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Friday, June 24, 2016

Another Fun Find for String Teachers - BOW CRITTERS

GUESS WHAT I FOUND!!??  I was browsing the other day and found these cute little 'Wine Watchers Wine Charms'...

They reminded me of little bow markers that some Suzuki teachers put on student bows to get them to play in a certain section of the bow.  Little bow markers are great for teaching bow distribution and they make bow games more fun when students can watch a little critter on their bow.  I ordered them and they came in the mail today.  They are so cute!

I put them on my bow and they work perfectly.  They are super easy to put on the bow and they stay put.

 As I pulled my bow, the little critter stopped my stroke so I had to stay in the parameters I set.  Also, they were fun to watch as I bowed, so I think students would love to have them on their bows.  These little critters are perfect for helping students keep their eyes on their bows for straight bowing.  Also they will help students become aware of how the bow is traveling.  Amazon also sells a sloth version of these and I just ordered them.  I just wish they were less expensive so I could buy a bunch for all of my beginners!  Guess we'll have to share.  

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Exploring Shifting for String Orchestra - ready for purchase!

It's finally finished - my book for teaching shifting in string orchestra!  I started working on this last year because I HATED teaching shifting in my orchestra class.  The method books I used had shifting exercises for my 2nd year players, but I found that my students would get frustrated trying to play those pages because they weren't ready.  Students need time to internalize the motions for shifting and they needed simple exercises to help them learn to read notes in a new position. 

I haven't been able to depend on standard method books for teaching shifting because the exercises in those books move too quickly.  They contain tricky rhythms which draw student focus away from the task at hand...shifting!  I found myself skipping sections about shifting and feeling guilty that my students were not proficient in that area.  

My frustrations with teaching shifting changed last year when I started using many of the exercises in this book with my 2nd year students.  I also switched method books...I now use String Explorer book 1 for my beginners because that book takes students further in technique than any other book.  For my 2nd year players, I use  String Basics book 2.  It's not very hard...we get through the book in about 1/2 a year.  Students get really good at playing flats and extensions - which is my goal for them during their 2nd year.  Then we have time to take a break from our method book and focus on shifting for a term.  I didn't spend tons of time each day....maybe 5-10 minutes.  It didn't take long for my students to play in 3rd position with great intonation.   My 3rd year students are using String Basics book 3 -which contains a lot of 3rd position.  After using the exercises in 'Exploring Shifting for String Orchestra,' I feel my students will now be well-prepared to easily master the shifting regimen in book 3.

Here's my favorite part about teaching shifting to my 2nd year helps the students stay super motivated!  I purchased a couple of pieces for them to play that had some shifting:  'American Princess' by Bob Phillips and 'Impact' by Bob Phillips.  Both pieces are gorgeous and I played the audio for my students so they would really want to learn the music.  My class fell in love with both pieces and they were willing to work hard to master them to sound amazing.  The great thing about those pieces is that every section of the orchestra gets to shift and the melodies and harmonies are fun to play in position!  I even got out a cello and learned the cello part myself because the music is so beautiful.  

Thanks to the shifting work we had done, my students excelled at learning our concert music.  It was a lot of work..don't get me wrong....but they were able to do it with great intonation and musical phrasing.  When we performed, I was in tears, the audience was in tears, and students felt such a sense of accomplishment. It is now one of my happiest performance memories and I'm so proud of my students....and it all started with a willingness to teach shifting in a way that all students could achieve success.

My book contains a 50 page teacher manual with tips for teaching shifting and 18 page student books for violin, viola, cello and bass (123 pages total).  I am not selling a hard printed copy of this book.  You can purchase a PDF downloadable version HERE or HERE.  The beauty of a printable book is that you can print as many as you need for your entire class at a very low price.  You can also pick and choose which pages to do if you don't want to use the entire book.  It is a lot cheaper to print your own shifting workbook than to buy a hard copy of a book for every student.  Also if you find any errors, feel free to email me and I will fix it and re-send the file.

I'm the first to admit that I'm not a bass player.  Bass shifting can get pretty crazy.  I have some really smart bass students in my class who enjoyed figuring out higher positions.  For my bass players that are slower learners, I allowed them to change fingerings and play more in 1st position.  As a teacher, you can change/adjust fingerings as needed depending on student ability levels.  

Read the preface for more info about the book and a sample of the first couple pages below:

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The idea that's ROCKING MY WORLD!

This idea isn't totally new..I've heard of teachers using a variety of tubular objects for students to practice straight bowing...such as toilet paper rolls, paper towel rolls, PVC pipe, and even pool noodles (cut into chunks and used with a wooden dowel).  Usually, these types of bowing exercises are done away from the instrument.  For example, young violin/viola students place a tube on their shoulder while bowing inside the tube....cello players sometimes put tubes on their knees and place bows inside.  The reason why I like this 'new' object for practicing bowing is that it can be placed directly on the string for bowing practice without making a bit of it's so soft, there's no way it would damage the instrument. It's the best thing I've ever seen for practicing straight bows!  It would be perfect for an orchestra/strings classroom because students can do this themselves as the teacher monitors...or a teacher could have students practice in pairs (one student holds the tube, the other bows).

Anyway, I'm sure you're getting curious...what is the object that is rocking my world???


They work perfectly for cello students.  The left hand can hold the roller in place as it sits softly on the string while the bow hand practices various rhythms.  You could even have students 'roll' the paint roller to specific strings to practice bow levels.  Why practice straight bows away from the instrument?  This way seems so much more practical.

Violin and viola students might need a person to hold the roller...but there is a way to make the roller stay in place on the string and still be flexible enough to allow students to roll the bow inside the roller to specific strings.  To do this, I used a large rubber band - many of you probably have these large sized rubber bands on hand for shoulder rests.  By putting the band around the violin length-wise, the roller easily slides underneath and will stay put even as students rock to different strings.

I found these rollers a Wal-Mart for $2.97 for a 3-pack.  I plan on buying quite a few of these for my beginners.  There are many ways to make silent bowing more fun.  You could teach simple rhythms and have students practice bowing rhythms...teach bow direction...have students bow silently to fun music/popular tunes for bow exercises.  You could even teach bow distribution using these babies...what a good visual to help students really see how much bow they are using.

So what do you think?  Does this rock your world, too?...or am I just an orchestra geek?

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

"Stop Plucking!" - Reverse Rest Position!

I'm sure you've all said it before...."Stop Plucking!"  It's a common plague in the string orchestra classroom.  Some students don't even realize they're doing's so easy to sit in rest position and casually pluck your instrument.  Other students just can't wait to try the next new technique being taught, so they sneakily try to practice and pluck before it's time to play as a class.  It's not fun to teach over the noise of plucking out of turn...and it can be distracting for other students who are trying to listen and internalize the lesson.   Class time is so much more efficient if students stay with the teacher and only play/pluck when directed to do so.

Just before the end of the school year, I found myself saying the nagging phrase, "Stop plucking," over and over again.  Sometimes I have students place their instruments on the floor so that it is not possible for them to pluck, but it takes time to put instruments down and pick them up again and I like to keep a very fast paced rehearsal.  Every minute is important to me.  Finally the thought came to me - 'I should just have them put their instruments is reverse rest-position!'  That is how this strategy was born.  When it is time for students to listen and not pluck, we go into reverse rest-position and it's like magic!  Instant quiet, attentive students.  You're welcome. :)

Saturday, June 4, 2016

New Method Book - in the works!

I've been asked to co-write a method book for beginning strings and it has been fun creating pages and developing a plan for my 'dream' method book.  Last year, I spent a lot of time researching different books and many have great stuff...there is just not an ideal book for my classroom.  I would like a book with a quality, simple rote section where students can easily read the exercises while focusing on what is most important...perfect position and quality sound.  A book which incorporates multi-level parts to help reach all ability levels would be helpful.  I believe that an option with more difficult parts included with easier parts helps motivate and inspire students to keep practicing in order to become advanced.  It would be nice to have a book that allows students time to master new techniques, then apply those techniques with great sounding music.

One thing I want students to learn right from the start is how to create a quality sound.  I just finished pages which teach bow direction/placement,  bow weight and bow speed.  Students can then practice those techniques on an easy exercise while reading bowings.

The bowing is meant to have students travel a short distance while stopping the bow after each quarter note so that students have time to keep checking bow direction, etc.  They perform it like this:

What would you like to see in your dream method book?