In the ASU Music Education program we do three semesters of internships before doing our student teaching. While we are doing these internships we take “Art of Teaching” classes that align with the content and experience from our internships. This was an assignment from my Art of Teaching Advanced Instrumentalists class that I took while doing an internship in a high school orchestra program. This “Internship Reflection” asked us to think about the use warm ups as a tool for developing instrument-specific pedagogy and technique.
Internship Reflection-Warm Ups
My Initial Ideas:
This is actually something that I struggle with a bit understanding just how to accomplish this. I feel that if I am working one on one in private lesson with students that we can work well on these instrument specific skills, and I think I can even do this pretty well with sectionals of students all with the same instrument, but once we have several different instruments in the mix it becomes more challenging. I think the first key element is to know instrument specific pedagogy for different instruments. I know this sounds like common sense, but this can actually be the biggest and most common fault. I know this as both a student and a teacher. First off, as a teacher, the first time I stood in front of my String Project class and was leading them through the fingerings for a scale I successfully told the violins and violas their fingerings and then followed this by the cellos’ fingerings, but then I looked with a blank stare of terror at the bass as I realized that I honestly did not know what the fingerings were for her for that scale. I felt terrible about that and then felt extreme relief as I saw one of the String Project experienced teachers go over to her and instruct her on the fingerings for the scale. From that moment on I decided to make a point to know what I was going to tell the bassist for every time I told the violins, violas, and cellos something because I was determined not to be “that teacher” who did not know what to tell the basses. I have worked a lot on bass and I think that my instruction for the instrument has improved immensely.
I have also been on the other side of this scenario. As violists, there are so many times that we receive instruction that simply does not consider the logistics of our instrument. Many teachers or conductors (or composers for that matter) simply think that we are big violins. This is simply not true. There are separate challenges that meet us as violas than those that meet violinists, but there are many times I have been given instruction that does not account for this. All this said, there is much importance in knowing specific pedagogy for different instruments.
I suppose that the best way I can think to help my students develop instrument specific skills in warm ups and repertoire would be to play through sections as a group and give the separate groups instruction before starting and then as we play the section through I could assess how the different groups are doing with these skills and if any groups need extra help then I can run the section just with them to try isolating that idea. I often do something of this nature with scale fingerings. Before we start the scale I will tell the violins and violas their fingerings, followed by the cellos’, and then finishing with the basses’. Then if any group looked like they needed some extra work on the fingering then I’ll have just that section try it again as I lead them through the fingerings.
These are the best thoughts I have on the topic so far, but it really is a skill I would like to work on improving, so I look forward to learning more about it throughout this part of the class. I hope to learn a lot more about this and build some ways that I can achieve this goal with the classrooms of students I will work with.
The Voice of Authority:
The article that was based on the interview of Doug Akey had a lot of information, some of which included information on this topic and some of which did not. The first idea he mentioned relating to this topic was his opinion that teachers should not focus so much on wide recognition or placing highly in competitions or things like that, but rather they should focus on directing their instruction more to their students’ needs and making sure to foster a love for music. In doing this teachers will focus more on the specific needs of their students as opposed to just pushing them to play a very specific and narrow set of pieces to aim toward winning a competition. The next idea he brought up was his belief that for middle school classes it is best to have a structured warm up that he uses every day. He may vary it slightly depending on the needs of his students that day, but he uses this structure nonetheless. He goes on to say that it is important to keep all groups engaged throughout warm ups and rehearsals even when focusing on one specific instrument section. Finding ways to keep the whole class engaged and active in the lesson is important for classroom management and for keeping students’ interest. He always includes sight-reading in his warm ups based off of hymns that he has arranged himself. He expresses that it is crucial to know how to play all the instruments he is teaching so he can demonstrate good tone and instruct instrument specific skills. Akey also mentioned that conducting is not the most important thing he does as the teacher in his class. He will start them and then teach them to listen to each other when playing and simply stop conducting to foster this.
Dr. Sullivan’s PowerPoint was specifically on this topic and provides many ideas and suggestions in the use of warm ups for rehearsals. She starts the PowerPoint with a quote that mentions that warm ups show a lot about a teacher such as their maturity, skill and philosophy. This quote also mentions that the warm ups should set up the students to be able to play whatever it is that they may face in the repertoire they are working on throughout the class. This concept is the focus of the PowerPoint and this philosophy of warm ups. Dr. Sullivan goes on to say that emphasis on the strength of the individual in an ensemble is important to make a great ensemble. She explains that some ways to develop these individual skills are through performance of solos or chamber groups or through private or group lessons with the teacher. She goes through five main elements to focus on in warm ups and emphasizes the importance of tying these into the concert pieces the students are working on in class. Dr. Sullivan goes through various specific examples of how to use these five ideas in warm ups and then goes through some ideas for assessing students’ progress. Some of these ideas of assessment include peer checks, self-assessments, use of mirrors, digital portfolios, and journals prompting students to assess their own growth.
My Initial Observations:
When I first started taking note of what my mentor teacher does in her classroom concerning warm ups and teaching instrument specific pedagogy in a large ensemble class I noticed that she has a very structured and methodic way of going about this. The students in her advanced orchestra class have a yellow sheet of paper that has various different parts such as a bass line, a harmony 1 line, a harmony 2 line, and a melody line. There are rhythmic variations for the bass, harmony 1, and harmony 2 lines. This is a general warm up sheet that she is having them do at this time but is making sure to tie it into the piece they are currently working on, Holst’s Jupiter. There are several times throughout the piece that there are sixteenth notes as a sort of pulse keeping element in the piece. The warm up sheet that my mentor teacher has for her students included an eighth note pattern in the rhythmic variations that she would at times have half the class play while the other half played the same line but with the half notes rhythm. By doing this she is helping them understand that subdivision relationship and preparing them for these sixteenth note parts in the piece.
Furthermore, she has all of the students learn all of the parts, which helps them to listen for the bass line and the harmony parts and how they relate to the melody. This is a very important skill to develop and this is a very strong way of doing so. Throughout Holst’s Jupiter it is important to listen across to harmony parts and listen down to bass parts to help keep a strong unified sound and performance. I did not see her make any specific connections between the warm ups and the piece, however I did not start observing this until they had had both materials for a while, so it is very possible that she had mentioned this earlier in the process.
As the class was playing doing these warm ups I was walking around and playing along with the students to provide a solid foundation to follow if need be, but also to observe them a bit. I could see that the students were pretty strong on the eighth note pattern in the warm up, however once we started playing the piece they seemed to have some trouble transferring this knowledge to the piece. In the warm ups they were successfully not rushing, but in the piece they were rushing the sixteenth notes part (which we were actually playing as eighth notes because these are doubled eighth notes). I asked a student how he was thinking of their part and how it fit into the cellos’ and violas’ parts (the melody) and he had not really thought of it in that way, he was just thinking of his part individually. This seemed as though he had not made the connection between the emphasis on listening in the warm up and the need to listen in the piece.
Once we started playing Jupiter, I sat next to a violist and played the part with her. Before we started as we waited for everyone to get the piece out I asked her, “So this warm up sheet, is this a warm up for this piece?” She answered that it was. This showed that there were connections made between the warm ups and the piece.
Mentor Teacher’s Voice:
When asking my mentor teacher about her ideas concerning this topic she reflected not only on her practices as a high school orchestra teacher, but also as a middle school and elementary school teacher. She explained that when she taught elementary stings and middle school orchestra that she had a very consistent routine. They would do the same basic warm up every day, but she would have a different focus for each day. She explained that she would rotate what area the focus would be on. One day she would work on something in the right hand, the next day something in the left hand, and then the next and ear training exercise of some sort. She further explained that when she taught at Rover Elementary School she had students in her fourth grade orchestra class that had been playing since second grade (because of a specific program they had at the school at the time) as well as students who had never touched a string instrument before. She said that in teaching these classes she would focus on the same technique for the whole class, but that she would have a challenge for the students who ad been playing for a while, like having them change the contact point, or doing patterns with only the first finger.
She expressed that this helped her immensely when coming to the high school level, because often learning gaps get even larger in high school orchestras. She said she practices similar ideas in her classes where she will have everyone focus on the same technique, but have different students do it at different levels. She also said that she emphasizes an idea of the students as a community of helping each other. An example she gave me is that if the cellos are having trouble with a section she will have everyone “help out their friends in the cello section” and everyone will learn the cello part together to play along with them. (This also helps them develop listening skills where they listen across the orchestra.)
My mentor teacher further explained that she does not have a theme of the day for high school, but a theme of the week. With the theme of the week they work on this element of playing in depth for a week and then she has the students write a short reflection at the end of the week explaining what they learned about that throughout the week. She also mentioned that she looks within the pieces she gives the students to play and picks challenging parts of the pieces to base the focus of her warm ups off of. In doing this she is clearly connecting the warm ups with the repertoire.
I feel that I have learned a great deal about this topic throughout the last month or so. I have learned that it is crucial to tie the warm ups into the repertoire that the students are playing, and even more importantly, I have learned some methods on how to do so. I felt that all of the information presented to us in class was all very helpful information, and I would have to say that I agree with what was presented to us. I was happy to see that my mentor teacher’s ideas about this topic coincided with these ideas. I also like how she emphasized the idea of having a structured and routine start to class. I think this is a very important and useful technique in order to help with classroom management. She was able to successfully use the same warm up, but do so in a way that emphasized different techniques. I also like the overall idea of doing one technique the whole class can work on and adjusting instruction so that it is applicable for all levels of students. Additionally, having the students act as a community of students there to help each other is another important aspect of teaching instrument specific pedagogy in large classes.