Question Detail

When working with beginning string players, is it more important to focus on ensemble or pitch?

Aug 26, 2013 10:30pm

I teach orchestra to middle school students and am curious about how other music teachers prioritize their feedback to the group.

  • Arts
  • 6-12
  • Assessment


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    • Aug 31, 2013 9:05pm

      I guess I would go back to the philosophy of Suzuki, "one thing at a time". Students can only process one idea at a time. This is reflective in the philosophy of slowing down and making sure students really have time to process new concepts. Many times pitch problems can be addressed with correct hand shape or position. I would recommend the ASTA string curriculum for tons of step by step teaching strategies.

      • Oct 24, 2013 2:48pm

        In response to the two elements you mentioned, I would say focus on ensemble. I try to get student engaged, involved and into the music. Then you can work with pitch once that is established as a concept, or within a given piece of music.

        • Nov 22, 2013 11:30pm

          I also focus on ensemble before pitch. I teach both percussion and strings, and my primary instrument is percussion, so I may be a bit biased in that regard.

          Rhythm is the basis of music. Except for chance music (i.e. Cage), pitches without rhythm is just noise. However, rhythm without pitch can still be considered music (i.e. Snare drum solos and rap music)

          I point this concept out to my string players. If you play the rhythm of the William Tell Overture without pitches, people can still identify it. But, play the pitches in random time and it can sound like a completely different piece.

          None of this is to say that we should ignore pitch, of course - especially with string players! But in my opinion, ensemble must come first!

          • Jun 25, 2014 10:49am

            In reality, I focus on ensemble. I think my ensembles may be more successful if I had the 'hands on' time with my beginning students to focus more on intonation.

            • Dec 9, 2016 4:28am

              I would suggest focusing more on ensemble than pitch at first. The students need to learn how to hear what is going on around them and focus on staying together. Every string player needs to know how to listen across the orchestra and know what adjustments may need to be made. And as Joe said, never ignore pitch, the pitch will come as their ear develops. Having the correct pitch is insignificant if the orchestra is on two different pages of music, so try and keep them focused on ensemble, and the pitch will come with some coaxing later.