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NYU Steinhardt EMAT Teaching Residency
Hotchalk Global

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This is a lesson on classical instruments





Classical Instrument Families
by Celeste McKenzie
Grade 3

Materials: Illustrations of orchestral instruments Keyboard equipped with sound cards or other instrument sound-producing technology

Objective: Students group orchestral instruments into the proper category, recognize by sight and sound.

Begin with a visual presentation of various instruments using pictures, illustrations, or if you have them available, actual instruments. Show at least 4 from each category. For example:
String: violin, cello, harp, piano. I specifically use the piano to later demonstrate the fact that it is one instrument that can be classed into 2 categories: string & percussion.
Brass: trumpet, french horn, tuba, trombone
Woodwind: clarinet, flute, oboe, piccolo
Percussion: snare drum, triangle, cymbal, xylophone.

As you are explaining the function of each instrument don’t reveal it’s category…although most third graders can easily classify most by sight.
What makes this lesson especially fun and interesting is the use of my keyboard/synthesizer, with various sound cards, etc. which duplicate, pretty accurately, the sound made by each instrument. Once you have shown all of the instruments, PLAY the sounds for the class, randomly. Students guess what instrument produces that sound, and once correctly identified, put it into the category they feel is correct.

If you have a grand piano available use it to show students the lay of the strings. I like to demonstrate how the small strings produce a high pitch, and the larger strings, a lower tone. Then we concentrate on the hammers and look at how they strike the strings to produce the sound. This, I explain, is a percussion action. I also like to point out that like the size of the string, the bigger the instrument, the “bigger” the sound. Demonstrate the tonal differences, for example, of the trumpet and the tuba; the violin and the bass, the piccolo and the bass clarinet, etc.

Follow up: As a test/quiz during another class period, have students label the 4 headings on paper, then randomly read the names of various instruments that you used during the initial lesson. Have children group them in the proper category. Do not use pictures this time, as many are so obvious, by sight. Another way to test recall of knowledge is simply to PLAY the instrument sound, and see how many can be recalled by the tonal qualities demonstrated.

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