Monthly Archives: December 2011

Mastering Bow Techniques with Sound Innovations: Sound Development

By Bob Phillips

There are many factors in creating a beautiful sound on a string instrument. My personal belief is that the right hand is key for tone, ensemble playing and even influences intonation– really everything that we want to develop in string players. The foundation for teaching these important skills begins the first day of string instruction and is present in Sound Innovations Books 1 and 2. As students reach middle school, or an intermediate level, the skills can be refined a bit further and that’s when it’s really fun to work on these skills. I am very excited to be able to tell you about the third level of Sound Innovations and announce that the focus is sound, hence the title: Sound Development.

I am really excited about this because I feel so strongly about the importance of investing time in the class or the private lesson in building right hand skills. Some of the most important skills to develop are bow placement, bow speed and bow weight and so that’s where SI: Sound Development for Intermediate Strings begins. Sequential instruction will lead the students to success. Later units focus on additional intermediate skills including new bowings and shifting and we’ll talk more about that in future posts.

Bob Phillips is well known in the music education community as a successful teacher, composer, teacher-trainer and conductor. He is the Director of String Publications for Alfred Music Publishing and the President-elect of the American String Teachers Association.

Teaching Music Students How To Rehearse

Thomas J. West
In the traditional American public school band, chorus, or orchestra program, 90 to 95% of available class time is spent preparing the large ensemble for the next public performance. This in and of itself is a noble pursuit that is a valued experience for the majority of the students involved. In my instrumental music program, however, we spend most of the first marking period building basic independent musicianship skills and addressing basic concepts in tone production, rote technique work, basic music theory, and solo repertoire study. Marking period 1 concludes with a series of in-class clinics focused on performing major scales and excerpts from their solo pieces.

In marking period 2, we begin preparations for the winter concert, which occurs just before winter break. This program is abbreviated – only about an hour’s worth of material, and it features both chamber ensemble and combined class performances. The repertoire performed is technically less demanding. My classes are “leveled” somewhat in middle school, with my more experienced 7th and 8th graders getting their own class period. My other middle school classes contain a wide mix of experience levels from raw beginners to students who have been playing their instrument for four years.

Because there are beginners involved, I have to teach the basics of ensemble performance and rehearsal. I give demonstrations in basic conducting patterns, introduce concepts like balance, blend, and ensemble intonation, and provide students with strategies for playing with rhythmic integrity and finding their place if they get lost during a performance.

I also teach the basics of rehearsing as an ensemble. Efficient, effective use of time is paramount, especially since we have less time to prepare the repertoire in class. Ensemble rehearsing concepts that the student must follow are:

  •     Performing assigned excerpts as instructed – stopping at the end of the assigned section without going on
  •     Understanding directions for repetitions the first time they are given, including which instruments will be playing this time, where they start, where they end, and what the goal or emphasis for that repetition is
  •     Simply performing excerpts for successful repetitions multiple times with little or no feedback given
  •     Practicing fingerings while the director is rehearsing another section, or critically listening to the rehearsing section and offering constructive criticism when called for
  •     Developing the mindset of improving some aspect of performance with every rep, or building consistency

All of these concepts are addressed verbally and reinforced by the teacher experientially. Rehearsing efficiently becomes the standard operating procedure that makes it possible to produce a quality public performance in a shorter amount of class time. As middle school students matriculate up to the high school, they bring with them foundational knowledge basic to intermediate tone production, rote technique, scale and chord theory, ear training concepts, basic melodic compositional skills, and effective, disciplined individual and ensemble practice methods.

Thanks goes to Thomas J. West Music for letting us use his blog!

Thomas J. West is an active music educator, composer, adjudicator, clinician, and award-winning blogger.

From Video Games to the GRAMMYs

By Christopher Tin, Composer

Back in 2005, I was asked by a former college roommate to write the theme song for a video game called Civilization IV. Six years later that song won me two GRAMMY awards. It’s been a long and unusual journey, but one that ultimately led me to the joy of holding a GRAMMY statue . . . and the joy of sharing that experience with high school students as well.

“Baba Yetu” is a setting of The Lord’s Prayer in Swahili, scored for soloists, mixed chorus, percussion, and an explosive orchestral accompaniment. And even though it was written for a video game, the song gradually took on a life of its own outside of the gaming community. Video Games Live, a touring concert of video game music performed by live orchestra, added the song to its repertoire and premiered it at the Hollywood Bowl. Shortly thereafter, Alfred Music Publishing released a choral octavo of the song, which quickly became one of their most popular publications. Soon I was getting fan mail from around the world, and watching my song appear in places as far off as the Dubai Fountain and the opening ceremonies of the World Games in Kaohsiung, Taiwan.

But perhaps the most fun experience of all has been seeing the hundreds of YouTube videos of amateur performances and covers of my song. Ranging from the brilliant to the downright bizarre (but always well-intended), I’m always touched to see people so engaged with my music.

Even better than watching people’s performances on YouTube, however, is the experience of meeting the performers face-to-face. I’ve had the good fortune to be able to attend a few concerts given by schools that were performing my music. And ever since the GRAMMYs, I’ve brought one of my statues along with me to share with the students.

I can only hope that the opportunity to hold a GRAMMY statue might change their lives in some small way. Who knows—maybe some will be inspired to pursue their own musical dreams, and someday win their own GRAMMY. When they do, I hope that they bring it with them whenever they visit a school, too.

Note from the Editor:
Alfred is now proud to publish two different choral editions of “Baba Yetu” as follows:
1. 00-27827 – for SSATBB voices and piano (SoundTrax CD w/orchestra 00-27828)
Orchestration to accompany the SSATBB choral #00-27827 is now available by rental. Click HERE for more information.

2. 00-35768 – for SATB divisi voices, a cappella (SoundPax percussion parts 00-35770, SoundTrax CD w/percussion 00-35769)

A vocal solo/piano edition is also available (00-37765).

Visit for more information and additional photos.