Ask the Experts: How to Teach a Group of Violin Students – The Strad | Start Classified

Teaching a large group of violin students is a daunting task for any string teacher. Three experienced educators give their thoughts and strategies for dealing with young students.

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The dilemma As a string teacher at a school, I often have to give group lessons for up to ten beginners students at once. I find it difficult to give them all equal attention and do it sure they are doing well and making progress both in and out of the classroom. Are Are there any techniques, tactics, or method books I can use to help me and my students?

VALERIE MAPES, LINCOLN, ON, CANADA

CAROLINE NORDLUND Group classes can be difficult to teach, but they offer students an opportunity to improve ensemble and social skills while developing technical and musical concepts. Groups also give students the opportunity to learn as a team.

Is there someone in your class who can support you? Maybe a graduating student, college student, junior teacher, or parent? You certainly have the right to use reinforcements to juggle the needs of ten beginners! When teaching a beginner’s class alone, I like to ask a child to switch places with me so they can become the class leader, which gives me the freedom to walk around the room and provide manual assistance to those who need help. The children love being in this position of authority and you can spend time with those who need extra help.

*Try to break your total lesson time into 10-15 minute segments that focus on different topics such as repertoire, archery, ear training, theory, critical listening, music history and games. You will keep your students engaged and having fun while developing their general musical education. Remember that it’s okay to take a short break and stretch as well.

*Send a quick email to parents after class, highlighting the day’s work and listing the tasks to be completed in the coming week, so parents can support their children in practicing at home.

*Plan an end-of-semester concert so students and parents have a common goal in mind. Nothing brings results faster than a public performance on the horizon! It is important for everyone involved to know why group classes and subsequent practice at home are essential.

Mimi Zweig’s www.stringpedagogy.com is an excellent resource that provides ideas for repertoire and other activities for beginner’s group classes.

ANNE BULL I teach classes of up to ten six-year-olds and I’ve found that having fun is an essential ingredient in encouraging collaboration and progression. The children will want to take the violins home and the parents will support them.

In the first lesson I let the children touch the bow on the strings to learn what it is all about. Then I treat the bow and violin separately until I feel more confident in holding both and understand the posture.

I use pencils to teach each child how to hold the bow correctly. There are many games: we point to the ceiling, to the door, make twirls, form figures of eight and move the “bow” to the rhythm. We then go to the arch itself and apply the same games. Next I introduce the violin without a bow, first establish the resting position, then hold the violin like a guitar and create a good left hand position with the fingers forming a tunnel and slapping the fingers down in various combinations around them to strengthen.

Next, I’ll introduce you to open string notation. The same music can then be played with the bow, and the fingers can be inserted using the tunnel hand position learned from the “guitar position”.

Thomas Gregory’s Vamoosh book series is invaluable. The CD backing tracks are fun and the kids love them. Lenneke Willems’ Mini Violin Books offer technical help with good illustrations and imaginative teaching ideas. The Stringpops books by Peter Wilson and Madeleine Ranger contain fun pieces with wonderfully jazzy piano parts. Difficult to improve on Stringpops 1 Open String Samba for counting, reading and enjoying.

KAREN MICHELE KIMMETT One idea that has helped me when teaching beginners is to develop the “musical team” spirit early on. This can be achieved by having the students choose a specific name so that they feel they belong to a particular musical ensemble.

Beginning steps require a lot of repetition if the violin and bow positions are to become second nature. Turning the preparation into a game can work well—for example, asking, “How many nice bow holds can we do together in one minute?” I often let the students teach me “correct posture” or the right rhythm. The observant students quickly adjust to my sagging scroll or uneven posture. They enjoy being the teacher and in return they show me what they actually know and understand.

It is important to develop leadership and autonomy among children even in the earliest stages: ‘Who wants to be the archer today?’ ‘How many taps with the bow hand should we make?’ Asking questions rather than providing answers allows students to think for themselves, and we inevitably get some surprising answers!

In class, listening to a recording together can be informative and entertaining, as one student may notice a beautiful piano solo and another comment on how the melody comes in on different strings and in a new key. Videos of the class playing or a poster board with a picture of each child with their beautiful bow handle can be inspirational reminders.

Caroline Nordlund is a lecturer in the violin department at Samford University in Birmingham, AL, USA and second violinist in the Samford Quartet: www.samford.edu

Anne Bull is Head of Music at St Richard’s School, Herefordshire, UK: www.st-richards.org.uk

Karen-Michele Kimmett is an ESA and SAA Suzuki Instructor Instructor based in Kingston, ON, Canada

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