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Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Virtual Music Lesson Ideas: Instruments of the Orchestra

We're officially in week 2 of school closure. Last week in our district we weren't doing much direct teaching- we sent home learning packets for students to work on and waited for directions from our district as they figured out a plan for moving forward. Now we're back on the clock with official work hours to be online and we're setting up our online virtual classrooms. This week I have been working on ideas and resources to use online, and thinking about which musical skills and concepts will most lend themselves to distance learning. One concept that I think will work very well in distance learning is the instruments of the orchestra, which I teach in varying degrees to almost every grade level. Here are the lesson ideas I plan to use with my K-6 general music classes.


First let's all take a deep breath and remember that we are in unusual times. We shouldn't expect our virtual classrooms to replace our brick-and-mortar ones. We aren't trying to replicate the curriculum and instruction we would normally be doing right now. But I also don't think we should be giving our students mindless fluff- if there was ever a time to spark their interest, it's now! I do think we should still be seeking to engage them intellectually for students to be most engaged and motivated to complete the assignments we give them.

With that said, I've been working on ideas for practicing specific musical concepts with my students in an online setting. My district will be using Google Classroom as our platform and we are being asked to upload assignments in the morning for students to complete on their own time rather than meeting live.  I am planning to generally have a pre-recorded video of me introducing and demonstrating a lesson and then a short task for students to complete. 

One of the concepts I think is best suited for online learning is instruments of the orchestra! There are so many great resources developed by symphonies around the world available for free, and they are very interactive. I plan to introduce the lesson content in a short video recording, reviewing specific instruments, instrument family names, or just talking about what an orchestra is depending on the grade level, and then sending them off to one of the sites below with specific questions to answer.

SFS Kids: Perform: This website is amazing! Students can learn about each individual instrument and then virtually "play" them by using their computer keyboard! This will be perfect for the upper grades who are learning about individual instruments in the orchestra to find specific answers to specific questions, or for younger students to explore and report back on a favorite instrument or fun fact they learned.

LSO Interactive Performance Video: This website allows you to view a performance by a full orchestra from different camera angles focusing on the different sections of the orchestra. This would be a good one to use with students who are learning about the instrument families rather than specific instruments- I plan to use this as an exploratory lesson and have them report back on their favorite instrument family and what they liked about it.

DSO Kids Make Your Own Instrument: Another fun way to review instruments and relate it to the science of sound- this site has directions for making instruments at home, ranging from a brass mouthpiece to coffee can drums. I'll show students an example that I made myself, then have them choose one instrument to make themselves and report back on what they made and how it produces sound.

Instrument Commercial: For older students reviewing the instruments of the orchestra, I'll have them make an advertisement for an instrument of their choice. They can use prior knowledge or find out more about specific instruments on this website and create a radio, TV, or poster ad "selling" why their instrument is the best! Students can videotape a TV ad, audio record a radio commercial, or make a poster on a piece of paper and take a picture.

With everything that's changing in our worlds on a daily basis, I hope these lesson ideas will help other music teachers create concrete lessons that are fun and engaging for students and keep that spark going while we're apart. Have more ideas or online resources for teaching instruments of the orchestra virtually? Please share them in the comments below!

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