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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

5 Orchestra Teacher Secrets to help build your strings program.

It's the time of year to officially be thinking about recruiting.  Really, recruiting is a year long process...especially if you want to build your program.  I started teaching at my current position 5 years ago with 63 total orchestra students.  It has been rewarding to watch my program grow to over 250 students this year.  Here are my secret strategies that helped grow my program and I hope you will find these tips useful in your own programs.

1.  Before your program will grow you have to make your program great!  Even though my classes were very small at first I wanted to make sure students were successful.  I wanted to make sure my class was fun and inspiring.  Your current students are your best recruiting tool.  If they fall in love with your class they will tell others and your program will grow.  Make every day your best day.  Appreciate the students in your class and make sure have a great experience.

2.  Make your concerts fun!  People talk.  When you can entertain and 'wow' people at your concerts they will tell others about your program.  I keep my concerts relatively short - 30 minutes is always my goal.  Choose a few tunes that the audience will recognize.  It is essential that your students sound amazing!  Work to get students to the highest possible level of performance.  After my first concert this year one of my students told me that his grandma came to the concert equipped with ear plugs!  After we started playing (in tune I might add) she realized she didn't need the ear plugs and she thought the concert was amazing.  Students feel good when they sound good and people like to come to concerts that sound good.   It is possible for beginners to play in tune with great tone.  Make it happen!

3.  Visit feeder programs often.  There is a morning strings program that feeds my program.  I go recruit for that program and I visit the classes now and then.  I even had them perform with my students at one of my concerts so they could see how fun my concerts are.  I bring them fun stuff to advertise for my program - like music folders designed with my theme for the year, locker magnets, bumper stickers, and t-shirts.  I want students in my feeder program to feel special so they will want to continue.  This year I passed out these gold wristbands.  They will be wearing these when I bring my orchestra to the elementary school.  I can then recognize those students who have had experience in elementary orchestra and reward them with prizes during my recruiting tour.

4.  Prep students properly.  Ask students and parents to help you recruit.  I tell them all are needed to help keep the orchestra program strong.  I ask parents and students to promote my class by talking to others about orchestra and post on social media.  If they love your class and your concerts they are happy to tell others all about it.

5.  Make sure your recruiting program is fun with no down time.  Keep the pace up so the audience stays interested and excited.  Tell students to look happy while they play and demonstrate instruments.  Here are a few things I'm doing this year to keep it fun (there are more ideas in a previous post):

  • Use costumes.  The inflatable T-Rex costume is hilarious.  We're playing Jurassic park while a couple students in T-Rex costumes come out and 'fight.'   

  • While we play 'Pirates of the Caribbean' we are staging a little sword fight with our bows.

  • We are playing pieces students will recognize and adding a drum to keep a cool beat.

  • Throw candy/stickers/prizes.  We do a game where students play a super short excerpt from a popular song or movie and the audience has to guess the song.  They are then rewarded with prizes.  This year I have bumper stickers and candy.  To make it interesting I designed a golden ticket as a way for kids to win an orchestra T-shirt.

  • Let the audience try the instruments.  I bring a lot of kids recruiting because I have over 100 kids in my beginning classes.  After our 25 minute program the audience is allowed to come try any instrument and they get to talk with students in my program who will tell them they should join orchestra.  After they try an instrument, they get a fortune cookie.  I bought 400 fortune cookies online and took the fortunes out using paper clips.  Then I placed new fortunes inside that say stuff like, 'You belong in orchestra,' 'Join orchestra, you will,' 'Orchestra will make your life amazing,' 'You will dream about orchestra tonight.'  Etc.  This may seem extreme...but it's fun and it really doesn't take that long - especially if you have help.

Have fun!  Students can tell when you enjoy what you are doing.  May you all have many orchestra students next year.  :)