You Want Me to Teach an Instrument I Can't Play?!

Times are tough – stocks are falling, the economy is taking a turn for the worse, and prices are going through the roof. Due to cuts in school music budgets, some choral, band, and general music instructors are now being asked to teach strings and orchestra even though they have minimal or no experience. Here are some tips to bail you out and help you get through these challenging times.


  • Trust your core holdings – Remember, music is music. Christian Bernhard II, Chair of Music Education at State University of New York at Fredonia, states, “Pitches, rhythms, intonation, precision, phrasing, balance, blend, etc., have many unifying characteristics regardless of the music medium. Trust your musicianship to avoid the potential paralysis of teaching nothing because you are not completely comfortable within a given specialty.” You are the highly qualified music educator and already have a broad base of music knowledge.


  • Set a budget – Budget your time and set goals for your own learning. Just as you ask your students to schedule time to practice, do the same. Schedule a chunk of time to practice technique and repertoire each day. Keep a journal and note the progress you are making toward your own playing and teaching goals. This will help you stay focused and keep you motivated. Don’t get burnt out. Remember to take time for yourself.


  • Balance your portfolio – Seek out your string colleagues. Pick their brains. Ask them for private teacher recommendations. Attend a rehearsal by a local youth symphony or honors group at a state MEA conference. Sit in on private lessons and master classes by Suzuki and other studio teachers who have a good reputation in your area. Take a string class at your local university. Bernhard says, “Local music vendors, university professors, and music education majors can also be excellent resources for extra help, often in a win-win situation for all involved.”


Are you a teacher in this position, or do you have advice for those who are? Post your stories, comments, and tips on the Chorus/Band now teaching 1st/2nd year strings orchestra thread. Read this article in Conn-Selmer Keynotes® for more advice.

MENC member H. Christian Bernhard II, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor and Chair of Music Education at the State University of New York at Fredonia in Fredonia, New York.

— Nicole Springer, November 19, 2008. © National Association for Music Education.