On the Learning String Instruments Course in the States

— by H. S.

One of the cultural differences that I was most impressed by during my stay in the US was the program devoted to teaching students to play string instruments (I don’t remember the actual name of the class, so I’ll call it the Learning String Instruments course: LSI for short).

The schedule went like this: once every week during my third year in elementary school, students divided into groups according to the string instruments of their choice. We brought our own music score textbooks and instruments. We would play short music pieces in time to the CD that the teacher put on. Students were then taught to play woodwind instruments in 4th grade, but sadly by then I had already departed for Japan.

Admittedly, there were some obstacles in the LSI course. Firstly, there were only a couple of instructors to attend to students, which made it harder for the teachers to pay attention to individual student’s progress. In addition, some of the instruments rented out to the students were less than perfect — which was understandable, considering the cheap rental fees. The fact that it was up to each person to care for the instrument was either a blessing or a curse, depending on the person I talked to. Also, there was the downside that, in my elementary school at least, the classes for string instruments only continued for one year. Still, it was better than nothing, in my opinion.

Despite some flaws, the LSI curriculum was highly rewarding. Not only did it teach me to play the instrument of my choice, but I was also able to dramatically improve my skills after a full year of practice. LSI also established my habit of working on things daily to accumulate experience. In the days leading up to the class, students were expected to practice pieces for homework, which we were then expected to play in class. That way, we learned the joys of playing together. I was given the opportunity to do all this in third grade, which was very worthwhile.

That is not to say that Japan does not have a system like the LSI. Most bukatsus, for example, require rigorous training. The concepts above can certainly be learnt through other activities — tennis, swimming, etc. However, one advantage of the LSI course is the age at which students are taught.

Having the opportunity to take part in such activities during childhood, when it is easier to take information in, is especially valuable.

This is partly why I believe so many parents let their children try out extracurricular activities at a very young age. For instance, how many people have experience playing the piano? Probably a lot. Most likely far more than the number of those who continued to practice on a daily basis. There is also the off chance that one discovers their passion in an extracurricular activity. Without resorting to sources outside of school for the activities, it is difficult to give children a chance to try things out for longer periods of time. In Japan, for instance, I was only given a recorder and a keyboard harmonica for music class during elementary school, and it was never specified that I was supposed to practice the instruments every day. Indeed, our keyboard harmonicas were stored in the music classroom for the majority of the year. Meanwhile, everyone was given the chance to explore different instruments daily with the LSI course. I think these kinds of courses should be considered for Japanese schools as well.


Image curtesy of Matthew Trudeau on flickr.com