By Dr. Wesley K. DeSpain
I grew up playing the clarinet. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to perform in a full orchestra for three years during high school and for two years in a youth orchestra program sponsored by the professional orchestra in my city. I became a member of the same professional orchestra’s clarinet section in my mid-twenties.
As a result, I came to love the orchestral repertoire, but was a bit intimidated by the prospect of teaching strings since I had very limited personal experience as a string player. I have benefitted greatly from the influence and encouragement of string education mentors and now enjoy teaching strings to grades 5-12 for my district.
Here are a few suggestions for wind players teaching strings:
- Relax. Rely upon and keep developing your musical intuition. You can do this!
- Take private lessons and get as many of your students as you can to work with a specialist on their instrument.
- Bring in private teachers or college professors for sectional or group work whenever possible.
- If you can’t demonstrate a technique that the players need, ask an advanced player in your ensemble to do so. Perhaps you can demonstrate it on your wind instrument, sing it, or use a recording.
- Play a string instrument during the ensemble’s daily warm-up. Don’t worry about being perfect; you make a connection with students when they see your humanity.
- Think about the parallels between what wind players do with the breath and tongue and what string players to with the bow and hand/arm.
- The great thing about string instruments is that you can see everything! Insist on good playing position.
- If an articulation isn’t clean or if the ensemble is not together, look first at the bows: Is the ensemble changing bows together? Are they all in the right part of the bow?
- If you don’t train them (hassle them) otherwise, your students will play everything in the middle of the bow; it is safe and comfortable there.
- Go to workshops for string teachers and get familiar with good repertoire.
- Watch other string teachers at work and ask questions. Observe professional string players and take your students to concerts so that they can do the same.
- Choose music written by composers/arrangers that knew/know how to write for strings. Your students need a strong dose of music written by “classical” composers.
- Let your students know that you care about them; work hard for them. This will overcome the fact that you don’t know everything.
- Establish and maintain a good relationship with the band director in your school.