• AISD Orchestra Instrument Selection Guide

    All 5th grade students entering orchestra will be selecting one of the 4 instruments listed below.

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    Violin

    The violin is the smallest string instrument and the highest in pitch.  It is a very popular choice each year.  Violinists typically play melody lines in orchestra music. 

    Physical Characteristics:  The violin, along with all the string instruments, is made out of wood and is hollow inside, which allows sound to vibrate.  You play the violin by resting it between your chin and left shoulder. Your left hand holds the neck of the violin and presses down on the strings to change the pitch, while your right hand moves the bow or plucks the strings.

    Other Considerations:  Finger nails need to be kept short at all times so the fleshy part of the fingertips are able to press down accurately on the fingerboard.  Additionally, violinists will need to get a shoulder rest, which attaches to the edge of the back of the violin.  It prevents the violin from slipping off the shoulder and adds comfort by adding height to the shoulder. 

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    Viola

    The viola is the older sister or brother of the violin. It is slightly larger, just over two feet long, and has thicker strings, which produce a richer, warmer sound than the violin.  The viola is very important to the orchestra because of its beautiful and lush tone.

    Physical Characteristics:  You play the viola the same way as you do the violin, by resting it between your chin and shoulder. Your left hand holds the neck of the viola and presses down on the strings to change the pitch, while your right hand moves the bow or plucks the strings.

    Other Considerations:  Finger nails need to be kept short at all times so the fleshy part of the fingertips are able to press down accurately on the fingerboard.  Additionally, violists will need to get a shoulder rest, which attaches to the edge of the back of the viola.  It prevents the viola from slipping off the shoulder and adds comfort by adding height to the shoulder.

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    Cello

    The cello looks like the violin and viola but is much larger (around 4 feet long), and has thicker strings than either the violin or viola. Of all the string instruments, the cello sounds most like a human voice, and it can make a wide variety of tones, from warm low pitches to bright higher notes.  Cellists play both the harmony and melody in the orchestra.

    Physical Characteristics:  Since the cello is too large to put under your chin, you play it sitting down with the body of the cello between your knees, and the neck on your left shoulder. The body of the cello rests on the ground and is supported by a metal peg. You play the cello in a similar manner to the violin and viola, using your left hand to press down on the strings, and your right hand to move the bow or pluck the strings.

    Other Considerations:  While the cello is pretty light because it is hollow, students interested in the cello will need to consider the size because they will have to take it to school and back home twice a week for orchestra class.  When students get to the middle school, they will have an option to rent a school cello, in addition to their home cello, so they will not have to take it back and forth every day.  Finger nails need to be kept short at all times so the fleshy part of the fingertips are able to press down accurately on the fingerboard.  Additionally, cellists will need to get a rock stop, which prevents the end pin from slipping on the floor.

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    Double Bass

    This is the grandfather of the string family. At over 6 feet long, the double bass is the biggest member of the string family, with the longest strings, which allow it to play very low notes. The double basses of the orchestra almost always play the harmony. They are so big that you have to sit on a stool to play them, and it helps if you have long arms and big hands.

    Physical Characteristics: Like the cello, the body of the double bass stands on the ground, supported by a metal peg, and the body of the bass rests on the left leg. You produce sound just like on a cello, using the left hand to change pitch and the right to move the bow or pluck the string.

    Other Considerations: Since the bass is hollow, it is not as heavy as it looks.  However, students interested in the bass will need to consider the size because they will have to take it to school and back home twice a week for orchestra class.  When students get to the middle school, they will have an option to rent a school bass, in addition to their home bass, so they will not have to take it back and forth every day.  Choosing the string bass would be a good choice for students interested in playing the electric bass because the string bass has similar fingerings and concepts as the electric bass.  ”Finger nails need to be kept short at all times so the fleshy part of the fingertips are able to press down accurately on the fingerboard.  Additionally, bass players will need to get a stool and a rock stop, which prevents the end pin from slipping on the floor.

    Frequently Asked Questions:

     

    Can we use any instrument we want?

    It is very important that students are willing to purchase or rent a director-recommended instrument. 

    My child is tiny!  Can he/she play the cello/bass?

    All string instruments come in a variety of sizes, so when you come to orchestra night to try out the instruments and get sized, we will measure your child and tell you the size of the instrument your child needs.  We will also look at their finger and hand strength to see if they will be successful on the cello/bass.

    How much does it cost to rent an instrument?

    The approximate cost of rentals can range anywhere from $25.00 to $65.00 a month depending on the type of instrument, the brand and its overall condition.  When purchasing a used instrument, be cautious of “bargain-basement deals”.  Unfortunately, there are some instruments on the market whose poor design and craftsmanship will make it difficult to maintain and difficult for your student to succeed.  We are always available to help in the selection of your instrument, particularly those that are used.

    Are private lessons recommended?  And when should I start private lessons?

    YES!!!  And as soon as you can!!!  While private lessons are not required, if your student is interested in progressing quicker and learning as much as they can about their instruments, private lessons are the way to go.  It also gives them the one-on-one attention that they may not necessarily get in class since it meets as a group.

    What if I already play a string instrument?

    We have many students who are in private lessons and have been playing for a couple of years, and for those students there are events like All-Region, performances with the middle schools and high schools, and full orchestra throughout the year so they have more of a challenge.  When they get to middle school, they will be able to audition for a higher level ensemble so they are in a class with peers that are similar to their playing level.

    Can I switch to a different instrument in 7th grade if I don’t like the instrument I played in 6th grade?

    Since there are no beginner classes in middle school, it is not recommended to switch instruments in 7th grade.  However, there have been students who switched instruments and have been very successful because they got private lessons and practiced very hard.

    Is piano an orchestra instrument?

    Having a piano background is very helpful for a string player.  However, everybody who wants to join orchestra has to pick a string instrument to play.  There are times when an orchestra piece calls for a pianist.  When that happens, we will ask students in the orchestra who also play piano if they would like to play those parts.

    When is a good time to get a “step-up” instrument?

    In the 8th or 9th grade many students will decide to purchase a step-up instrument.  Please let your director know when you want to get a “step-up” instrument so they can help you with that process.