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Electric Strings

Josh Harris • Archives • January 11, 2013

Even though electric strings have been a key part of popular music for well over half a century at this point, they are still often seen as an awkward fit within many of the standard performing ensembles found in the instrumental music program. And yet, with the dramatic expansion and proliferation of technology in our daily lives over the past decade – from smart phones to music software to electrified versions of traditional instruments – it is worth revisiting this topic periodically to take a fresh look at the prevalence of new or hybrid instruments in, particularly, those omnipresent orchestra, concert band, and marching band ensembles.

While some educators expressed disdain for the idea of incorporating electric strings into the school curriculum in this recent reader survey (one educator who will remain anonymous simply responded “WTF?”), almost half of the educators polled indicated that they are in fact finding ways to add modern versions of instruments into traditional ensembles, even if only for a select song – or even a part of a song – now and again. It’s also worth mentioning that a number of music directors pointed to the virtue of the electric bass as a means of boosting the low end of the sonic spectrum.

Do you incorporate electric strings into your traditional band & orchestra ensembles?

 

“Students love to use the electric instruments but our budget does not permit for such ‘luxuries.’ We are lucky they purchase instruments at all and then it is usually only every 10-20 years! You have no idea the condition of some. I have a bass here that I use that I was taught on back in 1971.”

Debra J. Sautner

Lakeland Copper Beech Middle

Yorktown Heights, N.Y.

 

“We only use them on programs and songs where an electric instrument is appropriate to the song. They are not used on every concert, and are not used on every song in a particular concert.”

Seth Gamba

Elkins Pointe Middle School

Roswell, Ga. 

 

“We have a full sounding group without needing to use electronics.”

Evan Lee

Norris High School

Firth, Neb. 

 

“We have an electric five-string violin, but I don’t know how to incorporate it into my curriculum.”

Julie Renne

Bellefonte Area Schools

Bellefonte, Pa. 

 

“We had an 18-piece electric string chamber orchestra in 2006. While that was very cool from a visual standpoint of having an orchestra, the sound was the same as having an electronic keyboard cover the part. It ended up being a lot of work and logistically was not worth the trouble, given the grand scheme of marching band. In small group setting it would for sure be worth it.”

Shawn McAnear

Cypress Falls High School

Houston, Texas

 

 

If yes, which electrified versions of instruments do you include?

 

“We have the instrumentation for a string quintet of the Yamahas. The celli have had great fun doing Apocalyptica tunes.”

Marla Pflanz

East Valley High School

Spokane Valley, Wash.

 

“I often have guitar players wanting to play in the ensemble but this rarely works due to the common key signatures in band vs. guitar and the lack of parts scored for the instrument. Bass works because I can have the player read a tuba or bassoon part.”

Greg Godfrey

Fillmore Senior High School

Fillmore, Calif.

 

And which ensembles do you use them with?

 

“I use electric strings in my jazz class and traditional classes. Kids love them!”

Michelle Ewer

Creighton Middle School

Lakewood, Colo. 

 

 

“I include jazz and rock music in my orchestra programs and the electric instruments make my job much easier.”

Nathan Artley

Pine Forest Schools

Fayetteville, N.C.

 

What are the primary challenges of including electric string instruments with traditional ensembles?

 

Do you use electric instruments in non-traditional performing groups?

 

“Our Intro-to-Music class uses electric bass and electric guitar and the students play in ‘Rock Bands’ at various times for the class.”

David Villa

Williams Middle School

Tracy, Calif.

 

“I’m certain that if we got instruments, kids would flock to them. It just hasn’t been a priority for us.”

Peter Lemonds

Duluth High School

Duluth, Ga. 

 

Additional thoughts on using electric string instruments in band and orchestra groups?

“I think it’s a great alternative to reach a broader audience, in addition to some of the students that might not succeed with ‘traditional’ settings. It’s another option to explore and it truly does enhance the curriculum that I have in place. The students want to play the ‘fun stuff’ but realize they have to have rhythm and technique – all those basics that they originally saw as boring. Now, they see that to do the fun stuff, they have to do the foundation work so that they can actually execute the music they want to play! It’s a beautiful thing.”

Margaret Brown

McKinney North High School

McKinney, Texas

 

“The expense and maintenance is the main issue I have. Once you get past the cool toy factor, what is the reason to use one of these when you have ‘real’ ones on the shelf?”

Jim Phillips

Coeur d’Alene High School

Coeur d’Alene, Idaho

 

“I think it’s a great idea to connect modern music with the standard repertoire in orchestra. If I had the equipment (or money to purchase it), I would love to do some; I believe it would help with retention.”

Christine Alcorta

Jones Middle School

San Antonio, Texas

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