The USC String Project- A Model

The University of South Carolina String Project, now in its 44thyear, has won national recognition, including the Verner Award and a documentary on South Carolina ETV celebrating the 20th anniversary of the program. When the University of South Carolina String Project was founded in 1974 there was just one small string program in the Columbia metropolitan area. Now all five school districts in the Columbia area have large and active string programs, with orchestras in every high school and six regional youth orchestras. 

The USC String Project has had a major impact in a city with no previous tradition for orchestral music in the schools and little interest in the arts. Initially, the program provided competent young teachers and well-trained string students. Eventually, the large numbers of children playing string instruments created a critical mass and the parents demanded programs in their own local schools.

The Program

Children typically in the third and fourth grades are recruited from local public and private schools to study in a String Project site. The teachers go to local schools each August and play short demonstration programs for the children. In addition, local newspapers radio stations publicize information about the String Projects. Additionally, emails are sent to area principals and fine arts coordinators to inform them about the opportunity for students. People who are interested in the program are invited to come to an informational and registration meeting held at the university. 

Beginning students attend heterogeneous beginning classes (violin, viola, cello and bass taught together). These classes meet twice a week for an hour. Each beginning class is co-taught by the Master Teacher who has many years of teaching experience and a third or fourth-year student teacher. 
Second-year students typically attend once or twice a week for an hour technique class. Many second-year students also begin Orchestra at this time which is once a week for an hour. Student teachers in their 2ndor 3rdyear of college teach second-year classes and receive feedback from the Master Teacher. 

After the second year, students attend private lessons once a week and Orchestra. All students are also expected to participate in their own school programs, if they exist, in order to be in the String Project. Some String Projects also have an adult component. Adults have the opportunity to learn a string instrument (violin, viola, cello, and bass) in a group class setting and also participate in Orchestra. 

Undergraduate String Education Students Teach

The teachers in the program are mostly undergraduate string education majors and some are performance majors. The String Project is not necessarily part of the regular undergraduate curriculum; instead, first-year teachers are accepted into the program and given a paid assistantship. The assistantship stipend is used as a recruiting device and encourages high school students to consider majoring in music education. 

By the time student teachers of the String Projects graduate, these students have had four or five years of practical training and experience and prepared to begin teaching independently in a public or private school setting. Outside of the String Project student teachers study their own major instruments, secondary stringed instruments, and take pedagogical methods and technique courses, in addition to the standard undergraduate music education courses of study. While at the String Project student teachers not only attend a weekly organization and pedagogy meeting, they actively participate in all the activities of a professional teacher: recruiting students, planning lessons, writing report cards, keeping records, conducting orchestras, teaching beginning classes, teaching second-year classes, coaching chamber music, teaching private lessons, setting up rehearsals, organizing recitals, etc. One of the additional benefits of having college students beginning to teach early in their careers is that it solves retention issues. Student teachers sometimes discover whether they really want to teach; those that do not usually change their majors prior to their student teaching experience in their senior year (or often even after they have their first job!). 

A full-time student teacher in the program work for 6 hours/week. Additional hours include time spent at the beginning of the semester in recruiting and at the end of the semester in putting together studio recitals, the large ensemble concert, and filling out report cards. Full-time student teachers receive approximately $1600 per year or over $10.00 per hour for their teaching. First-year teachers usually work part-time while they are becoming acquainted with the program so that they are not overloaded during their freshman year at college. 

During their first year in the program, student teachers observe and assist with group classes or orchestra. After the first year, they are assigned to teach private lessons and other activities depending on their interest, ability, and maturity. By the time they graduate, student teachers will teach individual and group classes. 
The Master Teacher is a part-time instructor who has taught in the public schools for many years. The master teacher is the model for student teachers and provides feedback and pedagogical teaching strategies. 

The Director of the String Project is either the string music education professor or an applied string instrument professor at the university. At many String Projects the Master Teacher and Director are the same people and it is part of the professor’s teaching load. Graduate assistants also take the place of the Master Teacher in some String Projects as they provide feedback and pedagogical strategies to the student teachers.

What is a String Project?

According to an article in the November 1998 edition of the American String Teacher journal, the ‘guiding principle…. of a string project is to provide college string majors with teaching experiences while providing pedagogy classes or supervision over a number of semesters in order to prepare the college students for private or public-school teaching while promoting the talents of pre-college string students (Hurley, 1998). The first String Project began in 1948 at the University of Texas at Austin. The USC String Project at the University of South Carolina is the model for the National String Project Consortium grants, which have funded most of the established String Project sites.

String Projects provide practical hands-on training for prospective teachers during their college years. As a result, the undergraduates who teach in these programs gain valuable experience prior to taking a job. These programs also attract string players to the teaching profession by giving them stipends for teaching in the program. As a result of this experience while in college, music education majors often discover whether they enjoy teaching before actually entering the field; those that find that they do not want to make it their career may decide to change their majors before getting their first job. On the other hand, performance majors at colleges often discover their love of teaching children as a result of their positive experiences in a String Project.

Training tomorrow's string educators while
providing accessible string instruction opportunities for youth and adults

String Projects: Leaving a dual legacy.