Violin Pedagogy: How Did They Learn?
School Instrumental Music in the United States
By Dr. Robin Kay Deverich
Public interest in instrumental music was heightened through touring European orchestras, and the aforementioned conservatory classes, commercial violin schools and traveling itinerant music teachers. School music teachers began to form school orchestras in communities such as Wichita, Kansas (1896); Richmond, Indiana (1889), Hartford, Connecticut (1899) and Los Angeles (1904). Edward Birge, the author of History of Public School Music in the United States described these early orchestras:
Albert Wassell, music educator and author of a series of articles on the history of class string instruction in America, noted that music students in these early public school orchestras generally had private instruction. Wassell stated:
Numerous music education historians regard the British Maidstone Movement as a significant event in the history of school instrumental music in the United States. American music educators were made aware of the Maidstone Movement and MSOA classes through the conference reports of individuals who had observed MSOA classes in person such as Charles Farnsworth (1908), Albert G. Mitchell (1920), Paul Stoeving (1914) and Percy Scholes (1914). One individual in particular was influential in disseminating the MSOA concept of group string classes: Albert G. Mitchell, one of the pioneers in American public school instrumental classes. Mitchell spent a year in England studying the methodology used by MSOA classes, and upon his return, patterned his 1911 Boston public school violin classes directly after MSOA classes. Mitchell's violin classes were soon included in the regular school curriculum, and by 1920, Mitchell expanded the music program to include group instructional classes for the cornet, trombone, clarinet, drum and flute.
Wassell described the status of class instrumental instruction in the United States prior to Mitchell's efforts:
Wassell described how other American music teachers became aware of Mitchell's efforts:
Although the Maidstone Movement may have served as a catalyst for the widespread emergence of group instrumental classes in public schools in the United States, it is impossible to definitively ascertain the extent of this influence. Many music educators experimented with a variety of instructional methods to meet the needs of their students. For example, a group discussion at the 1917 MSNC convention illustrated both the wide variety of instructional methods used by music teachers present from Nebraska, Michigan, Illinois, New York, Indiana, and California, as well as indicated their eagerness to pool their experiences in order to create their own individualized group instrumental instructional programs. Many esteemed instrumental class programs emerged during this time period, and one researcher documented the publication of approximately 63 string class methods between 1912-1929.
The concept of string classes as a successful introduction to school instrumental music became immensely popular, and by 1923, Will Earhart, another early proponent of instrumental class teaching, said violin classes had spread so rapidly that participation outran statistical inquiry. Earhart reported that towns with a population of ten to twenty thousand people frequently had 100-200 pupils receiving violin class instruction, and that larger communities had even more such as one community with 3,100 students enrolled in violin classes. Wassell commented on the impact instrumental classes had upon the development of school orchestras:
The varied and innovative ways music educators conducted their instrumental classes ranged from the single instrument class approach, illustrated by such methods Mitchell's The Class Method for the Violin (Mitchell later published different versions of this class method book for other instruments such as the cello, clarinet, trumpet etc.); homogeneous instrumental classes where groups of similar instruments were taught in one class and the heterogeneous class approach where several instruments were taught in one class. An example of the heterogeneous approach was Joseph E. Maddy and Thadeus P. Giddings's 1922 Universal Teacher. All instruments were treated with equal importance in this method, and instruments which normally played only simple accompaniment parts such as the cello or bass, were enabled to share prominent melodic lines with the violins. Maddy described the philosophy behind this method: "It was revolutionary in that it was based on the singing approach, used only familiar tunes, and used all positions at once, also transposition."
In 1932, Maddy continued his innovative approaches towards string classes when he taught thousands of string students by radio. Unfortunately, the American Federation of Musicians put a stop to these radio lessons. In 1948, Maddy resumed radio violin instruction on FM educational radio. He called his program "Symphonic String Course," and directed his violin lessons towards students who lived in rural areas and didn't have access to string instruction. Maddy supplemented his radio classes with long playing phonograph records, including a string quartet accompaniment for home practice. Maddy described his radio string classes:
In recent years, traditional string class methods have been supplemented with non-traditional approaches. Although classical music is still very much a part of string education, new trends include:
Improvisational styles such as jazz, gypsy and New Age music.
Fiddle and bluegrass music.
Multi-cultural music such as mariachi music (some recently published string class method books include multicultural songs and improvisatory exercises).
Early Music (including historically correct performances of Renaissance and Early Baroque music).
The use of technology to teach strings.
Sociological trends include more programs that reach at-risk children (e.g. efforts to provide programs for inner-city children or "latch-key" children) and string instruction for adult learners. The following selected chronological lists of string class method books, music and articles illustrate changes and trends in string instruction.
 Birge, Edward Bailey. History of Public School Music in the United States. Oliver Ditson Co., 1939. rev. edition MENC 1988: 178-9.
 Wassell, Albert. "Class String Instruction in America," American String Teachers Association. Part I-X, 1964-1967. Fall 1964: 30-31.
 Deverich, Robin K. "The Maidstone Movement-Influential British Precursor of American Public School Instrumental Classes," Journal of Research in Music Education. Spring 1987: 39-55.
 Kostick, Julius. Instrumental Music in the Boston Schools. Unpublished master's thesis, Boston U, 1934: 16-18.
 All Through the Night is a Welsh folksong that was used by Mitchell and the British Maidstone School Orchestra Association. This piece can be found in Mitchell's The Public School Class Method for the Violin. Boston: Oliver Ditson Co., 1912, 3rd edition, 1916, and, The New Maidstone Violin Tutor. London: The Maidstone Scoool Orchestra Association, 1899, rev. ed. 1933.
 Wassell, Fall 1966: 39.
 Wassell, Fall 1965: 41.
 "The Story of the Supervisors Conference at Grand Rapids," School Music. Mar/April 1917: 36-42.
 Sollinger 1970: 163-172.
 Earhart, Will. "Vocal and Instrumental Class Instruction in Specialized Musical Technique," Papers and Reports of the School Music Conference. Music Teachers National Association Proceedings for 1924. Hartford, Connecticut: Music Teachers National Association, 1925: 8-9.
 Wassell, Fall 1966: 39.
 Wassell, Winter 1965: 42.
 Wassell, Winter 1965: 42,47.
© Copyright 2015 RK Deverich. All rights reserved.