New Lower School Music Seminar Seeks to Extend Ellis Strings Program

Ellis’ youngest learners took their music skills to a new, melodious level this fall with the Lower School Strings Seminar. This new initiative, led by Lower School Music Teacher Jayla Griggs and Strings Teacher Simon Cummings, provided students in kindergarten through grade 2 with a chance to get hands-on experience with orchestral string instruments and start building their expertise in—and love of—music.
"It is very important for students to engage with music and experiment with playing instruments at a young age,” says Ms. Griggs. "Music possesses an inherent quality that allows students to use all of their senses, their emotions, and their physicality as they engage with it. You simply cannot say you are teaching the whole child if you are leaving music out of the equation. The sooner students have valuable musical experiences, the more likely they will be to develop an appreciation for music and to cultivate any natural talent they may already have.”

Ellis’ Middle and Upper Schools have an established strings program, and the goal of the Lower School Strings Seminar is to eventually extend the strings program into younger grades. Early plans for next year include having grades 1–3 participate in the seminar so that the students who participated this year can continue to build upon their skills. 

"Our hope is to develop string players at an earlier age who can then continue to participate in our Middle and Upper School strings and orchestra programs and be even further along in their instrumental skills by the time they graduate from Ellis,” says Mr. Cummings. "If we are eventually able to have students begin playing as kindergarteners or first graders, they will be much further along in their skills by the time they are entering the Middle or Upper School, and the program will be even richer, as will their experience within it. That long-range build-up is much more beneficial for the students; they have so much longer to enjoy playing their instruments and become better musicians.”

The seminar took place over 4–6 weeks as part of the students’ scheduled music class and began by introducing students to the broader strings family and the common characteristics of string instruments. Ms. Griggs and Mr. Cummings demonstrated how to play the violin and the cello so that students could hear what the instruments sound like and see how they work. Then, the students had the opportunity to experiment with both the cello and the violin on their own.

By week four, the kindergarteners and first graders knew how to properly pick up, hold, and make a sound with their instruments, and even learned how to play a short segment of "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” by plucking their instruments’ strings. The second graders, who participated in the seminar for six weeks and moved at a slightly faster pace, took their skills even farther, learning how to use a bow and how to play a longer song segment.

Mr. Cummings notes that various studies point to the benefits of music education and playing instruments, among them that participation in music often correlates with higher performance levels in other classes. Though it can be daunting to pick up an instrument for the first time, Mr. Cummings believes that giving Ellis students the freedom to experiment with various instruments and try new things is the key to unlocking not only these advantages but also students’ full potential as musicians and learners. 

"Seeing the joy on the students’ faces as they’re exploring these instruments for the first time and seeing how quickly they can adapt and grasp onto what they are learning is just incredible,” he shares. "Our students are learning how to push through challenges to achieve their goals, and it brings them such satisfaction to see and hear the tangible results when all of a sudden they can play a song well that a week ago they couldn’t; it really boosts their confidence. You see them light up as they’re trying something new and you realize that this could be the moment that sets them on the path to be a really great musician later down the road.”

Mr. Cummings also encourages students who participated in this year’s seminar to join the Ellis String Cubs, a brand new after-school program that will begin in early January. Run by Mr. Cummings through the Ellis Music Academy, Ellis String Cubs is a beginner strings program open to Ellis students in pre-kindergarten through grade 4 that will take place after school on Wednesdays from 3:00–3:30 p.m. Students will be accepted on a rolling basis until the program reaches maximum capacity. Ellis parents/guardians who are interested in registering their child can fill out this form or email Mr. Cummings.

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