Learning the Instruments of the Orchestra with Peter and the Wolf
“Going to hear music puts you in a good place. Music is such a big part of our world. You need to educate kids to know about music just like you have to educate them to know how to add and how to read.” – Ms. Nina
Picture yourself as a first grade student, 6 or 7 years old, listening to Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf. You probably would have recognized seven distinct sounds, a different one for each main character. Some of you would have been able to identify which instrument played each part, some wouldn’t have. But all our SAA first grade students are able to by the end of Ms. Nina’s “Instruments of the Orchestra” unit.
First grade students learn to identify the seven instruments of prominence in Prokofiev’s musical story. By the end of the unit they can identify a violin, French horn, clarinet, oboe, flute, bassoon, and timpani by sight and sound and spell them correctly. During the unit students get to see and touch these seven instruments plus the other instruments in their family. (From the string section: violin, cello, bass. From the brass section: French horn, trumpet, trombone, tuba. From the woodwind section: clarinet, oboe, flute, bassoon.) They play on the string and percussion instruments and, though they don’t play the brass and wind instruments, they hold and push down the keys. They also color pictures of these instruments and the others in their family to reinforce what each instrument looks like.
But remember, students don’t just identify the instruments by sight at the end of the unit. They can identify the instruments by sound. This is where Peter and the Wolf comes into play. If you get a chance, sit down and listen to a recording of this work. Listen for those seven instruments named above. Think about how the sound of those instruments enhances the personality of the characters. This is what our first grade students learn to do. They listen to the cheerful melody played by the violins and picture Peter skipping through the meadow. They hear that low, distinct twang of a double reed and picture Grandfather – plodding. The here the happy chirp of the flute and can picture nothing put a flitting bird. Each instrument has a distinct sound and personality. Students are guided to focus on that sound and identify it, even in the midst of a full orchestral harmony.
“One of the big things that students do as we’re listening to these pieces of music and listening for specific qualities about the music we’re hearing or of the instrument that we’re hearing is to fine tune their listening skills. The skills of learning how to critically think about what you’re hearing, identify what you’re hearing, and then respond to what you have heard are skills you use in all different aspects of our world. Students learn to analyze what they hear. Listen to the bassoon? Do you hear the bassoon there? What’s the difference between the tone quality of a bassoon and the tone quality of a flute?”
The “Instruments of the Orchestra” unit gives students a basis for not only choosing an instrument to play or a fuller listening experience when attending the symphony or listening to a recording of Saint-Saens’ Carnival of the Animals, but also focused, critical listening skills that benefit them in countless other areas of their education, and life in general.