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Updating Your Orchestra Curriculum

Orchestra curriculums used to have a reputation of being…well, old and outdated. But high school fiddle clubs, as well as string rock or jazz bands,have helped to change that perception and even popularized string students. With this new momentum, introducing non-classical styles to your curriculumis the next step. It provides students with music they can relate to, adds a fun approach to music education and offers exciting and enjoyable ways for kids to build technique. Teaching new styles also allows you to integrate your music program with other school activities, such as history. For instance, the fiddle club can play “Bonaparte’s Retreat” when the class is studying Napoleon, or the jazz club could perform a blues tune when the class learns about slavery. And openinga school sports game with a catchy pop tune is sure to grab everyone’s attention more than a Mozart piece. That’s not to say your classical pieces should be replaced. Mixing the new with the old helps students learn and appreciate every genre, and it can be done in a way that satisfies national standards too.

Introducing New Styles and Techniques

With full rehearsal schedules, introducing new styles and techniques to your students can sometimes be tricky. Some things that have proven to be successful are playing a CD as the kids enter the classroom or including a brief warm-up on a tune at the beginning of every rehearsal.Another approach is to include an alternative string piece in the orchestra concert.

Regarding teaching new techniques, here are a couple of things you could try to help students familiarize themselves with one another’s parts and assist them to hear tonal, rhythmic and melodic themes. Each of these suggestions applies to both a classical or alternative string piece.

  • Have all the students warm up in unison in the key on a scale
  • Teach them the orchestra on the tonic by removing rhythmic motifs from all the parts
  • Notate the melodic motifs in all 3 clefs or remove them altogether so students learn by listening
  • Have each student choose 1 rhythmic motif and play it on a chord tone while volunteers create short melodies over the accompaniment. For example, if the piece is in G, then have them play in G, B or D.
  • If some of your students are too shy to try these new techniques or resist improvising, you can introduce a fun game to get them more involved. Have one of the shy students start with a note and then one at a time, every student can add another note until, as a group, they will have created a complete melodic phase.

Advantages of integrating Other Styles

When you ask students what styles of music they listen to at home, most will say, without exception, rock or pop. It’s very rare that you’ll have a student tell you they listen to jazz, blues or fiddling, and if they do, it’s usually because their music teacher has exposed them to this genre. With that in mind, teaching teenagers their primary musical interests is a win-win for everyone involved. And as soon as you begin teaching alternative styles, you’ll be amazed at how the students suddenly perk up with interest, become more deeply involved in rehearsals, and practice more at home. Yes, it is still important to expose students and have them appreciate classical music, but it’s even more vital to keep them active on their instruments and this can be achieved by showing interest in, and respect for, their musical taste. By integrating many different styles of music through listening, discussing or playing, students develop an appreciation and understanding of the individual gifts offered by each genre.

The Importance of a Fiddling Club

Fiddling is a highly rhythmic, group-oriented activity and young people as well as adult beginners usually experience earlier success with a fiddling tune than a classical one. Why? There are several reasons.

A classical piece tends to be very long and is only performed once whereas a fiddle tune melody is short and repeated over and over again.

The group learning process of a fiddle tune helps players memorize better while a classical piece is played solo or within a section against other parts.

Classical pieces require the player to adjust one’s pitch alone or against harmonized orchestral parts whereas a fiddle tune has the violin, viola and cello playing the same melody in unison.

Last but not least, fiddle tunes are highly rhythmic and generate a lot of energy, which keeps students engaged and interested.

What about Blues and Jazz?

Blues and jazz should definitely be included into your orchestra curriculum. Both are America’s classical music and have evolved to become a national and international expression. Jazz continues to produce informal improvisations that become crystallized into repeatable forms and that’s something everymusic student should be exposed to.

Author

Julie Lyonn Lieberman

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