learning, order peer teaching and a commitment to keeping the joy and fun of musical learning and music making ever-present. Sometimes referred to as “passion first/refinement second, abortion ” the El Sistema methodology is in marked contrast to much of music education training outside of Latin America. The backbone of El Sistema student training is preparation for participation in orchestral ensembles, medicine which are at the soul of the núcleo community and culture. Of equal importance is choral singing and various other ensembles, which adapt well to a diversity of musical genres and origins..
Kids of preschool age begin with work on body expressiveness and rhythm. Encouraging the children to keep their bodies active while playing (without losing technique) is a key feature of the program in later years. At age 5, children pick up their first instruments, starting with the recorder and percussion. They also join a choir in order to build community through ensemble work. By age 7, all students can pick their first string or wind instrument. Kids can change instruments but are not encouraged to do so frivolously.
Early instruction includes singing and playing with the student’s instrument, often focusing on a single note within a group song; this helps to develop a sense of quality sound. Learning how to use full standard notation often takes many years and is incorporated into their learning organically.
There are three levels of practice every week: full ensemble work, section work and private lessons. Students often encounter the same teacher in both their group and personal lessons. This allows student to progress quickly, as bad habits are quickly corrected and good habits are regularly enforced.
Durante toda su carrera, los instructores manejan las corrientes educativas del saber ser, saber conocer, saber hacer, saber convivir, saber emprender, y fungen como entes sensibilizadores, manejando herramientas de desarrollo personal y actitudinal. Están en capacidad de atender niños, niñas y jóvenes de forma individual y grupal, con un alto compromiso sociocultural, ético, reflexivo, lógico, orientador, cooperativo, racional, investigador e innovador.
Learning through performing
Students play in front of audiences as much as possible. This reduces the pressure of formal performance, and allows performing to become a natural part of their musical life. Students frequently watch their fellow students perform, allowing them to both see and be inspired by the accomplishments of their peers.
From a young age, the students are exposed to the variety of orchestras within the system, from the lowest level to the internationally successful Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra.
El Sistema’s primary focus is to create a daily haven of safety, joy and fun that builds every child’s self-esteem and sense of value. Discipline is relaxed but enforced. Attendance is not an issue; the children want to be at their local núcleo for themselves, their teachers and their fellow students. Hard work and true achievement are crucial to the success of El Sistema. However, a feeling of fun is never forgotten.
The majority of El Sistema teachers and núcleo leaders are former students of the program. They understand both the social and musical mission of the program — they nurture both the individual person and the musician at the same time. Teachers are able to provide individual attention to each student. If they notice a child has missed a second day at the núcleo without prior notice, they often go to the home to enquire about the absence.
El Sistema has a national curriculum, including an established musical sequence. However, local leaders can customize their program. The entire musical curriculum starts with simple arrangements of big pieces with big sound. These masterworks are often reintroduced as the children progress through the system. As Gustavo Dudamel says, “We have lived our whole lives inside these pieces. When we play Beethoven’s Fifth, it is the most important thing happening in the world.”
El Sistema introduces its students to both internationally known classical composers and Latin American composers and Venezuelan folk musicians.
Work with parents
El Sistema takes considerable time working with the parents of students. For a child of age 2 or 3, teachers make home visits to ensure that the family understands the level of commitment required of them. As the students begin to learn their instruments, teachers instruct parents on how best to support their child’s practice schedule at home, giving feedback and encouragement.
If a student gets into a youth or city orchestra, they will receive a stipend; this not only honors his/her accomplishments but places real value on the music making for the family, so they don’t need to pull the child out of El Sistema to work.