Reply To: First year recorder program- where to start?
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How exciting that you get to start a fresh recorder program!!! I know this can also be a daunting task when it is also your first year teaching elementary music, but the fundamentals of teaching the recorder are the same as if you are teaching band or orchestra classes. Spiraling the curriculum is key; setting a solid foundation with good tone and tonguing, then adding reading rhythms and then melody will give the students a good basis from which to launch future instrumental endeavours.
Fourth grade is the year our district introduces the recorders to students, but I personally learned in third grade. Regardless of what age is starting the recorder, the process I use is the same. Personally, I require my students to know the names of the pitches prior to playing the instrument. Students can order recorders through the school, but I also have a classroom set as needed. Our district purchased seven entire classroom sets that are all different colors that are checked out through our department secretary if a school needs them. When deciding what brand of recorder to purchase, one should also consider how much parents in your school would be willing to spend. While some schools have parents who can afford $5 easily, there are others where that is too much. Over the years I have used a variety from Yamaha to LMI to Peripole to Suzuki. Some of my fellow music teachers have purchased the colored ones to get the buy-in for the students to practice more. Some order based on the tone of the recorder and some simply shop around for the most inexpensive brand. It really depends on your school and the restrictions (or lack thereof) of your situation.
Starting the recorder is so exciting as the kids are quite focused on that first day. I have to give credit for this next paragraph to my lead teacher up in Fargo, North Dakota who was phenomenal and taught me the best process for introducing the recorder to students. I start by doing the “Statue of Liberty” and have the students pretend they are the statue holding their recorder with the bottom of the instrument in their right hand. I mirror them while they are doing this and I am checking that everyone is holding it properly with good posture. Then we do “windshield wipers” and “back scratchers” all holding it in their right hand. This is a fun game but it also helps to make sure they learn that the right hand is always on bottom and the left hand goes on top. Then I explain to them that the fipple is going to go on their chin (this is the curved piece on the mouthpiece). They take the recorder (their right hand still at the bottom) and place the fipple on their chin. Then I have them hold their left hand up and swear “I promise to keep my left hand on top. I know that someday I might play the flute…the clarinet…or the saxaphone and I will need to have my left hand on top to play the keys with my pinkies. If I do not keep my left hand on top…” I make this all very dramatic and the kids laugh but they realize that it is important. Most students will want to put their right hand on top since they are “righties.” Then take the left hand and find the thumb hole and the first hole in front and cover both of those. I am constantly checking students. Then I go into blowing on a spoon of hot soup…we don’t want to blow the soup off so it has to be really slow air. I discuss embouchure and the apex of the tongue for tonguing. It is important for me to not dumb things down for students, instead expect the most out of them and they rise to the challenge. Plus, they love these big words and the complexity of playing an instrument.
Then we blow for the first time. We work on tone and then we work on tonguing. Having the students echo me on the note of B with various rhythms. I show them on the board what note we are playing and they tell me the letter name. They will say a rhythm we have done in class “ta-ta-titi-ta” or something else (I have LOTS of rhythm cards for this purpose)–this articulation helps them get ready for tonguing on instruments. Just because we have an instrument in hand doesn’t mean we forget all we have learned up to this point. Then after saying the rhythm with the recorder on their chin, we put the instrument up with a B fingering and play the instrument–trying not to overblow. Then adding A…and so on until you have all three pitches of B-A-G. That is where I start.
Regardless of which age you start, you can design your lessons from easy folk tunes like “Hot Cross Buns” and then just flip the melody “upside down” and play “G-A-B.” It will sound a bit funny, but the kids think it’s pretty clever. Have students look for patterns to make it easier to learn. “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” “Long Legged Sailor” and so many more have easy BAG melodies that you have a good supply of free material if you have the means to print music on a program such as “Finale” or “Sebelius.” A teacher in our district actually compiled a ton of folk music with the progression of B-A-G to adding the note of E and so on. Again, there are quite a variety of recorder books out there for you to check out. You might consider calling a publishing company and asking for some sample books or ordering one or two so you can decide what will work for you based on your budget.
At any rate, I wish you the best of luck in this adventure! As I said earlier, how exciting!