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Saturday, June 15, 2019

Transitioning to 'ADVANCED' playing

*UPDATE - this book is now finished and available for download!

I've been teaching beginning strings for a long time and I feel very comfortable there.  Last year I added the high school orchestra program to my teaching day.  I knew it would be a bit different from teaching beginners at the junior high.  I prepared myself by carefully choosing music that was challenging, yet attainable.  It was a fun adventure, but I found myself not completely prepared for the challenges of high school.  It's a lot to prep for 3 different levels of junior high school, then 2 levels of high school.  I was stretched thin and did not feel ready for each rehearsal.

We had a good year.  Both my high school groups made it to State and received Superior ratings.  We went on tour and had a great time...and won the 'Best Overall Orchestra' at a Music in the Parks event.  It felt like a success...but as I watch my students perform, I know something is lacking.  Most of my students do not take private lessons.  While there are definitely strong players and good leaders in the group I see many players who need help.  I notice stiff bow arms, lack of vibrato, timid tone.  I am their teacher.  I have to fix it.

Last year I used a popular method with my high school group and it worked ok.  I never felt as if there was a curriculum I was following...just little warm-ups...thrown together so we could get to our concert pieces.  I wanted to teach them, but didn't feel like I'd found the right materials to help me give them what they needed.  Now that summer is here I've decided to create a warm-up curriculum for my high school students.  Here is what I would like to them to master during high school:

1.  Bow control - using all parts of the bow, bow distribution
2.  Bow strokes - Detache, Martele, Spiccato, Staccato - better mastery
3.  Tone quality - achieving solid ringing tone in 1st-4th position
4.  Intonation (we never stop working on this one)
5.  Rhythm Mastery
6.  Vibrato
7.  Expression/emotion in playing

My problem with a curriculum is that music must BUILD.  I can't teach bow control and then just be done with it. We have to use every skill...and add it to the next skill...and add those to the next...  At first I was thinking of teaching one skill per month.  This just won't work if I am going to develop better musicians.  They need all of it..all the time.  The school year is too busy to create something comprehensive on the spot with exactly what they need.  I have to do it now.

So, the grand experiment has begun.  I started researching and writing and developing my materials.  It all begins with advanced bow exercises... here's a sample:

Hopefully this summer will be long enough to hash things out and create something that will help my students develop into stronger musicians with mastery of their bows and instruments.