Introducing Multicultural Music to Your String Music Program

By Welsh, Sarah | Strings, January 2012 | Go to article overview
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Introducing Multicultural Music to Your String Music Program

Welsh, Sarah, Strings

It's all in the rhythm: keep students engaged by livening up the traditional repertoire

When veteran music teacher and South Carolina American String Teacher Association president Theresa Jenkins-Russ found herself teaching the same pieces to her string students year after year, she decided it was time for a change. "I was getting bored teaching them the same thing over and over again," says Jenkins-Russ, who teaches both string orchestra and private students. "And, if you're bored, you can imagine the kids who are playing the same music day in and day out - they won't want to stick with the program or practice at home."

To keep students interested, JenkinsRuss started looking for music outside the standard repertoire, seeking out works and composers that draw from African, South American, and Cuban cultures. A palpable rhythm rendered by the addition of piano or drums to pieces for string orchestra sets these works apart from the old standbys.

A big benefit of teaching multi-cultural works with a strong ethnic rhythm is that you may be able to introduce students to advanced concepts that wouldn't otherwise be learned until later in their music education. "With multicultural music, you have that added rhythm that is different from classical music, so you can tie in things like duple meters that you might only introduce to kids when they're a junior or senior in high school," JenkinsRuss says. "You don't have to go into all the details, but you can give them the information briefly and let them play."

So where do you start when you want to integrate multicultural music into your standard repertoire? And how do you ensure that students are getting the same level of quality music instruction?


Jenkins-Russ started at J.W. Pepper, an online sheet-music company. Aside from being a respectable source for traditional music for students of all levels, the company publishes a variety of pieces composed with a multicultural flair. Eventually, Jenkins-Russ was able to build up her own library of new music, but she found that sometimes it can be hard to tell which pieces would be appropriate for a specific group of students. Looking at the level designated by the publishing company or reading the score isn't always enough, she says.

"The cool thing right now is that most of the music that's coming out also has a CD track you can listen to so you don't have to guess as to what it might sound like," she says. "But sometimes you just have to play it yourself first and try it out."

Looking for music for students who take private lessons? Jenkins-Russ says finding music for private lessons is more of a challenge because many of these multicultural works are arranged for larger groups. "You have to be creative," she says.

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Introducing Multicultural Music to Your String Music Program


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