At Big Noise, we begin by offering all P2s the opportunity to learn either violin, viola, 'cello or double bass. They start out with cardboard versions of their instruments in order to learn the names of the strings as well as how to hold and look after them.
As the children join the Big Noise afterschool club they learn how to use the bow to make a beautiful sound (which can take a while to get the hang of!) and in time, they learn to use their left-hand fingers to play more melodies. As they move through the groups listed below, they increase their facility on the instrument and eventually become part of the Big Noise Raploch Symphony Orchestra.
For all groups, a typical week at Big Noise consists of a mix of full orchestra rehearsals, sectional rehearsals (all of the same instruments together), musicianship sessions and instrumental lessons (either one-to-one or in small groups) with their teacher.
The first two years of learning (usually primary 3 and 4) make up the beginner stages of the string curriculum.
In many ways the first year is the most important year for string players as it is when we learn the building blocks of our chosen instrument: how to sit/stand, how to hold the instrument/bow, how to make a beautiful sound and how to read simple musical notation.
The second year introduces more left-hand work - in this group the children learn how to put their fingers down, to play beautifully in tune and to learn simple tunes and scales. As well as reading notes from a sheet of music, we teach lots of pieces aurally (by ear) using Kodaly singing/rhythm names.
Generally speaking, the children spend between 2-3 years in the intermediate stage of the string curriculum and attend afterschool for a bit longer than the beginners.
The children continue to develop their music reading skills and play lots of different tunes using a variety of finger patterns. All their orchestra pieces now have different parts for the different sections which adds to the difficulty. They work from specially written music books ('Climbers', 'Explorers' and ‘Voyagers’) that they can take home to practice.
Our advanced string ensembles take their name from one of the nucleos in Venezuela’s El Sistema programme – ‘Rinconada’. As well as working on their own ensemble pieces, these groups form the string section of the Symphony Orchestra. They are invited to attend afterschool four nights a week and in addition to ensemble rehearsals, they also participate in the Young Leaders programme and have the choice of opting into either Choir or Fool's Gold (improvisation-based music making).