Achieve musical success in the string class
240PP ISBN 9780190602895
Oxford University Press € 22.99
Teaching the ropes at any level in the classroom can be an overwhelming experience. Usually, a music education graduate, whether or not a string player, leads a course in how to teach strings. Of course, no amount of study can ever really prepare a person for when they actually stand in front of their class. However, in addition to classroom instruction, Karel Butz’s excellent book Achieving Musical Success in the String Classroom is intended as a comprehensive resource for the string orchestra teacher.
It is evident that Butz is working on his own from a wealth of experience, and the first chapters are rich in material designed to shape the reader’s own teaching philosophy. No one would say that nut and bolt technique isn’t important in learning a string instrument, but should that be the primary focus, or is there a bigger picture to remember ? Butz has a lot to say on this subject.
After the introductory chapters, the book is divided into several sections covering almost all topics on teaching ropes in a classroom setting. From “Establishing a Healthy Foundation for Learning”, to specific exercises for left and right hand techniques, to “Characteristics of a successful repetition”, to common problems and solutions in repetition, and even practice. music theory and aural training, the various chapters are organized clearly. It’s hard to think of a topic that Butz doesn’t at least somehow cover.
In the section on specific exercises, Butz breaks it down even further into beginner, intermediate, and advanced, with activities appropriate for each level. Many of the exercises are accompanied by sample videos averaging three to five minutes long that can be found on the publisher’s site. I watched a selection of videos and found them useful in showing how the activity would work in the classroom, with the author performing the exercise himself with his students. While the videos are enlightening, I found some of the written instructions to be a bit labyrinthine; perhaps they could have been presented as bullet points, rather than verbose prose, for ease of reading. It would also have been nice to have illustrations or diagrams for the hot-
stretching and stretching exercises he describes.
These are minor quibbles, as all other aspects of the book are clear and contain a myriad of useful tools. Among the most beneficial elements that Butz included are examples of administrative documents, such as lesson plans, curriculum, letters to parents, and rubrics for assessing auditions and play tests. These will give the neophyte orchestra teacher wonderful springboards for class planning.
Another passage that I found interesting was a section where he covers motivation in repetition. It’s easy for teachers to fall into a familiar routine, and I appreciated Butz’s insistence on constantly evaluating what you include. “I approach each rehearsal by asking myself the following question: ‘If I had only one opportunity to have a positive impact on improving students’ performance skills, what musical aspect would I focus on? more during rehearsal? “- a good reminder indeed.
Having taught string techniques for many years, I am familiar with most of the literature. I would certainly recommend Butz’s book, and have no qualms about approving it to students. For the novice string orchestra teacher in particular, the many exercises and teaching resources in this book could save their life.