THOUGHTS ON SELECTION OF MATERIALS--PART ONE
I believe the most important task facing string educators is the selection of materials. Informed, careful choices go a long way toward insuring success. Unlike many in education, most music teachers enjoy the luxury of nearly complete freedom in choosing instructional materials.
The basis of instruction at any grade level is appropriate technical training material. This may be a method book or supplemental material to teach more specific technical skills. I generally refer to these materials as "the book." Working systematically in "the book" is the only way to insure technical advancement. Working with "the book" should continue from the beginning level through high school.
Coupled with rote activities, "the book" should be virtually the only music that first-year students see. To insure good setup as well as ear, pitch and tonal development, all of the first year's work should be in unison. Years of trial an error have convinced me of the truth of this belief.
There are many choices of basic method books, and all of them have strengths and weaknesses. They may use a gestalt approach or a mind-numbing one-finger-and-one-note-value-at-a-time presentation. The choice is yours. Some methods are very trendy and may be overloaded with graphics, technology and assorted "bling." Look past this. The most important factors are the logic of the way the notes and skills are presented and the progression of activity. Some methods also bombard you with tons of supplementary materials options, most of which may be unnecessary. Simple is good. Direct is even better.
Remember that the book is a tool for you to use as you deem appropriate to teach your desired skills. You are the teacher--the book isn't. Remember also that the perfect method book hasn't been written yet and probably never will be. So look them over carefully, discuss them with your colleagues, and choose the one that looks best to you. Then improvise as needed. Virtually 100% of the first year's work should be from the the basic method book.
My next posts will deal with materials issues and ideas for advancing students (2nd to 4th year) and for high school students. It's timely to throw these ideas around now since they can serve as a springboard into this summer's W-ASTA Birch Bay String Teachers' Workshop, which always has a heavy emphasis on materials and literature.