180 Days - Learning to Play String Instruments

180 Days - Learning to Play String Instruments

Beginner orchestra students in the Ottumwa Community School District have recently completed a crash course in strings, according to Henry Weberpal, one of the district’s orchestra instructors.

Starting this month, the first year string students transitioned to one lesson per week after starting the year with a two-lesson per week schedule.

This format of teaching strings is new. Previously, students took a summer course but teachers found the gap between lessons and the beginning of the school year required a lot of re-teaching. This year, orchestra instructors Angela McDonald and Weberpal decided to start the year by putting students into small groups and giving them two lessons per week.

Students enjoyed the group lessons and teachers saw a lot of growth. “I got to practice more” with two lessons, said Annika Hicks, a fifth grader from Horace Mann. Now she needs to get into the habit of practicing more, she confided.

Horace Mann fifth grader, Anna Bradford, enjoyed learning the basics with other students and it gave her motivation to practice. She also noted that it helped to see other students struggling with the same things she was. “I really liked the group lessons,” she said.

Another advantage of working in small groups was the opportunity for students to help and teach each other. “When students get to help teach, they eat it right up,” said Weberpal. And McDonald noted that the best way to retain a skill is to teach it.

Lessons are now individualized, allowing students to work at their own pace.  “Teachers can refine instruction to meet individual needs,” said Weberpal. By the end of the 12th group lesson, gaps in student ability were beginning to show. Students still have the opportunity to play together as a group during weekly orchestra rehearsals after school.

Fifth and sixth graders recently attended the South Central String Orchestra Festival in Oskaloosa. Ottumwa students played and performed with their peers in Pella and Oskaloosa. They also are working hard to prepare for their holiday concert on December 13.

“It’s really a different atmosphere to start,” said Weberpal. “It’s more fun and it gets a lot of basics out of the way.”