Wyatt Beckley gently plucks the strings on a cello as he tries to learn a simple song during a fourth-grade orchestra class at Top of the World Elementary School on Tuesday. (Don Leach, Coastline Pilot / October 10, 2013)

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For the first time, fourth- and fifth-grade students at Laguna Beach's two elementary schools can learn and practice the finer points of orchestra for the whole school year.

About 90 students at El Morro and Top of the World elementary schools are learning what music notes such as F-sharp and D mean and where to place their fingers on violins, violas and cellos.

Instructor Landon Yaple had 12 fourth-grade students in a class Tuesday at Top of the World. Students picked up their instruments two weeks ago and spent the class plucking strings and listening to how certain notes sound.

"This is the first time we've started to play notes with our fingers," said Yaple, who taught strings at Thurston Middle School and Laguna Beach High School for the past five years. "The purpose of today was to develop motor skills and muscle memory."

He directed the students to sit on the edge of their chairs, then walked around to show them where to place their fingers on the instruments.

"Let's all pluck E," Yaple said. "There's a few songs we can play from [three] notes [D, E, and F]."

Yaple then led a discussion followed by a hands-on rhythm activity.

"What is rhythm?" Yaple asked. "A combination of quick and slow sounds."

Kids clapped and chanted one, two, with a pause on three, and four. Yaple then gave each student a sheet with notes from two songs: "Hot Cross Buns" and "Mary Had a Little Lamb."

"No matter what instrument you play, these are always the first two songs you learn how to play," Yaple said.

Sol Comesana, 8, was one of two students in Yaple's Tuesday morning class who chose the cello.

"I like how it has a deeper sound," Sol said.

This is the first year Isabel McDermott, 9, has played the viola, which Yaple said makes a lower sound than the violin.

"I want to play harder songs and get better," Isabel said.

Yaple is encouraged by the elementary students' response to the additional music class offerings.

Last year Yaple had seven or eight high school students in a strings class, he said.

"To put a class in during the day makes such a difference," Yaple said of the course he teaches, which was an after-school class in past years.

An after-school class presents a conflict for some students who may play sports or participate in other extra-curricular activities, Yaple said.

"It's something we've talked about ever since I started five years ago," Yaple said. "In order for a music program to grow, you have to start at the elementary level."