by Stringtastic Beginners authors Paul Wood and Mark Wilson
As string teachers, we have to solve many problems for ourselves and for our students. We are sure you will recognise all of these:
- Every student learns at a different rate with some needing more consolidation than others.
- Beginner books often dictate the teaching order rather than allowing teachers flexibility.
- Violin, viola, cello, and bass students learn both individually and together and we need music that can be used in these different situations.
- Students of different levels need to play together.
- Beginner string music is short, so we need pieces that can be extended for performance.
- Finding piano parts that create musical interest but are easy enough to play while allowing us to keep our attention on our students can be a struggle.
- Not many books are suitable to learners of all ages.
When devising our new Stringtastic Beginners series, addressing these struggles was our guiding principle.
Stringtastic Beginners consists of 43 new compositions, covering many styles and moods and takes the beginner string player from open strings up to a full, one octave, D major scale. The progression of technique through the tunes is carefully structured, meaning that Stringtastic Beginners can be used in a wide variety of situations. The books work for individual and group lessons, whole class string teaching and string orchestra due to the fact all the pieces are in the same key for all instruments.
We made a conscious decision to end with the D major finger pattern – to build a strong grounding in technique before moving onto something new. The first 20 open string tunes are duets, with a harder second part to give pupils more opportunity to consolidate the D major finger pattern, a total of 63 tunes per book. We introduce all the rhythms used in the book in the first nine pieces so that students can focus on their technique without having to learn new rhythms at the same time.
Introducing the rhythms in the first nine tunes also gives teachers the option of adding the left-hand fingers only when they feel their students are ready. In fact, we would advise that you see this book in two halves, an open string section and a fingered section. In our own teaching, we teach the first nine tunes and then run the two halves concurrently. This enables us to work on left hand technique, while consolidating and enhancing the right hand.
Ensemble playing is a must for all musicians, no matter what our age or stage. Having violin, viola, cello and double bass books that all work together was very important to us. We often work with other string teachers and bring our students together for beginner string orchestras. Having a book of readily playable tunes is a must! So often we have had to write our own material where we felt there was nothing appropriate to use.
The opening 20 duets are designed to help in several different settings. As teachers, we don’t always have access to a piano. In this situation, the teacher can play the fingered part and give everyone a better sense of making music together. As these parts are designed for the pupil to be able to return to when they reach the end of the book, students can see where they are heading. Many students are excited and inspired by the idea that they will soon be able to play the tune that the teacher was playing. In the string orchestra setting, the teacher can also turn these tunes into ensemble pieces.
In our experience, pupils should be able to play the first 43 tunes within a year. This means that at the start of the next academic year, when new students are starting, you will be in a position to have your older students consolidate the duet parts and play along with your beginner students. This makes the Stringtastic books a great resource for concert opportunities.
Calling the first twenty pieces duets is slightly misleading. The open string parts were composed as tunes in their own right, as were the fingered parts, yet the parts work together. We deliberately planned it this way so that the pieces could be extended in a performance situation. We quite often would get everyone to play the open string part and sing the lyrics, then those who can play the fingered parts, and then everyone joins together to play their part. There are numerous variations on this idea.
Not all string teachers are confident pianists. Mark recorded all of the piano tracks and Paul didn’t! In order to make the piano parts as playable as possible we set ourselves some very strict criteria:
- A limit of three notes in a chord, whilst generally having single notes in the left hand
- Where there is movement in one hand, the other hand is static, keeping hand position movements to a minimum.
- Keeping the introductions and endings as straightforward as possible, avoiding syncopation in the final bar of introductions so that the teacher can count in easily, should the pupil need help with this.
The piano parts can easily be adapted to your own playing style, too. If piano playing is not your strength, recordings of all the piano parts and backing tracks are included and available to download.
The lyrics provide lots of opportunity for self-expression and for having fun! In Dotty Dog dance, Dotty barks the rhythm. Getting everyone in the room to woof at different pitches goes down very well with students young and old. We have even had some quite prestigious teachers woofing at the top of their lungs! It’s lovely to see the students enjoying themselves so much.
Although we have avoided the use of dynamics in the books, so as not to over complicate the learning experience, the piano part does have dynamics, which the teacher can use as a basis for introducing these concepts to the student. Use the lyrics creatively and encourage students to make up their own. Anything that adds to the quality of the experience of learning to play can only be a good thing.
We hope that you love using Stringtastic Beginners as much as we have loved writing it!