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Saturday, July 8, 2017

Do you wish your beginners would play better in tune?

It can be done!

During the summer I always have more time to practice my instrument.  I enjoy continuing to work on my playing and becoming more proficient on secondary instruments (I was trained on violin and viola so I am less strong on cello and bass).  As a kid I used to hate the Wohlfahrt, Kreutzer, Mazas type etudes and technique books.  Back then I just wanted to practice solos.  I'm sure most students feel the same way.  Now that I'm older I have begun to really enjoy playing etudes from all of my old books.  I practice to build and strengthen technique and etudes do the job very well.  Since starting to review all my old etudes, I have noticed a big difference in my playing.  My intonation, tone, bowing...everything was noticeably improving!

Inspired by the etudes of my childhood, I decided to write a book of simple exercises for beginning orchestra.  These exercises are much shorter and painless. :)  Over my last few years of teaching I noticed I would use the D scale for warm-ups almost every day.  I wanted to vary my warm-up routine, but didn't have time to search out appropriate exercises.  This book is great because it becomes your warm-up routine for the school year.  It provides some great variety so you don't have to just do the D scale.

Available for purchase at or TPT.

These simple exercises are written for beginning orchestra classes to be used as warm-ups to improve intonation in your ensemble. Each exercise drills a specific note pattern or fingering to help students achieve more precise intonation. The rhythm in each exercise is always simple in order to help students focus all attention on tone and intonation. 

This book is set up so that all exercises for each part are grouped together. (Violin exercise 1, viola exercise 1, cello exercise 1, etc.) It’s not set up to be a separate book for each instrument. After printing, you could collate the parts to create separate books. I choose to keep exercises together because I hand out one page per week to my students and this grouping makes it easier for me to find and copy the separate parts. I used to copy entire books, but found students would sometimes leave them in lockers, forget them at home or lose them. It’s easier for me to give them a replacement page rather than a replacement book.

There are no fingering markings. It is up to the teacher to determine when you want vioin/viola students to use open strings versus 4th finger. It depends on what you are wanting students to work on. I wanted the exercises to be adaptable and versatile. 

There are many ways to use these exercises in your beginning strings group. Here are a few ideas:

  • Focus on one exercise per week to be used as a warm-up. Encourage students to memorize each exercise by the end of the week so they may watch fingering and listen intently. Insist in perfect intonation.

  • Most exercises are in D or G major—the keys used in most beginning level music. You can re-use these exercises and increase the challenge by changing the key signature on each exercise. Teach students how key signatures change finger patterns by playing the same exercise in a few different keys. For example—after teaching low 2’s, you may have students play the first exercise with low 2’s (C major). The simple exercise will help students drill the new finger placement.

  • There is an optional harmony part for each exercise. Sometimes the harmony is just a drone note to help with tuning the exercise. Encourage students to learn the harmony. You may perform each exercise in a variety of ways (Violins on melody with all others on harmony, boys on melody with girls on harmony, outside player melody with inside on harmony, etc.). Encourage careful listening as your group harmonizes to for quality intonation. Be sure they understand that it only sounds good when the notes are in tune and expect all students to reach that standard.

I believe beginning strings groups can play in tune with careful practice. Believe in your students and let them amaze you. 
There are 98 pages total with parts for violin, viola, cello and bass.

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