This historical essay on the development of string education in the United States from 1800 to the present will be presented in four sections: 1) String education in the United States prior to 1911, 2) The establishment of string education in the public schools, 3) A brief discussion of the pedagogues, educational leaders, and other figures who have had the greatest impact improving the quality and shaping the direction of string education in America during the 20th century, 4) a conclusion discussing the philosophical and psychological changes in American society and education which have had the greatest impact on string education. The focus of this essay is on the forces which helped to shape classroom string education in public schools. While private instruction has also been an important aspect of string education in the United States, it will be discussed only as it relates to the development of school string programs.


The earliest examples of string education in a class setting date to the 1850s, and were carried out by singing school masters who also taught musical instruments. In the 1800s in America, string education was characterized by private instruction, and isolated, unrelated examples of class instruction. One of the pioneers in the instrumental class movement was Lewis Benjamin, who began teaching instruments in classes in 1847. He published a method book in the 1851 entitled The Music Academy. In 1877, Benjamin began operating a "free violin school" in New York. Benjamin made his profit from the sale of instruments and books to his students. Benjamin's method, as well as other string class methods of the time, were based largely on folk tunes and dance tunes, despite the fact that singing school methods were still largely based on sacred music.


After the end civil war, the public's interest in instrumental music began to grow. Traveling bands and orchestras had much to do with generating this interest. The Theodore Thomas Orchestra toured frequently, and played in almost every sizable community. Thomas (1825-1905) conducted the Cincinnati May Festival from 1873 to 1905, later became conductor of the New York Philharmonic Society, and founded the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Thomas was one of the most important figures in American instrumental music at that time. Also in the late 1800s, large festivals and celebrations exposed many people to instrumental music. In the spirit of Gilmore's "Peace Jubilees," members of the Benjamin family and others were now operating free violin schools in New York, Philadelphia, Camden, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and Chicago. The Benjamins decided to hold annual "Children's Carnivals" in Brooklyn and other cities. These carnivals would typically feature choirs of 1500 and orchestras of 300 or more, and often played to large audiences.

Several music conservatories were established in America at this time, based on the European conservatories. Newly created American conservatories included New England, Peabody, Oberlin, Boston, Chicago, and Cincinnati. The teachers at the conservatories of that time also taught students in classes. The repertoire studied at the conservatories was European Art music, and most of the teachers were either European, or trained in Europe. Many students were admitted, but only the top students were graduated. By the turn of the century, this system of training students was losing its popularity, and enrollments dropped significantly at conservatories.


At the turn of the century instrumental music was growing in popularity, yet had not yet gained enough public support for inclusion in the public school curriculum. While religious conservatism regarding instrumental music was fading at this time in American history, most music educators at the time believed that stringed instruments could not be taught properly in a group situation, despite the visible successes of teachers in the free violin schools. School orchestras had begun to appear in the mid-west; Jessie Clark had a permanent orchestra in Wichita, Kansas in 1896, and Will Earhart had established a school orchestra in Richmond, Indiana by 1898. By the early 1900s many districts had established grammar orchestras as well as high school orchestras. The students in these orchestras, however, received all of their training from private teachers outside the school, and the orchestras were largely extra curricular activities.


Charles Farnsworth went to England in 1908. While he was there he observed teachers of the Maidstone Movement. The Maidstone Movement (MM) in England was a program of classroom string instruction in the schools which was developed by T. Mee Pattison of the G. Murdoch company of London in around 1890. The Murdoch company published a method book for use in string class instruction and provided instruments for the students for a small rental price. Farnsworth was greatly impressed by what he saw, and upon his return delivered a speech to the 1908 MTNA annual meeting. Farnsworth reported that over 500,000 stringed instruments had been sold to students in over 5,000 schools in England and that the MM was very successful.

Albert Mitchell was apparently impressed by Farnsworth speech. In 1910 Mitchell took a leave of absence from the Boston Public Schools to go to England and observe the MM. Upon his return in 1911 he established the first public school violin class, in the Boston Public Schools. By 1914 Mitchell's classes were included in the regular curriculum and by 1920 was permitted to expand his offerings to flute, clarinet, and percussion. Mitchell also authored his own class method for violin instruction, appropriately titled, Class Method for the Violin. Mitchell's pedagogy differed greatly from the MM, but he did retain many of the ideas of the MM. Among Mitchell's important developments were 1) non-slipping friction pegs for easier tuning, 2) a fingerboard chart which was pasted over the fingerboard, 3) a shoulder rest, 4) a wire E-string, and 5) the use of a "dummy" silent violin and bow.

Other music educators at this time were developing string education in the public schools. Glenn Woods in Oakland, CA, J.W. Beattie in Grand Rapids, and Paul Hurfurth in East Orange, NJ, who wrote his own method book, A Tune a Day, which remains published today.


Joseph Maddy became the first supervisor of instrumental music in Rochester, NY in 1918. Maddy convinced George Eastman to purchase 10,000 worth of instruments for the Rochester Public Schools. Maddy later founded the National High School Orchestra in 1926, and performed with his orchestra at many important events, including the MSNC 1926 Detroit meeting, and a meeting of the American Association of School Administrators (AASA) in 1927, which had a tremendous impact on administrators' interest in starting an instrumental music program in their own districts. A National High School Orchestra also performed at the 1928 MSNC in Chicago.

Administrators at all three conferences were impressed by the healthy experiences of students working together, excellent discipline, and the byproducts of citizenship, health, and useful recreation that were so important at that time. The success of Maddy's orchestra coincided with the proper cultural and sociological conditions of the time to bring about instrumental music's firm establishment in the schools.

Maddy and Giddings also started the National Band and Orchestra Camp at Interlochen in 1928. They co-authored a heterogeneous class method entitled Universal Teacher in 1923, which was significant because it gave all the instruments in the orchestra melodies to play.


From 1910 to 1930, many more public school orchestras and bands were established. The contest movement which began in 1923, an instrument manufacturer advertising campaign, and a new supply of teachers, including many men returning from WW1 with military band experience, all contributed to the growth of instrumental music in the schools. Other sociological factors which contributed to the new supply of instrumental music teachers included: 1) the end of the professional concert band era, 2) the development of sound for film, which put many musicians employed in vaudeville houses and theaters out of work, 3) the development of the radio and phonograph, and 4) the great depression, which left many musicians out of work. A large number went to teacher colleges and filled instrumental music positions in the school.

As a result of a larger number of these new instrumental music teachers being former bandsmen, the role of the school band was being elevated above the school orchestra by 1930, where it has remained in many school districts to this day. Another factor contributing to the elevation of the band above the orchestra was that there were too few students in many smaller communities to support both a band and orchestra. Bands were formed in most of these communities because of the perceived greater flexibility, usefulness to community and athletics, and appeal to youth. Mark (1992) writes, "It is one of the ironies of history that the professional band, now a thing of the past, is re-created and emulated in the public schools, while the symphony orchestra, which is held in esteem by society, is not as prevalent in the schools."


With the establishment of instrumental music in the public schools, the challenge to the profession turned to the development of pedagogy to improve the quality of curriculum and instruction.

Influential figures who contributed to the development of a pedagogy for string instruction early in the 20th century included Leopold Auer, and Carl Flesch. Auer published his book Violin Playing as I Teach It in 1921, which was important as a bridge between 19th and 20th century thought regarding violin pedagogy. Among Auer's many students was Samuel Applebaum, who was to become one of the most influential figures in string education in the schools. Carl Flesch published The Art of Violin Playing in 1924, which remains as one of the most thorough pedagogical works on violin playing ever written. Flesch had a very analytical mind, and was the first to do an in depth analysis of the technical processes of violin playing.

Ivan Galamian came to the United States in 1930 and taught at the Juilliard School. His book, Principles of Violin Playing and Teaching (1962), was actually written by Elizabeth Green, professor at the University of Michigan. It is a highly refined and well written book, and Galamian's teaching was considered to be very thorough in technical preparation, and conventional in the sense that he did not introduce any radical innovations in technique. Among Galamian's students were Dorothy De Lay, Pinchas Zukerman, and Itzhak Perlman. Elizabeth Green was responsible for adopting many of Galamian's pedagogical ideas for use in string classes.


Three of the most important pedagogues whose work was directly involved with string education in the schools were Samuel Applebaum, Paul Rolland, and Shinichi Suzuki.

Samuel Applebaum studied with Leopold Auer at the Juilliard School. Applebaum taught at the Manhattan School of Music for 35 years. Applebaum's greatest contribution to string education in America was his prolific authoring of written materials for use in string classrooms. Applebaum edited and authored over 400 method books, chamber music collections, solo collections, and pedagogical materials for stringed instruments. He was active in teacher training at ASTA workshops throughout the 1950s and 60s, and was named ASTA teacher of the year in 1967. He was important not because of his revolutionary ideas in string pedagogy, but because of his ability to codify and simplify string pedagogy.

Paul Rolland was born in Budapest, Hungary, and was trained in Europe. His early years were spent as a concert artist. Rolland came to the US in the 1930s and became the head of the string department at Simpson College in Iowa, eventually becoming professor of string education at the University of Illinois. Rolland made significant contributions in the development of a pedagogy based on movement and balance in string playing. His ideas for teaching shifting and vibrato are still very popular to this day. Rolland was also important because when Suzuki toured the US in 1964, Rolland received a grant to create a film Suzuki Teaches American Mothers and Their Children. Rolland also received a government grant in 1967 to study the implementation of his pedagogical ideas in elementary and secondary classroom situations, and he worked with over 35 public school teachers on this project.


Shinichi Suzuki (1898-1998) was arguably the most influential string pedagogue of the twentieth century. Suzuki developed his "Talent Education" method in Japan in the years following WW II. Suzuki's philosophy is that musical "talent" is not innate but is developed in the individual. Suzuki observed that all Japanese children learn to speak Japanese, but that is not considered a talent. In the same way, all Japanese students can learn to play a musical instrument, if their talent is developed in the same way their talent for language is developed. For this reason Suzuki's approach is sometimes referred to as the "mother tongue method." Suzuki's pedagogy is based on the following principles: 1) The mother learns the instrument before the child, to develop the child's interest and motivation, and attends all lessons, once the child begins learning the instrument 2) Early beginning, 3 to 5 years old 3) A sequence of repertoire (real music), not etudes or exercises, is used, 4) Frequent listening 5) Individual, as well as group instruction 6) Delaying of reading until the child is older. The tremendous success of Suzuki's approach both in Japan, the United States and many other countries is a testament to the sound pedagogical principles on which he based his approach. Interest in the Suzuki method began to grow when Suzuki first toured the US in 1964. Materials describing the Suzuki approach were written by American string teachers John Kendall and Elizabeth Mills. Suzuki's pedagogy was originally only for violin, but his methods have been adapted for use by all the orchestral strings, piano, guitar, flute, and harp. Today, Suzuki schools can be found throughout the country, and many of the top string players in our universities and professional orchestras were started using the Suzuki approach.


The end of the civil war, the rising immigrant population in America, and the touring of professional orchestras and bands helped pave the way for string education to be established in the public schools. The new immigrants did not have the negative attitudes towards instrumental music as the Pilgrims and Puritans. The end of WW1, the development of the radio, phonograph, motion pictures with sound, and the great depression, all sent professional musicians searching for work, and many found work as instrumental music teachers in the schools. The pioneering efforts of Albert Mitchell, Joseph Maddy and others were extremely important in developing interest in instrumental music among music supervisors and school administrators.

The work of Rolland and Suzuki and the adoption of their materials for use in the string class has had a tremendous impact on raising the quality of string programs in the schools. Also, through continued efforts by ASTA, NSOA, and MENC, string programs are now appearing in schools where they had disappeared or never existed before.

Struggles continue for school orchestras: the rise of the non-profit youth orchestras, increased property taxes, and unfunded testing mandates from the federal government, have resulted in orchestra programs being cut from school budgets in many parts of the country. The success of a school orchestra still largely rests upon the shoulders of a capable director - someone who is not only an excellent musician, but who has the skills to recruit and retain students, develop an awareness in the community about the importance of the school orchestra, and build a strong rapport with parents, administrators, teachers, and other school personnel.


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Will Earhart

Joseph Maddy

Albert Mitchell

Shinichi Suzuki

Paul Rolland