String Teaching in Groups

April 11th, 2015 by John Quaine

The teaching of stringed instruments in groups is both well established and widespread in Australian schools as in many other parts of the world. There are a number of reasons for choosing to teach strings in groups such as budgetary constraints, timetabling and staffing efficiency, integration into the school curriculum, as support and extension activities for individual tuition, ensemble experience and as broad based recruitment for orchestral programs to name but a few. However most compelling are the many benefits gained by the participants when group teaching is carried out efficiently by specialist staff. Instrumental music programs have burgeoned in recent years where string departments have developed alongside band programs; however their ongoing growth has been challenged at times by funding fluctuations and changes of educational policy.

String teaching in groups is not a recent phenomenon; it has a documented history of over one hundred years. Whilst group teaching as a supplement to individual instruction has been a well established tradition in conservatoria world wide, instrumental instruction in groups for beginners appears to have originated in England in the early 1800s as characterised in the so called Maidstone Movement; this later spread to the United States and other countries including Australia. Socio-political and economic reasons contributed to the development of educational systems that included choral and instrumental music in the mid 19th and early 20th century. This led to the establishment of group instrumental programs in schools and communities supported by educational authorities. (Schleuter 1997) An interesting parallel can be drawn today with the emergence of group instrumental programs growing from the needs of socially and economically disadvantaged groups in both the developed and developing worlds [e.g. Harlem Project, Tower Hamlets, El Sistemo, Buskaid, In Harmony and numerous professional orchestral outreach education projects]

Historically, string teaching pedagogy has been informed and influenced by the structured approaches to the training of the individual instrumentalist as characterised by various traditions or schools of playing. For violin playing this is evidenced in the publications of de B