by John Davis
The Texas Tech String Project was founded in 2001 with the help of the National String Project Consortium and the American String Teachers’ Association.
Texas Tech String Project
Purpose: To provide low cost beginning string instruction to children in the Lubbock area, and provide intensive, guided teaching experience to undergraduate music students who plan to make string education their career.
Cost: $50 per semester (includes two lessons per week for 14 weeks); instrument rental, music book purchase.
Contact: Bruce Wood at (806) 742-2270, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Video produced by Scott Irlbeck, Office of Communications & Marketing.
String Project Provides Affordable Instruction to Aspiring Young Musicians
Down in a basement rehearsal room at Texas Tech’s School of Music, 14 fifth-graders stand tall with bows drawn across violin strings, eagerly waiting for their instructors to turn them loose and let them make some music.
Moms and dads watch from plastic stacking chairs, sometimes silently laughing at discordant scraping or offering supportive smiles. Brothers and sisters listen as they fidget or work on homework.
Twice a week for a semester, some 50 fourth- and fifth-graders from the Lubbock area come to the School of Music for lessons on the violin, the cello or the bass. Associate Professor Bruce Wood heads the Texas Tech String Project, part of a nationwide program that educates elementary students and budding music instructors on how to learn and teach the playing of stringed instruments.
Making Strings Sing
The Texas Tech String Project was founded in 2001 with the help of the National String Project Consortium and the American String Teachers’ Association. The program was originally funded by a three-year grant from the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education and matched by money from Texas Tech. The university, student instruction fees and other grants now fund the program. In the past two years, the project has received more than $50,000 in endowed grants.
Organizers offer instruction to students who are home-schooled as well as those who are from affluent and disadvantaged public schools in the Lubbock area, Wood says. The String Project tries to attract students from diverse ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds.
Nationwide, parents and school boards are paying more attention to the latest research regarding music and the development of intelligence, Wood says. In verbal memory, spoken-language processing, brainstem sensitivity, math tasks and general IQ capability, studies have found a strong link between music instruction and cognitive development.
Yet, renewed interest in music education stands in stark contrast to the number of future string and orchestra teachers enrolled in colleges and universities, Wood says. A recent study discovered more than 30 percent of string and orchestra teaching positions in the U.S. went unfilled.
“There are just not enough teachers, even though many schools want to have orchestra programs or want to expand their orchestra programs,” he said.
A Dream Come True
For 10-year-old Ashleigh Gonzales, the class is a dream come true. The fifth-grader at North Ridge Elementary School is in her second year and says the violin has always captivated her. She hopes to play the violin just like her mother and grandmother.
“To me, the violin is very soft and light,” she said. “I want to be a professional violinist. It’s hard to play. But to me, that makes it more interesting. The boys laugh, but the girls think it’s kind of cool.”
That enthusiasm for learning is exactly what the project aims to achieve, Wood says. Along with fostering a love of music, teachers encourage the children to continue learning and progressing on their instruments, to join their school orchestra programs by the time they reach sixth grade and to audition for Prelude Strings – the youngest of the Lubbock Youth Symphony Orchestras.
Associate professor Bruce Wood works with students enrolled in the String Project.
The program allows students to work one on one with professors and undergraduate music majors during sessions.
By watching Wood, undergraduate music students learn a unique way to teach beginners.
On this warm fall Tuesday after school, it’s more than just the children learning in the String Project.
Karissa Chervnsik, a violin music education major from Katy, is one of 11 student instructors. Though she’s only been involved with the project for a few months, she says the program has taught her much about how to succeed as a music instructor.
“I think when you can teach beginners, you can teach at any level,” Chervnsik said. “I’m learning the goofier you make something, the more kids love it. Tell them to hold their bows with their hands in the shape of a bunny face rather than a fox, and they’ll remember.”
Jackson Guillen, a music performance graduate student from Tegucigalpa, Honduras, joined the project with Chervnsik. He has taught before and said he was impressed with the program’s curriculum and method.
“Though my area of study is music performance, it’s always good to have teaching experience,” Guillen said. “As a musician, you’re always going to have to teach at some level.”
University students accepted as String Project student instructors earn $1,000 per year and work approximately four hours a week with fourth- and fifth- graders. Wood says this hands-on approach helps university students decide if they’re committed to their chosen area of study.
“You get a lot of people who think they want to be a music teacher and go through the program,” Wood said. “But when they do their student teaching, they say ‘Oh my gosh, I don’t want to do that after all.’ With the String Project, students work with the children earlier and actually get a head start on teacher training. Then when they do their student teaching, that’s a successful experience because they know what they’re doing.”
Learn to Play; Learn to Read
The National String Project Consortium was founded in 1998 both to increase the number of children studying stringed instruments and to help institutions of higher education train qualified string and orchestra educators.
The curriculum: Learn to play – learn to read. During their first year, students learn correct position and posture. By the end of the first year, students can play eight to 10 folk songs from memory.
In the second year, students are introduced to music reading. They start with single-line material and progress to reading pieces such as “Ode to Joy” and “Can, Can.”
“By playing and memorizing pieces their first year and then reading their second year, we follow the same natural method as is done with language learning,” Wood said. “One learns to speak before learning to read. The aural and physical are developed first, then symbols are added.”
Wood says Texas Tech’s String Project is fertile ground for research. The American String Teachers Association published a study done by Wood and inspired by String Project students titled “The Wild Child and the Mild Child: A Tale of Two Beginners.”
Wood studied how teachers interacted with and gravitated toward the “mild child,” who carefully waits for teacher instruction and takes fewer risks with learning, compared to the “wild child,” who attacks learning in a more cathartic manner.
“In many cases, the wild child has a different learning style,” he said. “And that style, to a teacher, is disruptive to the class. But that’s more of a Gestalt way of learning, and that’s OK.”
Wood’s research not only takes him to the basement of the School of Music, but he also took a year leave from Texas Tech and headed back to the public classroom. The result is a new book titled “I Want to Play Forever: journey Back to Public School teaching.”
Fagner Rocha, a Texas Tech alumnus and current professor of violin at the Universidade Federal de Alagoas, in Maceió, Alagoas, Brazil, has started his own String Project called Laboratório de Violino (Violin Lab) based on Wood's project at Texas Tech. He teaches around 30 students, ages 7 to 12. Since the state where Fagner teaches is in a poor part of the country, and the students do not have enough money to pay for lessons, he is offering his program for free. He says none of his efforts would be possible without the inspiration from Wood.
“All I am doing here for these kids is a fruit of the project Dr. Wood holds at Texas Tech,” said Fagner.
Texas Tech's School of Music is part of the College of Visual and Performing Arts. The school is led by nationally and internationally recognized artists, educators and researchers and provides educational opportunities for music majors and nonmusic majors, as well as musical art and cultural events to Texas Tech, Lubbock and the surrounding community.
The faculty consists of performing specialists on all band and orchestral instruments as well as piano, voice, organ, harp and guitar. Additionally, there are specialists in conducting, composition, electronic music, music education, musicology, world musics and music theory.
Texas Tech music graduates have distinguished themselves in a variety of ways, from winning Fulbright Scholarships to performing professionally. Many are outstanding teachers in public schools, colleges and universities, while others have achieved fame in specialized areas such as electronic music, or by performance on the Metropolitan Opera stage.
The School of Music is an accredited member of the National Association of Schools of Music and offers bachelors, masters, and doctoral degrees in music. A new offering for the school is the Bachelor + Masters Program in Music Education. This program allows exceptional students to enroll in specified hours that count toward both the Bachelor of Music Leading to Teacher Certification degree and the Master of Music Education degree.
John Davis is a Senior Writer in the Office of Communications & Marketing at Texas Tech University. Photos courtesy Neal Hinkle.