Teaching Nonverbal Communication in String Ensembles

Presenter: Joanna Petrie



My project at Dundee University in 2020: ‘How can increasing the awareness and use of nonverbal communication techniques between players in school-aged string ensembles enrich teaching and learning within orchestral settings?’ showed me these skills are vital for success, are unfamiliar to many young musicians and are not always proactively taught.

I did a literature review, tested activities, then wrote a workshop for teenagers. Activities were based around facial expression, eye gaze, gesture and posture , and three outcomes – coordination, musical content and social unity .

Gesture can solve a problem more quickly than speech and encourages a sense of trust that can promote creative risk-taking. The workshop summarises these findings, includes participation in signalling and jamming games and allows input from delegates.

The games improved the sound quality, ensemble and engagement of my groups and accelerated pupils’ skills. The common language of music and gesture unites musicians of every background.


A violist and educator brought up in Scotland and Australia, Joanna studied at the University of Durham and the RSAMD. Nearly two decades performing, recording, and touring with Scottish Ballet, Scottish Opera and the BBCSSO yielded favourite moments like Wagner’s Ring Cycle, Rosenkavalier offstage solos, memorable Prom concerts and a South American tour.

Good memories come from musicals such as Phantom of the Opera, fusion music with bands like Capercaillie and chamber music performances for Scotland’s Universities. Joanna has taught for local authorities, independent schools and charities.

She is Director of Strings for the Scottish Schools Orchestra Trust, conductor of the St Andrews University Children’s Orchestra and has recently continued her studies in education at the University of Dundee and the RCS.

She enjoys educational speaking for the Scottish Association of Music Education and St Andrews University and is currently Co-ordinator of Co-Curricular Music at the High School of Dundee.

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