I'm volunteering at my high school, teaching violin/viola to beginners so that they can join the school orchestra, and I've run into a bit of a stump: they all started out as complete beginners, but their skill levels are starting to vary for various reasons.

Some of them already have experience on other instruments, which gives them an edge, while others either simply can't practice at home because they're homestaying or because they're simply swamped with homework (it's an AP/IB school). Often times there's the fundamental problem that some people are better at some things than others.

Complicating things more is the fact that some of them are already in the orchestra and want help with orchestra repertoire, while some want to work on different repertoire.

My new strategy right now is to let them practice in whatever ad-hoc groups they want, while I jump around (with another capable student from the school who also helps out) to give advice and try to keep them going in the right direction. I haven't tried it out yet, but I think it should at least keep everyone afloat, considering they're all surprisingly self-motivated for an ungraded class.

The "class" runs for about an hour a week and has around 8-9 students, though people usually stick around for about an hour and half until they get bored or tired. It'll be a juggling act.

Is there anything more I can do to either getting everyone on the same page without alienating/boring some students, or to keep everyone happy working at their own pace?

5 Answers 5


Getting everyone "on the same page" is probably not the best option in this situation--it would probably end up being stifling and uninteresting for those with more aptitude, or the less advanced students would end up getting left in the dust.

If all of the students are self-motivated, then keeping each person moving at their optimal pace (whatever that may be) is ideal. The strategy you mentioned of jumping around, giving direction where it's needed most, and using students to help others is a GREAT idea, and I would even extend it to students within the course helping other students out. Having students teach each other is good for two reasons: the teacher-student will be required to communicate internal concepts (something they don't often have to do), and the student has a teacher who is 100% fluent with the same cultural landscape. (This improves communication, and ultimately, learning.)

If you can sectionalize your group into a few subgroups of similar ability, you could put together little string trios/duos--chamber music is great for musicianship even at a low level, and high school students should be able to accomplish quite a bit on their own.

The one hour per week is essentially going to be a practice session at its core, but you're putting it in an environment that allows instruction to occur as well--if you think of something that is important for all or some of the students, you can always gather the necessary amount of student attention so that your instruction is efficient as possible.

  • Cool, good to know I'm on the right track. I had a little bit of an opportunity to try this out last week, but it's exam season and there weren't too many people -- so I'll have to try again this week. Commented May 10, 2011 at 1:41

There is music you can purchase with split levels. So the same piece is arranged for multiple skill levels. We are currently playing an arrangement that is for level 1 all the way to level 4. I will also choose a piece that I can either add extras for the more advanced or diligent players and then simplify for the more beginning students or what I like to call "less motivated". When they feel they want to try something more challenging then the choice is theirs to move to a higher level part. Some of the arrangements you may see on line are called "flex parts" or "Multi-Level" It's a win win for everyone! Good luck!


Write some ensemble material with parts of varying difficulty. Above all, try to keep EVERYONE playing for most of the hour.


When playing together, prepare more complex tasks for better students and simpler tasks for beginners.

Maybe even a complete beginner can play a couple of notes here and there while other students (or even you yourself) do much more heavy lifting.


I don't know about strings, but for some instruments you can get duet books with a harder and easier part (sometimes teacher/student duets). You could potentially have students learn the relevant part and pair up. This has the advantage of teaching them to listen to each other and having a joint goal. You would have to be careful about students getting frustrated and blaming each other though.

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