Starting a stringed instrument in school orchestra
Chances are, you're on this page because your child has excitedly told you she or he would like to start orchestra next school year. Perhaps a flyer was sent home from school, inviting you to a 'string drive' or 'orchestra parents night'. Here, you'll meet your school's orchestra teacher(s) and learn a little about what you'll need to do and obtain for your child to participate.
- In our area, most schools have string drives in spring to enroll beginners who will start the following fall semester. Enrolling in orchestra class is great, but when you're a Quantum Bass Center customer, you don't have to wait months to start learning to play. See more info on this below.
- A few schools have their string drives at the beginning of the school year, and you'll need to find an instrument in order to get started right away. Once again, see us as SOON as your child expresses interest in beginning to play, even if the orchestra class signup is still in the future. You may be surprised to find string shops actually run out of instruments around back-to-school, so let us get you up and running early! See our page on AVOIDING THE BACK TO SCHOOL RUSH
- Orchestra class is during school hours, but your child will have to attend additional rehearsals and concerts outside school hours - normally, 2 or 3 evening rehearsals prior to a concert, which will occur an average of 4 times per school year.
- Participation in all these scheduled activities is not optional! Each person is required to be in place in order for the group to sound the way it was rehearsed. You'll have to make a commitment to the entire schedule in order for your child to be eligible to be in orchestra.
- Storage is provided for your child's instrument while at school, but he will be required to take it home to practice. There are periodic tests to see if your child is practicing and learning his music.
- He will most likely be required to keep a practice log, which, like his reading log, you will probably be required to review and sign each week.
- There are usually multiple skill levels of orchestra class within a school, so your child may receive schedule changes as she advances on her instrument and gets moved up to intermediate or advanced orchestra.
- Some schools provide basses and cellos for students to use, and some even provide TWO instruments per student - one at school, and one for practicing at home. You may be required to pay a deposit or even a small rental fee to keep the school's instrument at home. If the instrument offered for home practice seems to need adjustment or maintenance (the best ones are usually kept at school), bring it to us, as we can often adjust it for just a few dollars and greatly improve your child's comfort in playing. If you are asked to rent an instrument from school, look it over and compare to our rental instruments to see if the quality for price is a good value.
- Many schools do not provide either cellos or basses for practicing at home, so you'll need to buy or rent one. Of course, we can only recommend you obtain yours here at Quantum Bass Center, as we specialize in highly knowledgeable setup of double basses, and our all rental instruments (violin, viola, cello, bass) are a cut above in both quality and features. The setup of your instrument has an enormous effect on your ability to make progress! Many times, you will hear the 'race car' analogy - that you can't win the Indy 500 in a Ford Fiesta. It's quite true when it comes to stringed instruments.
- Most schools in our area do not provide violins and violas, so you will be required to obtain one for your child. Most parents rent instruments for their beginners, due to the ease of exchanging instruments for larger sizes as they grow.
- We have a number of customers who obtain TWO violins or violas for their children - one to leave at school, and one to practice at home. As beginner violins are not too expensive, this is a reasonable plan for many parents wanting to ensure the practice instrument is always set up and ready for daily practice, the student always has a backup in case one needs maintenance, and there is never an issue with the instrument being forgotten either at home or school. We see this most often with students who also are involved in sports and have extremely full schedules. Sometimes parents rent one or both of the violins. It's completely optional, and certainly the large majority of parents obtain one instrument.
- You will most likely be advised NOT to mail-order an instrument on eBay or Amazon, as they are extremely poor quality and require extensive modification in order to be playable. This isn't an exaggeration, and you'll find, in the long run, it is no more expensive to obtain a quality instrument here via purchasing or renting than to buy a cheap one sight-unseen and then pay for it to be made playable. Ordering a $60 violin is like ordering your child a textbook that was being sold cheap because all the chapter study guides are missing. Or, giving him a 10-cent balloon with lines drawn on it in marker to practice with when he signs up for soccer. Many schools will not even allow such violins to be used in class. See our BLOG POST on this topic.
- In addition to the instrument itself (which in most cases will be supplied with a bow), you will be required to obtain some accessories and supplies - each teacher has a list of those she prefers her students to use. Here at Quantum Bass Center, we stock packages of these supplies for convenient, one-click ordering or pickup. You will not have to track the items down individually or wonder if you're getting the correct one! And, as you're ordering them as a package, you get a discount.
Q: What supplies and accessories do I need?
A: There may be others in addition, but the items we see on every school orchestra supply list are:
- Shoulder rest (violin and viola)
- Endpin vs. floor protector (cello and bass)
- Electronic tuner/metronome: this is available as any of many smartphone apps, but most schools require you to have a dedicated electronic tuner/metronome device due to students not being allowed smartphones in class.
- Specific classroom string method book. We stock all the most popular ones, for all instruments.
- Pencils and a music folder or binder, as your school requires. Younger students are now often required to use a binder so music doesn't get lost.
Q: What if I buy my accessories now, and the school later says I need something different?
A: Most schools will not have a problem with you obtaining a quality accessory that suits you. Even if you are not starting school orchestra for months in the future, you can still contact the orchestra teacher for the supply list to make sure everything you invest in meets their requirements. Or, ask us - we may very well have the supply list from that school, as we serve many of them. In the long run, accessories are not very expensive, in the unlikely event you find yourself required to obtain a specific brand just for school.
- You will likely have to pay an annual activity fee to participate in orchestra class.
- Your child will need to have either a school-designated uniform (which you will have to buy or rent from the school) for orchestra concerts, or will need an all-black outfit. Some high schools require tuxedos for men. Concertblack.com has great women's performance wear.
- Then, you'll be given an orchestra class handbook and a list of the school's suggested local resources for acquiring your instrument and supplies. Even if you don't see Quantum Bass Center's name as a referral, we guarantee that each and every item we provide to students exceeds school orchestra requirements. After all, we were all in school orchestra ourselves, and we stand for high-quality beginner instruments, and are happy to answer any questions - even bringing our rental instruments to the school for the teacher's approval.
- Over the next several weeks, you'll need to reserve the instrument rental (if you plan to rent). In most cases, the string shop will offer to deliver your violin (viola, cello, bass) to school at the beginning of next school year. In our case, we HIGHLY recommend you obtain that instrument ASAP when your child is most motivated to begin playing! If you wait to allow her to start playing until back-to-school, her interests may well have shifted to something else entirely, and switching back to the defunct topic of beginning violin could feel like her more recent attraction is being taken away. We have several ways to help you get started at any time, year-round, with the added advantage of when school starts, your child will already be off to a good start!
Things that are not always covered at Parent Night:
- The vast possibilities for advancement for kids who take private lessons weekly in addition to orchestra class. If your school does not have a violin, cello, and/or bass teacher come in to teach private lessons, ask the other parents right away if they would commit to lessons if the school locates a teacher. It is much easier to bring a good private teacher to school to teach several students a day than it is for you to drive your progeny to after-school lessons, so private lessons at school will GREATLY improve how often your child is able to take lessons without having to cancel or add one more thing to your overburdened schedule.
- Learning to read music is a separate skill from the mechanics of learning the play the instrument. In essence, your child will be learning two complex skills at once, similar to learning to ride a bike and read a road map simultaneously! As soon as your child expresses interest in learning to play music, check out musictheory.net for easy, free ways to start reading music SEPARATELY from the physical skill of the instrument.
- Most school orchestras are desperately underfunded, and you will likely be called upon to participate in fundraisers and/or a Parents Booster Club. If this is the case, CALL US for ways we can assist your school and Booster Club to maximize their budgets without paying full price at retailers for things that should have been provided by the school district. If a Booster Club is mentioned, ask what other Booster Clubs yours is networked with in your school district to obtain bulk pricing, share instruments, and petition the district to properly fund fine arts. You may be surprised to hear your booster club is not in touch with any others, so if that is the case, be proactive and find the others around you! Example: your middle school is asking the Booster Club to buy a 1/4 size string bass outfit for $1600 for one very tiny bass player. With networking, you may find another Booster Club that owns a currently unused one they can loan you for the rest of the school year. Next year, the tiny bass player will have grown big enough to play a larger bass the school already owns.
- You're about to learn more about classical music than you expected to!
- You'll have to help your child tune her instrument at first, and may need coaching yourself on exactly how to do that.
- There are smartphone apps (including free ones) to help you tune the instrument.
- A great deal of music that is currently being rehearsed in schools was written just for school orchestras and is not Beethoven, Mozart, or Haydn. Very little about music history, great music, and great composers is imparted in orchestra class, due to time constraints. Performing the prescribed music written for children won't shape them into comprehensive musicians. You will have to seek out additional resources to keep your child interested and expanding his knowledge, understanding, and love of music. You will need to get your child to live concerts by our city's fine performing organizations, so look around the room for other parents who might want to carpool!
- If your child is taking lessons and advancing quickly, is deeply involved with music, or your particular school orchestra is spending more time getting kids to sit down and be quiet than rehearsing, he or she may be better served by playing in a violin ensemble or quartet led by your private teacher, or in youth orchestra or your local community orchestra, than school orchestra. Some school orchestras, like sports teams, are very concerned with how many students can get into All-State, and with ranking well in UIL competitions. These are extra-curricular and involve a lot of rehearsal time of tightly prescribed music. If your child loves this, you're in a great place! Stay tuned in to her particular needs to grow musically and technically, and look for alternatives if you need them. All though school may be the only place for teens to play team sports, there are many other places for them to play in orchestras, which may involve less of a weekly time commitment and cover higher-quality classical repertoire.
- If your child begins talking about a career in classical music, support his interest very early - openings at the few college-level music schools that graduate career orchestra musicians are extremely limited. Do a quick Google search for 'orchestra audition winners' and see how many colleges are represented on the lists you find. In their high school years, the successful applicants to these top conservatories will forego sports, AP classes, and even All-State in favor of practicing, taking lessons with the best teachers in town (yes you will have to drive your youngun downtown every week, since that's where the best teachers live and work), playing in a very high-quality youth orchestra, and attending summer music academies. These are very fulfilling to a young musician and don't feel like a sacrifice. It may seem strange to ponder while you're sitting in an Orchestra Parent Night with your fourth-grade beginner, but if the road starts to head in that direction, we just want you to have a long view.