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Why Do Those Recorders Sound So Terrible?

Recorder[Editor's note: Mr. Music Teacher is a second-year teacher in an elementary school on Staten Island.]

As a new teacher, I am constantly assessing and critiquing my teaching methods. My first year of teaching went really well and I was able to develop new skills and learn from techniques that were and weren’t so successful. There is one thing I definitely would have done differently last year, given the opportunity. This year I didn’t make the same mistake.

A big part of my job last year, as the only music teacher at the elementary school I worked at, was developing a band program. The school had plenty of instruments sitting in a closet for years and it was my job to put them to good use. I met with the principal over the summer to discuss how the program would run, the curriculum, programming and performances. We decided to start the band in third and fourth grade. This would allow for a senior band and a beginner band the following year.

I had big plans for the band program at my school. I was thinking ahead about the band for the next year before last year even started. I decided to develop and incorporate a recorder curriculum with my second grade students in order to prepare them for band in the following year. The recorder is an excellent pre-band instrument and can dramatically improve the success students have on woodwind and brass instruments in the future, so it was a logical choice to start students on recorders in order to build a band program.

All of the second grade students purchased their own recorders, books and cardboard desk stands. The first few weeks went really well. I developed good routines with my students to set up their instruments and how to play as an ensemble. We also discussed and developed class rules when playing the recorders.

After a few weeks of working on the instruments, I noticed that many students, about eighty percent, were having problems on the instruments. I worked slowly trying to help my students develop good sounds and techniques that would lead to a positive recorder ensemble outcome. Many students had a lot of trouble controlling the air flow to prevent squeaks, even after spending a great deal of time on breathing and singing exercises. Another major problem was that the students had trouble covering the holes on the recorders completely. Their hands were a little bit too small to do this accurately. I persisted and differentiated instruction for another few weeks but realized this age group was just too young to begin learning the recorders.

Since the students’ parents ordered the supplies with their own money I felt obligated to use them in the classroom. I wanted to forget about the recorders for a while but instead I thought of some fun and easy activities to do with the recorders from time to time. I stopped trying to spend a whole class teaching recorders to second graders. I had the students echo rhythms on the recorders without holding down any fingers and play long notes to develop breath control and tone development. Each of these activities would not last for more then five to ten minutes in a class. This worked well throughout the rest of the year and the students made small but forward progress. Next year those students will be ready to start playing full songs on the recorders. My current third grade students at the time, without any previous training, had none of the problems my second graders had.

This year I didn’t begin using recorders with my second grade students. Instead, I’m focusing all my energy on a second grade curriculum not based on the recorder. I was able to start an extended day program with a few second graders using song flutes this year. The song flute is much smaller then the recorder and my students are excelling quickly. The song flutes were a much better choice for second graders. I realize now why my second grade recorder program didn’t work and learned how to create a better program suited to the developmental needs of second graders.

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1 Comment:

  • 1 Anne
    · Jun 18, 2010 at 6:26 pm

    I am a regular ed classroom teacher. I really wanted to use recorders in my classroom this year because of the research that it increases students learning (the whole connection of the right and left brain thing). I was looking for info to include in a grant when I came across this post. My music teacher said he thought the recorders would be too small for first graders but I am moving to second so I thought I would try it. Now I think I will use the song flutes instead. I intend to use them to spell words and to rhythm exercises in addition to playing music. I am also looking for a way to incorporate them into science and health.
    Thanks for your words of wisdom!