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Sarah Watts: Easy Mixed Instrumental Teaching with Five Note Philharmonic

Renowned composer, teacher and author Sarah Watts has been a go-to name for instrumental teachers for years, with Razzamajazz, Ready, Steady Recorder and the Red Hot series among her many best-selling titles. Here she explores her popular Five Note Philharmonic books, and how they can be used to get mixed instrumentalists playing great music easily.

With instrumental and classroom music teaching slowly returning to our schools after the pandemic, music education needs to rev up again after taking a very debilitating knock.
Music teachers must be thinking “How on earth am I going to get back to where we were? What am I going to do with instrumentalists? Will I still have instrumentalists? How can I inspire them?”
A huge challenge generally in music education has always been “How are we going to get young instrumentalists to keep playing?”.

Often music comes to life when you play it with other people. Research has shown that those who join bands, orchestras, ensembles and groups at a young age are more likely to continue playing their instrument. With this in mind, it’s really important that we as music educators offer these opportunities in the very early stages of learning. We need to ignite the flame and keep it burning!
My Easy Band Book and Band in a Book have been very popular as a grass roots ensemble resources, but I wanted to do something better. It’s very difficult to write something for a beginner ensemble that is suitable for everyone. This is mainly because the instruments are often in different keys, and most teachers just don’t have time to arrange things specially. A bad early ensemble or band experience where players are asked to do things they’re just not ready for can be destructive.

My solution to this was writing a resource called Five Note Philharmonic where despite the “key issue”, each part only uses five notes. Where possible I have made sure that these are five of the easiest notes on the instrument. It’s wonderful offering an Ensemble Experience, but it’s important to make sure that it’s a comfortable one that will build confidence rather than deflate it. I did a lot of research on easy ways into ensemble playing for individual beginner instruments so now the teacher doesn’t have to do this. I wanted to create something unique and very useful.
Five Note Philharmonic has ten short pieces in varying upbeat styles, all have a piano or CD accompaniment. I have also written an extra B flat part for a slightly more advanced player so that the melody line be played with a B flat or C instrument.
This book is highly flexible, and you can have an ensemble of pretty much any combination as long as someone plays the tune and you have either a CD or piano accompaniment.
I have heard so many different performances of these pieces. They have all been different and they all work. My main aim has always been to keep the young player enjoying playing, and for the teacher to enjoy teaching.
Sarah Watts



Five Note Philharmonic

Five Note Philharmonic gives an enjoyable and confidence-boosting first experience of playing in a group, and the opportunity to play in a mixed ability, all age and all inclusive ensemble.
Five Note Philharmonic includes beginner parts which have been carefully written so that each one only uses five easy notes. As much as possible these will be five of the first notes learned on each instrument. It also includes optional parts for advanced players which, although these are not essential to performance, will enhance the music and enable more experienced players and adults to play along too. The pieces are in a variety of upbeat and fun styles and provide an easy but inspiring introduction to ensemble playing.
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