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Saturday, August 31, 2019

New discoveries - How to prep for multiple levels

I survived the first 2 weeks of school and it wasn't easy juggling all the prep work for each class.  My schedule this year is packed full and I feel like I'm constantly running.  After my last class I check my Apple Watch and it always says I have 10,000 steps.  That's a big change after a summer of barely breaking 4,000/day.  It's an adjustment for sure.  :)

I've crammed my classes extra full (50-75 in each) so I can continue to teach at 2 schools - junior high and high school.  That means I have 5 different levels to prepare for each day.  It's hard to find that time to do everything I want to I've found ways to save myself a little time by unifying and aligning my curriculum across all levels.  For example, my beginners have been learning bow holds.  To keep my mind sane, I'm also focusing on bow holds in ALL of my other classes.  I adjust the curriculum for each level, but it saves me time in preparing for my classes because each class has a similar focus/objective.   Teaching my beginners bow holds helped me with ideas and strategies to build better bow hold dexterity with my older students.

Here's an outline of what I did with bow holds at each level:


  • Straw bow holds
  • Basic bow exercises
  • Balancing games - balancing fun little bunnies on our bent thumbs
  • Bow hold pass-offs

When I was fixing bow holds in my beginner class I found many students were squeezing way too much.  To help students form a better bow hold, I had them flop their hands until they were relaxed and then lets their hands and fingers drop.  I added the bow behind their fingers and let the stick lift their fingers up so that the fingers were curved over the top of the stick.  This helped students relax their knuckles and stay flexible.

It was simple to then just place the pinky and thumb.  

Students were way more comfortable after having their bows placed with their hands in such a relaxed position.  This technique helped me teach my intermediate/advanced students how to hang fingers over the stick in such a way to use arm weight to create tone (instead of squeezing).  It was also a great bow hold review for intermediate/advanced students.


  • Learn roles of each finger in bow hold:  hold bow with only middle finger and thumb and play a scale.  Ask class that the role is of thumb and middle finger.  Add 3rd and 4th finger - discuss that is gained when adding those fingers (more control).  Add index finger - discuss the role of the index finger.  I called it the 'power' finger.  We don't press, but it helps deliver arm weight to the bow.
  • Exercises to prevent squeezing - loosening the bow hold.
  • Dropping shoulder - adding arm weight


  • Building bow flexibility - play scales while moving thumb to prevent squeezing.
  • Practice right hand finger flexibility
  • String crossings using fingers
  • Bow changes using fingers
  • 16th note passages with relaxed hand and fingers

I've been using my new book - '18 Etudes for Advanced Orchestra Warm-ups' with my High School orchestras and it has been working perfectly!  So far I love using it.  The first pages contain advanced bow exercises to build dexterity - which works perfectly for my aligned curriculum.  The first etude is all about 16th notes and string crossings - so students have a way to practice maintaining flexible bow holds.  I'm so impressed at how well students are developing that skill - we sound like a more advanced group already!


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