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Wednesday, April 5, 2017

How to teach students to tune in beginning orchestra: Lesson 1

Oh happy day!  This week I taught my beginners how to tune and I wish I would have done it months ago.  They were excited to learn how to tune.  Students want to be able to tune their instruments because it's not fun practicing when your instrument is way out of tune.  Sometimes we assume that students can not tune their instruments and we don't want to risk it because strings are expensive.  I usually don't have my students tune themselves until their 2nd year, but I teach how to tune at the end of the 1st year.  After my experience teaching tuning this week, I have decided to teach tuning much earlier - probably in January.  Teaching tuning was a breeze and thanks to technology it is easier than ever for students to tune with confidence.  Let's all be brave and start teaching tuning earlier!  Think of the time it will save in your rehearsals!

LESSON PLAN for Day 1:  How to NOT break a string

This lesson plan introduces ear training and fine listening skills needed in order to tune an instrument.  We learn and memorize 5 rules of tuning so that we don't break any strings.

Pass out the worksheet:  How to not break a string.  Students can write down games and apps for ear training on the back.

1.  Begin the lesson with a demonstration.  Play your A, and turn the fine tuner just a tiny bit.  See if the students can hear a difference.  When we tune, we have to discern very small changes in pitch in order to tune accurately.  There are games to help us improve our hearing and sense of pitch.

2.  Show the 'Intonation Game' from  Students should write down the web address on their paper so they can try playing the game at home.  Play the game with the class. I start with the Advanced level and I tell students that is the level they need to to use to train for tuning.

3.  Project the app InTune from your iPhone or iPad.  Play the game with the class.  They can use hand signals (thumbs up and or thumbs down) to indicate where the pitch it too high or too low.

4.  Project the app Blob Chorus from your iPad.  Play the game with the class.  Students love to see the blobs explode when they guess incorrectly.  After playing these games in class students often choose to purchase the apps and play and home.

5.  I next address the biggest fear of students and teachers alike....breaking a string.  Explain to the class that strings are expensive.  Tell them the difference between quality strings and cheaper strings.  You might want to share personal stories about strings you have broken.

6.  Show slide presentation (You may make your own presentation or purchase mine HERE):  How to NOT break a string.  Explain and demonstrate each rule using your instrument.  Students can practice turning/tuning with you with their imaginary instruments.  Let them mimic your movements in the air.  Students are required to write down the 5 rules on their paper.  Their assignment is to memorize those 5 rules by the next day.  They take their notes home to study.  For bell-work the next day, students have to write those 5 rules from memory.  They are not allowed to try tuning if they don't have those rules memorized.  After the presentation, have students 'teach' the 5 rules to their stand partners using imaginary instruments.  This will help them remember.  Students should not try to tune their actual instruments, yet.  Let them internalize and visualize the process of tuning before they experiment.

Watch for 'How to teach students to tune' lesson 2 coming up later this week!


  1. What do you do with the kids who have bought those instruments know, the instruments (violins in my classroom) that have pegs that just refuse to stay put?

    1. I let students know that if their instruments won't tune or if they are really hard to tune it is because the instrument was less expensive. Quality instruments work better. I have to help those students tune sometimes. There's a couple violins I wouldn't mind seeing in a fiery furnace, but what can you do? :)

  2. Thank you Angie! I love how fun this is and tried it out with my eighth grade students (who already know how to tune but it doesn't hurt to review and really listen) FYI The game on Fiddlerman works best NOT in chrome. I switched to explorer and it seemed to work fine.