Developing a Dynamic Recorder Program
By Jim Tinter
Greetings colleagues! Developing a Dynamic Recorder Program is the second of two sessions I’ll be presenting at this year’s NAfME conference in Nashville. In my previous blog, Beginning a Dynamic Recorder Program, I talked about a beginning recorder program. For this post, let’s review a few things then explore ways of super charging our recorder programs. The focus on this post will be equipping and inspiring our students to be actively involved with making music, playing songs, beginning to improvise, and for some, playing alto recorder — without getting bogged down with reading notation.
Developing Technical Proficiency
One of the biggest hindrances to developing a vibrant recorder program is in introducing music literacy at the same time as learning to play the instrument, and before students have developed a strong foundation of singing, moving, and responding expressively to music. Learning to “play by ear,” flies in the face of most of our training, yet that is the process children use to learn language.
It is essential that students develop technical proficiency and are able to get a good sound on their recorders. Getting a good sound involves keeping the mouthpiece on the dry part of the lip, keeping the throat open, using “doo,” or “dah,” for legato articulation, and “dut,” or “duh” for staccato articulation. Do not articulate with “tah,” or “too.” These articulations are too explosive for recorder and cause the dreaded chirping sound at the beginning of notes.
To develop technical proficiency we spend time learning to play “Hot Cross Buns” and “Merrily We Roll Along” in the key of G the first day of instruction (B, A, G). As soon as possible, introduce the harmony part to both songs (d, C, B). Once students learn the melody and harmony, they are able to play five notes (G, A, B, c and d). It is imperative that students be able to sing both songs with lyrics and especially in solfege before learning to play them on recorder.
Finding a Tonal Center
Gradually, you can teach your students to play the melody to “Hot Cross Buns” and “Merrily We Roll Along” in the following keys: F (both octaves), C (both octaves), D (both octaves), Dm (both octaves), A, Am, and sometimes Bb and Em. The benefit of teaching the same songs in so many keys is that students can concentrate on learning new notes and fingerings without having to learn new melodies and rhythms. In addition, as they are practicing at home, family and friends will experience these songs in many flavors (keys) and in major and in minor tonalities.
Knowing the names of each note they are playing is also important for learning to read music later. It is also critical that students learn to play the songs with legato and staccato articulations. Legato and staccato versions of these songs can be found in my publications, Big Mouth Blues and B-A-G Bossa Nova.
Keep reinforcing that songs have a tonal center (do or la), and that the tonal center can be any note, thus reinforcing the concept of moveable do. In addition, students will understand that both “Hot Cross…” and “Merrily…” begin on “mi” and not “do.” In no time at all, you’ll call out, “let’s play “Hot Cross Buns” in A” and students will know what to do — just like real musicians! And, they will be able to hear and understand how to play both songs in major and minor tonalities.
Once students have mastered playing “Hot Cross…” and “Merrily…” in so many keys, they will be equipped to play every diatonic note from low C to high a, alternate B (thumb and fingers 2 & 3), in addition to low and high F sharp, c#, and Bb! Once they begin to read music, they will have a solid technical foundation.
It is beneficial to introduce other songs which give students opportunities to play some of these notes in other contexts. Some suggestions from songs I’ve composed are: “Fasano” (Bb), and “VFX” (F#), from the publication, VFX, and “Big Mouth Blues” (c#), from the publication by the same title. In addition, begin learning to improvise using three notes (c, A, and G) by learning to play the solo/echo patterns from the publication entitled, A Minor Melody.
Rounding out Your Hard Work
Toward the end of our first year of playing, I reward hard working students by offering to let them borrow an alto recorder with the instruction to simply learn every song and note they already know on alto without worrying about learning the new names for the notes. Then we explore what music sounds like when sopranos and altos play in perfect 5ths (usually a rousing response). That experience is a perfect way to introduce the power chord and have students learn to play “Iron Man” in parallel fifths and using alternate B (on soprano, E on Alto). The letter names for soprano recorder are: EGGAACBCBCBGGAA. Just add rhythm. Have altos and sopranos use the soprano fingerings and they’ll be playing the tune in Am.
Gradually, I help those students learn the correct names for alto recorder notes by introducing simple harmony parts especially written to facilitate alto recorder. A couple of song examples are “A Minor Melody,” and “Desert Rider,” from Big Mouth Blues.
As you can see, recorder playing can be fun, exciting, and a musical part of a quality music program. Here’s hoping many of you will have the opportunity to attend the NAfME conference in Nashville. I look forward to meeting many of you.
About the Author:
Jim Tinter is a composer, clinician, publisher and retired public school music educator from Medina, Ohio. He has presented dozens of workshops for the National Association for Music Education, the American Orff-Schulwerk Association, the American Recorder Society and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. His six publications have received rave reviews from American Recorder, and the Jazz Education Journal as well as from teachers and students in the U.S., Canada, and Taiwan. Jim’s dynamic and interactive presentations incorporate moving, singing, and playing instruments, in addition to an inspiring and entertaining multi-media presentation with audio and video clips of his students in action.
Jim will be presenting on this very topic at the 2015 NAfME National In-Service Conference this coming October in Nashville, TN! Don’t miss the Hotel Room Block Deadline: September 22!
Join us for more than 300 innovative professional development sessions, nightly entertainment, extraordinary performances from across the country, a wild time at the Give a Note Extravaganza, and tons of networking opportunities with over 3,000+ other music educators! Learn more and register today: http://bit.ly/Nafville2015
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