To share a career’s worth of experience and understanding by making available original teaching materials designed to elevate the technical and musical skills of young string players and the pedagogical potential of string music educators.
•WHY MATERIALS LIKE THESE ARE NEEDED
Most school string teachers use a standard method book I to start their beginning classes in the 5th or 6th grade. Many continue on to volume II for a second year of study. Most books I and II do a decent job of presenting first position with all the chromatic permutations required to play grade 2 music. For these two years the curriculum was the method book, and it works.
•THE WEAK LINK
Ask any music dealer; they sell very few Book IIIs and IVs. By and large, directors stop using method books. Their curriculum becomes the orchestral repertoire maybe supplemented by scales and ensemble warm-up routines. So, unless students take private lessons, an organized survey of technique stalls at the grade 2 level. Alert arrangers and music publishers have caught on to this; they bend over backward to avoid anything higher than third position or anything faster than eighth-notes. The sheet music catalogues are rife with watered-down, dumbed-down abridged products.
•GETTING THEM TO THE ADULT LEVEL
By the time they reach high school students deserve to play music of the master composers. English courses study Shakespeare, Dickens, Steinbeck and other “adult” authors. Orchestra musicians should play unarranged and unsimplified works by Mozart, Beethoven, Tchaikowski and Copland. Of course, grade 2 technique will not do.
•WHAT’S IN YOUR CURRICULUM?
It is the teacher’s responsibility not to surrender the curriculum to the authors of method books and the commercial arranger/simplifiers, but rather to chart out a multi-year plan to elevate all aspects of musicianship: left hand, bowing, phrasing, vibrato, expressiveness, sightreading, and so on. If method books cannot supply pertinent materials, directors should devise exercises themselves. With the advent of computers and notation software, preparing original teaching materials is quite easy. One concentrated study of an important skill together with maningful assessment is worth a thousand casual mentions, reminders and scoldings.
Take any standard work on a state “required” list, say Egmont Overture. The first violins need VII position. The teacher needs to ask him/herself, “Have I ever taught them VII position?” If not, go ahead and teach them! Better late than never. While you’re at it, get the violas, cellos and basses to get up there too.
•DEALING WITH ALL THE INSTRUMENTS
Private teachers know that there are many good etude books for teaching high positions for the violin, or each of the other instruments. How does one teach high positions in a string orchestra setting with students who do not take lessons? Avoiding the issue is certainly not a good option.
The materials on this website were written in response to the need to get all students to use these higher positions. Throughout grades 9-12, every student played these pieces. The most advanced orchestra used them for warm-ups. The younger groups drilled and played them in class and for periodic tests. Over a period of a couple years, shifting fluency really improved.
•MARKING THE ORCHESTRAL PARTS
Getting good bowings and fingerings on the orchestra parts is extremely important. Even students who study with good private teachers sometimes fail to use in orchestra the advanced techniques they learn in the private studio. The director has to know what is best then insist the students do it right. Visual monitoring is necessary to be sure all the players are following the markings. Don’t let them do it wrong!
It is an unusual teacher who has equal expertise on violin, viola, cello, and bass. Most teachers play one instrument at the “adult” level. When it comes to the others, getting authentic fingerings from a “real” player is important. If we want our students to play “adult” fingerings, then we have to get the very best markings–the way the professionals would play it. Directors need to cultivate working relationships with colleagues and friends. Over the years I have begged, bartered, and paid cash for good fingerings and bowings. For friends and colleagues, I have furnished such services in return for home-cooked dinners countless times.