There are few things more beautiful than watching children receive their first opportunity to play an instrument. Imagine the looks of anticipation, excitement, and joy as students open their cases for the first time. What does the classroom look like in your imagination? What should an effective strings classroom look like? Have you had the opportunity to observe or participate in a heterogeneously grouped string class? How should you structure the first day? What if you have never played a stringed instrument before but are hired to teach orchestra? Where and how should you begin?
Teaching strings is a skill that can be learned and developed by both string players and non-string players alike. In order to become a successful string teacher, one simply needs to understand the fundamental principles of proper setup, tuning, tone production, basic articulations, bowings, fingerings, and instrument maintenance. Once these concepts are mastered, teaching strings becomes logical and intuitive because much of the technique can be assessed visually. Combined with strong musicianship skills, effective sequencing, and classroom management, these foundational principles can guide a teacher through beginning, intermediate, and advanced string instruction in a heterogeneous classroom.
Qualified string teachers are currently in high demand. The number of students who participate in community and school orchestra programs has steadily increased over the last several decades with the support of the National String Project Consortium1
and El Sistema Programs2
and through increased participation in public school programs.3
According to the National String Project Consortium, in 2009 a national shortage of public school string educators was identified with an anticipated need for 3,000 new string teachers. To accommodate the need for string teachers, the number of non-string specialists teaching orchestra has increased over the past two decades.4,5
Indeed, recent research suggests that nearly one in three string teachers is a non-string player.6
Preservice teachers frequently
question the probability that they may teach outside of their primary content area, or area of interest, but in reality, teaching in multiple areas is increasingly more common. This textbook provides the information needed for interested musicians to become successful and confident string teachers, regardless of their primary musical instrument. String instrument performers will also gain important pedagogical information that will enable them to be successful teaching all four bowed instruments and more effective when communicating about their craft.
Why teach strings?
Because we need more qualified string teachers so that every child has the opportunity to learn.
Cultural background impacts the way in which individuals learn.7
Characteristics such as language, gender, age, socioeconomic status, religion, and personal beliefs all shape the ways in which people process information. Consider your own experiences growing up. In what type of community did you reside? What language did you speak at home? How did your experiences impact the way that you learned? Many misunderstandings can occur if people are unaware of different societal norms. We make assumptions based on our own experience. For example, if you have always resided in the United States you may be surprised to find that people in the Southern Hemisphere drive north and associate the north with hotter temperatures. Eye contact is culturally specific depending on where you live. Some cultures show respect through eye contact while in others, it may be a sign of disrespect.
The demographics of public school students is becoming increasingly diverse and teachers are expected to increase their cross-cultural competence and global awareness. Teachers who are culturally aware and responsive to their students increase student well-being, motivation, sense of belonging, and achievement.8
Music, in particular, is connected to culture and identity.9
For this reason, music teachers should learn as much as possible about students’ backgrounds, strengths, and interests. Meeting the needs of every student requires the inclusion of diverse teaching strategies, diverse music, and a student-centered approach that empowers students to share their knowledge with their teacher and peers. String classrooms provide a wonderful opportunity to embrace diversity because string instruments are very eclectic and can be found across a variety of cultures and styles of music.
String pedagogy is rooted in a strong performance tradition that originated in the private studio. Whereas the public school models for choir and band are based largely on an ensemble approach, performance pedagogues have shaped the field of string education. Individuals such as Ivan Galamian,10
and Franz Simandl15
contributed approaches commonly used in the private studio. Shinichi Suzuki, Elizabeth Green, and Paul Rolland later provided models for group instruction that transitioned private studio pedagogy into group environments (see boxed information).
(1898–1998) was a violinist and educator whose teaching centered on the ideal that talent was not inborn but an ability that could be nurtured and taught. He developed the “mother-tongue approach” in which initial music instruction is done through rote activities and imitation, just as a baby learns language. Beginning instruction at an early age (3–4 years), daily music listening, constant repetition, teaching technique through musical literature, and parental involvement are integral aspects of the Suzuki method. https://suzukiassociation.org/about/suzuki-method/shinichi-suzuki/
Elizabeth A. H. Green (1906–1995) impacted the world of string education through her work as a music educator and conducting pedagogue. She taught music education at the University of Michigan while simultaneously teaching high school and middle school orchestra. Her many texts include Orchestral Bowings and Routines, First Steps in the Galamian Bowing Method, The Modern Conductor, Musicianship and Repertory for the High School Orchestra, Teaching String Instruments in Classes, Increasing the Proficiency on the Violin, The Con...