ASTA Session – “Help! My Students Don’t Play in Tune!”

ASTA Session – “Help! My Students Don’t Play in Tune!”

One of my favorite sessions at ASTA 2020 was entitled “Help! My Students Don’t Play in Tune,” by Margaret Schmidt (Arizona State University) which of course piqued my interest. We’re all forever striving to improve our students’ aural skills, pitch recognition, and this is one of the more difficult skills to develop in string playing.

Margaret started out the session with an emphasis from Shinichi Suzuki’s approach – that any child can learn if we progress with small enough steps. This is key… I think that many times in my own teaching, where students fall through the cracks is where my sequencing misses a step.

Dr. Schmidt explained how this works with intonation and developing aural recognition, using this sequence:

1.) Listen to an aural model

2.) Listen, and move body with where the pitch goes (i.e. learning Twinkle by rote with hands touching shoulders, head, waist, knees, feet, etc.)

3.) Listen, and imitate (through singing, then playing on the instrument). Echoing melodic fragments correctly and INCORRECTLY helps differentiate.

In Tune VS Out of Tune

Here’s what really blew my mind… I think these were the pieces of the puzzle that I was missing.

  • First, it’s far easier to recognize 2 other people playing in & out of tune together than SELF in a GROUP.
  • Second, have the STUDENT hold a pitch and 1 other person play in/out of tune with them to hear.
  • Third, have 1 other person play steady pitch and have STUDENT slide their OWN fingers in/out of tune.
  • Fourth, slowly add # of people playing together
  • Fifth, by SECTION listen – describe “hiding” in the group sound.
  • Sixth, across ENSEMBLE. Hi / Low, Inner & Outer voices
    • A great game for the group, “Fuzzy Radio.” Begin matching pitch… at the conductor’s signal, pull fingers OUT of tune, with a second signal, bring it back.

A student has to master the steps in sequence before they can move on… if they’re struggling, they’re probably being asked to operate at a higher level then their current ability.

Dr. Schmidt also offered many other tips, like highlighting sympathetic vibrations of the open strings, playing over a drone, and connecting sing-then-play. I hope these takeaways are as helpful to you as they are to me!