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Tuesday, February 7, 2023

3 Ways to Teach Orchestral Instrument Families

One of the topics most of us teach in elementary general music that can easily become dry and boring to teach (and to learn) is the instruments of the orchestra. But it doesn't have to be! Today I'm sharing my 3 favorite ways to teach lower elementary students the 4 families of instruments in the orchestra.

1. Classical Pieces

I'm sure this is an obvious choice for many- Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra is an oldie but a goodie! The piece very clearly gives students a sense of the characteristic sound of each family, and it's short enough to hold young students' attention. I particularly love using this video that I found last year because the visuals are very clear and helpful but also colorful and fun:

Another great way to explore the instrument families and watch an actual orchestra performing is with the London Symphony Orchestra's interactive videos that lets you view a performance from several different cameras at once, so you can focus on the different families at the same time. They have several pieces they've made available this way, but this one of Shostakovich's 5th Symphony is a good one that shows all the families well.

2. Instrument Family Four Corners

In the basic game of 4 corners, you go to one of four corners of the room when the music stops, and one person who isn't looking calls out a number. Everyone at the corner that corresponds to that number is out. In instrument family four corners, it's the same basic idea but each corner matches an instrument family. There are a few ways to play it- play an example of a family or instrument playing, and tell students to go to the family they hear, or have everyone choose a corner and then whatever family plays after, all the students in that corner are out. It depends on how well students can identify the families aurally. Obviously you can use any sound examples to run the game yourself, which is what I did for a long time, but you can also now use these pre-made videos that basically run the game for you!

3. Poster Project

I love doing this because it gets student work up on the walls! I give small groups of students a few pieces of paper with lots of different instrument pictures on them, and then I assign each group to one family of instruments. They have to figure out which instruments belong in their family, cut those pictures out and glue/ tape them to a piece of construction paper, and then decorate and label their posters with the name of the family. I love listening to the groups talking to each other to discuss which instruments are in their family, and the students love seeing their work displayed in the classroom!

I hope this helps you breath fresh life into your lessons! For all of my full lesson plans on the orchestral instrument families, and the materials to go with them, you can get my full 2nd grade curriculum set here. And check out my post on Teaching Instruments of the Orchestra for how I sequence those concepts across grade levels.

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