|Ms. Tinder K. Burris (email@example.com)
Southwood Middle School
Subject: Best Practices:
Every Monday, the students in the Southwood Middle School Orchestra must perform a short excerpt of either an etude or method book exercise. I devised 15-point checklist criteria. As each student performs I circle the number of any criteria that is not met. Then, I add up the points and assign the grade according to the corresponding score.
At the end of each grading period, students must have their parent sign the score sheet. This is an excellent way of communicating student's strengths and weaknesses, especially those parents who question their child's progress in orchestra.
The quiz assignment is given every Tuesday before the quiz day. It is posted on the classroom board and on Schoolnotes.com. Our school website is: new.schoolnotes.com/swmsorchestra
The etude is practiced during at least one class meeting the week before the scheduled quiz day. I also assign a metronome marking and either perform the etude on a string instrument or on the piano.
When demonstrating anything on a stringed instrument it is extremely important to demonstrate proper posture. Most students are visual learners and will definitely copy what they see. Demonstration on an instrument is probably one of the most effective teaching tools. Also, if necessary, take home an instrument that you are not comfortable with. Practice at home and become proficient on all the stringed instruments. I make it a habit to play each instrument at least once a week with each of my classes.
Train your string ensembles to tune in at least 2-3 minutes at the beginning or class. Do not let them dawdle. Have the Concertmaster tune cellos and basses first, then violins and violas. During this time I take care of administrative stuff, i.e., attendance, admit notices, etc.
Train your string ensembles to start and stop with the baton. Do not give them verbal instructions. Also, do not give count-offs! Students will learn to start with the baton's down-beat.
Teach students to sub-divide! Tap, clap and count: My students are graded on "Tap, clap and count" quizzes. They must coordinate all three while reading from a rhythm chart (Sueta). Or, instead of clapping, "air-bow" but whatever method you choose THEY MUST COUNT OUT-LOUD and TOE TAP THE BEAT!
If you can, incorporate chamber music into your orchestra program. The chamber music curriculum will teach numerous skills especially how to listen and blend in. Also, string students can't hide in a violin section and will have exposed parts.
I am lucky enough to have a parent booster club to raise funds to hire a chamber music coach. She works with our students about 2-3 hours a week. If you do not have the resources to hire someone try having your students meet you before or after school. You will see huge improvement in your large ensembles because of the exposure to chamber music.
I try and start each school day by taking a big breath and reminding myself to have patience. Teaching strings can be an arduous task but one of the most rewarding professions in music. Pace yourself and your students slowly! If you find your students are just not getting it, STOP. Do not try and beat a concept over your student's head. Redirect your class and play something fun they already know.
Insist upon good intonation. Do not allow students to consistently play out of tune. Stop and have each student match their pitch to your voice or piano. Eventually, they will start playing in tune but YOU MUST INSIST ON GOOD INTONATION.
If you are a new teacher, listen to as many groups at MPA as possible. Learn from what you hear and always choose music YOU LIKE. Eventually, you will have experience in knowing what middle school students like and what you like and strike a happy medium. DO NOT CHOOSE MUSIC TOO DIFFICULT OR TOO EASY. Know what concepts are being covered in the selections. Match concepts to the concepts you are covering in your method books. Always practice scales in the key of the pieces you are working on.
Pick a variety of styles (baroque, modern, classical) for MPA.