Instruments of the Orchestra
An important part of any music education should be discovering the wide variety of instruments available to us. These instrumental units are always some of my favourites and the kids always engage with them really well.
However, teaching students about these instruments effectively can be challenging unless you are a one-man-band! (I most definitely am not, and whilst I can confidently show my students around the world of brass, especially the ins and outs of a French horn, I'd have no clue where to start on strings).
Sometimes it might be possible to get some visitors in who play those instruments, however most timetables make that tricky to organise (most people don't want to come in for a half hour on Monday morning, then again on Tuesday lunch, then again on Friday afternoon).
So instead, why not peruse this list of resources to help build your orchestral instruments unit?
There are some excellent pieces of music out there composed specifically with the purpose of instrumental introductions in mind. Two of my favourites are "Peter & the Wolf" by Prokofiev and Benjamin Britten's "Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra"
I love spending a few weeks introducing my preps to Peter and the Wolf. I usually read them the story and play a few wolf-related games (We Are Dancing In The Forest is an excellent chase game)
Then I play them this video. We make a bit of an event out of it, they are allowed to bring some movie snacks and have been looking forward to it for a few weeks!
The story reinforces the instruments representing each character a few times throughout, which is great for young attention spans!
This worksheet is a great accompaniment to the video, or you can cut up each character and instrument and play some mix & match games as a class.
Do a bit of research into your local orchestras - many have educational outreach programs, or at the very least an Education Week "Meet The Orchesra" session. I took a school group to the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra a few years ago who had a Meet The Orchestra session complete with Wiggles-style coloured turtlenecks (arranged into instrument families). It made the orchestra something real and tangible for those students, and they had a far better grip on which instruments fall into which families than any groups I'd taught before that.
It may also be possible to get smaller chamber groups out to visit your school. These incursions can be costly and need to be organised well in advance (I'm currently looking into 2019's bookings) but the experience can be a musical highlight of your students' year. Check out Musica Viva for some fantastic touring performers around Victoria
If excursions aren't going to work for you, try looking a little closer to home. There are some fantastic websites and apps to introduce your students to the orchestra.
A few years ago the MSO launched their app called MSO Learn. In it, you can explore each of the instruments of the orchestra, hear short audio clips of each one, meet some of the members of the orchestra and read about why they love their instrument!
You can download a FREE worksheet to accompany this app at my Teachers Pay Teachers store
I'm a big believer in games as a form of assessment. Testing how well my students can recognise the sounds of each instrument is no different. We play bingo! I made up a set of bingo cards with different instruments then made a playlist of works which feature certain instruments (eg. Also Sprach Zarathustra for timpani, Rhapsody in Blue for clarinet etc). Students listen and mark off each instrument on their grid as they hear it.
You can nab a copy of the bingo set here
Experiment and Explore!
Get practical in the music room and use a series of lessons to explore the physics of what makes each instrument work! This is a great way to explore the common links and differences between instruments of the same family (venn diagram assessment anyone?)
In the past when I have worked in IB schools, I have tapped into the main classroom's "How The World Works" unit by setting up the following stations:
- String lengths taped to the edge of a table - students need to pull the string taut and then snap it at different lengths to hear the pitch change
- Brass mouthpieces in lengths of garden hose. You will need LOTS of disinfectant! This is also a great way to explore the different mouthpiece sizes of various brass instruments and explore the effect cup/conical mouthpiece shape has on sound
- Woodwind: blow over the tops of bottle flutes (each filled with differing levels of water)
- Percussion - mason jar drums! Using mason jars of different diameters, cover them with a thick cloth like calico and pull that cloth to different degrees of tightness! Students can start to explore the way drum tuning works!
There are so many great ways to familiarise your students with the instruments of the orchestra. Short of learning to play them all yourself, these ways will hopefully get you started and lead you and your kids on a wonderful journey of discovery!