Sunday, January 22, 2012

Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra - Part One: Introduction and the Four Families


Benjamin Britten's "The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra" is one of the staples for introducing the instruments and instrument families of the orchestra to students. There are a lot of interactive websites out there that attempt to teach the instruments to students, but why mess with a good thing? Carnegie Hall didn't mess with a good thing; they improved it!

Carnegie Hall's "The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra" takes your students on an online safari to find all of the instruments in the orchestra in the wild. It is up to you, Violet, and her Uncle Ollie to find them, collect them, and guide them to the orchestra stage.


Through the game you follow the form of the actual music.  You start by listening to the full orchestra play the theme, followed by the four families playing the theme, followed by the individual instrument variations, and ending with the fugue.

This online adventure can take a long time to complete, so I am breaking it up into five parts:

1. The introduction and four families
2. The woodwind family
3. The strings family
4. The brass family
5. The percussion family and finale



1. Getting Started

When you enter the website, you are given the choice to register, log in, or play a local game.  If you plan on using this website on an interactive whiteboard, I suggest simply playing a local game.  However, if you plan on using this site in a computer lab, I recommend creating a teacher account here, and creating student accounts and passwords.  In the computer lab, have your students click the "log in" button using his/her new account information.  This will allow you to track your students' progress throughout the activity.

Another option is to give each class a user name and password and use it to keep track of where each class is.  I wouldn't give the students this password, or they could play it at home and make you lose track of where you left off.


The next room has two books on podiums and a mask sitting on the ground.  The book on the left says "new game!"  Press this book to begin the introduction video.  If you are coming back, you can press the second book to "continue" from your last spot.  After I've shown the introduction video, I simply press the mask to play a "practice round."  The practice round allows me to jump to any point of the game that I want.  This can be handy if you only want to teach your students about one particular instrument rather than playing the entire game.

2. Introduction Video
You will begin your safari with a little introduction video.  In this video, your students will learn what "The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra" is, who Benjamin Britten was, what an orchestra is, and what the four families of instruments are.

Violet reads through the first few pages, but when you get to the instrument family pages, you are stuck reading it yourself.  I used to be able to zoom in to the words, but with updates made on my computer and browser, I am no longer able to do that.  I decided to make a printout for the different pages so that my students could read along have something to keep from the introduction.  You can download the worksheet here.

The pages for each instrument family have very nice audio samples of each instrument family and each individual instrument.  You can listen to the range of each instrument individually, or you can press the bottom tab to hear all of the instruments play their pitches in order from lowest to highest.

3. Garage Lock

After getting a basic understanding of the four families of instruments, you are ready to begin your safari!  There is just one problem: the safari truck is locked in the garage!  This is the first mini-game on the website.  Your students have to press the pictures of instruments that match the instrument family labeled at the top.  If a mistake is made, the student has to start that family all over.

My student love playing this game on my interactive whiteboard.  I call students up randomly and they get a turn to press one instrument.  They have to be quick, or the picture might change!  If that happens, I usually give that student one extra try.  This game is a great way to quickly assess your students.

Just the Beginning...

This is just the beginning of the safari.  I will be providing activities, worksheets, and Smart Notebook files that you can use for the safari, so be sure to check back for updates!

My goal for this blog is to share ideas, so please feel free to share your own ideas in the comments below.  You can also follow IWB Music on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.  Please feel free to share these ideas and share yours on those sites.  Happy hunting on your safari!