with large group classes of 30-40 elementary students twice a week. Large class sizes can present many challenges for teaching beginners. Ladman has developed a teaching plan over the first five class periods that keeps students engaged all the way from learning the class procedures and the parts of the instrument to playing the first note. Links go to the resources on Ladman’s website, which are available for teachers to use in their classrooms.

Class 1:

  • Introductions, attendance, double check student enrollment info
  • Parts of the Instrument Game (each part on a slip of paper, students draw from hat and point to part on one of the “demo” instruments—this could be teacher’s instrument or a student who brought their instrument today)
  • Review Care of Stringed Instruments
  • If your method book comes with a DVD or CD, assign students to watch and listen to these.

Class 2:

  • Students bring instruments for first time! (If your schedule allows, go early to tune each instrument before class begins, adjust shoulder rests to each instrument, etc.)
  • Explain Daily Strings Class Procedures (how to enter the room, read the board, unpack at the back of the room, come to your stand, fold your nametag over your stand, warm up)
  • Open cases together on floor for safety and teaching purposes; no bows yet—leave in case!
  • Materials Check—call out each item, students hold it up so you can see (do a visual overall check, which is easiest in large classes)
  • Do “Parts of the Instrument” Worksheet—homework, due at next class

Class 3:

  • Monitor and practice Daily Strings Class Procedures (covered in Class 2 above)
  • Seating/Standing Arrangement: Students stand where their folder is (folders assembled ahead of time and on stands before students arrive)
  • Tuning Procedure: Line up to tune (students bring shoulder rests with them—help adjust and put these on if needed; give foam square/rubberband to those who need)
  • Learn rest position

Class 4:

  • Monitor and practice Daily Strings Class Procedures
  • Tuning (line up)
  • Review rest position
  • Learn Playing Position: Numbers Game (1, 2, 3)
  • Hershey’s “Hugs” Game—“hug” your instrument for 10 seconds, put Hershey’s Hug in scroll/peg box and make sure it stays there the entire 10 seconds!
  • Learn how to pizzicato: make an “L-icopter” with your right hand (fly it around in the air, and land it on its landing pad—the corner of the fingerboard).
  • Learn the Names of the Open Strings (diagrams on board and in folder): Teacher or student leads, “pluck your ____ string”
  • Open String Song: “Ants”
  • Open String Song: “The Blues”

Class 5:

MENC member Lindsay Ladman is the orchestra director at Lakewood Middle School and Heusner and Sunset Elementary Schools in the USD305 School District in Salina, Kansas. Ladman is also the Tri-M advisor at Lakewood Middle School, winner of the 2010 Chapter of the Year in the junior division.

— Nicole Springer. May 25, 2010. © National Association for Music Education.