Monday, January 21, 2013

Getting to Know the Instruments

Learning the different instruments of the orchestra can be a lot of fun.  Especially when you use music kids already love to do it.  With the advent of Youtube, it is even easier to give kids a visual of the different instruments as they are played.

Especially with very young children, I suggest reading a book or watching a movie about the four main instrument families in the orchestra first.  Two books I found to be great resources in this area are:

Zin Zin Zin, A Violin

This wonderful book Illustrated by Marjorie Priceman introduces children to different instruments through poetry and beautiful illustration.  The book begins with one solo trombone and continues on counting up the duet, trio, quartet and so on until most of the orchestra is assembled.  Not only is this book a great way to discuss counting with a very young child, but it also could be used as a wonderful tool for introducing the instruments of the orchestra and classical music to a preschool child.  Three instrument families are introduced in the following order, brass, string, woodwind.  I really don't know why percussion was not included except that the book may have become too long.  

The Story of the Orchestra
This fabulous book and CD combo is GREAT for introducing kids to the basics of the symphony/orchestra.  It gives a brief overview of the Baroque, Classical, Romantic and Modern Eras by introducing kids to a clip of music from master composers that helped to shape or characterize the period being described.  The second (and largest) portion of the book and disk is the part organized by instrument family.  A short piece of music highlighting each instrument family and then a number of its individual members is included along with pictures of each instrument and historical trivia relating to each instrument.  "Orchestra Bob" makes things clear and even funny as he takes us through the basics of the Orchestra.  Song choices include things like Haydn's "Surprise Symphony" and Paul Dukas' "Sorcerer's Apprentice".  The tidbits of information given about each piece of music chosen give kids a "story" to keep them engaged, entertained and wanting more.

For your Preschoolers, this animated short from Sesame Street may be useful.  

For Some Kids, this "reading step may not be necessary if they already have some idea of which instruments make what kinds of sounds.  Ravel's Bolero is a great choice for introducing the look and sound of the different instruments to any age because it features so many of them. A great way to do this is to watch the video a couple of times and try identifying each instrument as it is shown.  Have a copy of "The Story of Orchestra" or another similar book that outlines each instrument and its sound with pictures of the instruments included as you watch so you can "find" the instruments in the book while you watch.  I do not suggest pausing the movie as you go.  Just find what you can so the music can be heard fully while you watch.

Especially with older kids, I suggest watching a video of an orchestra playing a song from the soundtrack of a favorite movie.  Start here as an "in" and then watch the clip of Bolero and begin to identify the different instruments.  Since we've been reading Harry Potter at our house, Hedwig's Theme worked really well for this, but you could also try, This bit from Lord of the Rings Symphony, or this portion of James Bond.  It might also help to let the kids see the orchestral instruments rocking out with Metallica, or watch a Pop-up Orchestral Performance by the Sussex Symphony Orchestra, or along a similar theme, a Flash Mob Orchestral Hit and Run (Here is Bolero Again but in "Flash" Style, Ode to Joy or you can try Star Wars.  For some "different" instruments try this performance of Spaghetti Western at the Proms.

And I had to include this because its just cool:  Call me Maybe-string "quartet".

For even more resources and activities:
  • Try this Related Article also from pinch - scroll to the bottom for lots more links and clips for your youngest music aficionados.  
  • This website is a classic for kids because it has all sorts of learning games, sound bytes, and visual information about classical music. 
  • The Piano Student has music curricula designed for homeschooling families

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