In the past five years I have worked at the University of New Mexico as a string pedagogy coordinator. As a part of my job I talk to many young colleagues who transition from string majors into teaching string classes in the community. I enjoy sharing ideas about teaching strings with them. However, sooner or later when sharing their experiences as beginning teachers they all have one complaint…
I cannot get them to stop plucking!
This is what string instruments are about! Thy are fun and it is quite easy to make a sound when students are not supposed to. So when the students are in rest position they very often start making additional sounds.
So let’s look at some ways to have a quiet classroom where students play only when they are prompted to.
Have instruments on the floor (or in the case) before class begins
The best discipline builder for string and orchestra classes is having clear rules on what the students should be doing as they are getting ready for the class to start!
Most teachers expect students to have their instruments in rest position by the time class starts.
But think about it, if the the instruments are in the students hands, they WILL pluck. It is just too tempting.
So when my student come into the room and get ready to start class, my expectation is for everyone to be in their seat with an instrument ready. However instead of rest position, they keep their violins next to them with the case half open agains the chair.
In Suzuki classes-I have my students sit down on the floor crick cross with the instruments in front of them.
This takes care of the problem! It also centers students much better before class begins.
Play Music As The Students Are Getting Ready
To add a step further, I have music playing for my beginners, every day as they are walking into the room . Their expectation is to enter as quiet as they can so they can hear the music as they are getting their instruments out.
This is a life saver!
I am Suzuki trained. My orchestra classroom is largely influenced by the Suzuki ideas. So listening to music as students walk in provides such a wonderful opportunity to apply one of the main Suzuki principles-listen! As the students are getting ready for class to start they always listen to the pieces thy are about to play! Great ear training and classroom management builder at the same time!
If You Play Before I Say I Will Take Your Instrument Away!
If you use this phrase from the beginning of the year, it is very effective. Make it a game. Have the whole class say the phrase. Then if a student starts plucking, they set their instrument down. Depriving them from that opportunity with a positive but firm consequence quickly has them realize that they need to wait before they play.
This will work only for beginning students who have just started playing and are excited about their new instrument.
Work On Shorter Transition Time
I see this a lot with string teachers when working at the university and when teachers email with questions and videos of their teaching. I think this is one of the reasons you classroom may suffer discipline.
You finish playing a piece. Then between the first piece and the next activity the teachers gives the students ALL of this time when they can start plucking misbehaving and everything in between.
Instead as soon as the students finish one pice, yes they can go to rest position, you SHOUDL ALREADY be giving them instruction on what’s coming up next. This is how there is no “break” in the instruction.
Be careful of how you give instructions and how you move from one activity to the next.
Taking too much time or hesitation in the teacher’s voice simply gives students an opportunity to misbehave while waiting. They simply “fill in” the time by plucking.
To fix this, pick up the pacing of the lesson. For more detailed discussion on this ideas you can check post 4 Classroom Management Tips to Keep the Focus of Your Students.