Learning about orchestral instruments is one thing. But getting to touch, hold, and play on them is another excitement altogether!
This year, we will introduce orchestral instrument families into the Teams 1-4 music curriculum at Oakwood School. Students will learn about the instruments, how they make sound, how they function in the orchestra, and a bit of history about the instrument. Using videos, students are listening to the instruments as they play different styles and genres of music.
We have started with the string family. Students listened to a string orchestra, a solo performed by cellist Yo-Yo Ma, and a string quartet playing arrangements of pop music. They also got to experiment with pieces of yarn pulled taut to see the vibrations and to listen to how the pitch gets higher as the string gets shorter. As a culminating activity students held and played string instruments!
The Springfield branch of Music & Arts Centers has generously lent Oakwood a violin, a viola, and a cello for the students to explore. It was amazing to see their faces light up as I pulled each instrument and bow from its case. Students were very curious about how the horsehair on the bow felt and what rosin does (makes the hair a bit sticky so it grabs the string). They were quick to realize how important it is that everyone puts a violin and viola on their left shoulder (no instrument crashes that way) and loved sitting to play the big cello. Unfortunately, my car isn’t large enough to transport a bass!
A special string assembly made up of three young musicians visited in late October. Oakwood students watched them perform and were able to hear firsthand what it’s like to play each instrument.
Through the winter we will move on to studying woodwind, brass, and percussion instruments. Students will make a small woodwind instrument of their own and learn how to turn any object into a percussion instrument.
We will finish the instrument family work with a group of instruments I call “Odd Ball Instruments”. These do not fit into the standard orchestral families. Students will interact with a kazoo, didgeridoo, and even an electric guitar.
There are so many ways that instruments connect with a student's curriculum. There is science in understanding how sound is made and how instruments are built and put together. Instruments have been used to tell stories about history through music and lyrics. And very importantly, instruments can act as a wonderful jumping-off point for listening to lots of types of music from different countries, time periods, and styles.
As budding musicians, I hope each of our students finds an instrument that speaks to them and sparks an interest in the sound and feel of the instrument. As a performer or appreciator, music has the power to give each of us a voice, a means of expression, and a creative outlet.