Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Recorder Time! A Few Thoughts on Beginning a Successful Recorder Unit

Thanks to Moo and Puppy for the frame and Dancing Crayon for the recorder clipart!

It's recorder time in music for my 3rd and 4th graders! I really love teaching recorder and watching students' excitement when they can play their known songs on an instrument. The second half of the 3rd grade year is a good time to begin recorder because 8 and 9 year olds now have the physical dexterity necessary to cover the finger holes.
Here is some information I send home to 3rd grade parents before we start on recorder:

Why play the recorder?
  • The recorder is a natural first instrument for children; it is a melodic instrument, which is close in range to the child’s singing voice.
  • Reading recorder music allows students to further apply their music reading skills they have been developing since 1st grade.
  • The size of the soprano recorder is perfect for a child’s hands.
  • The technique required to play the recorder provides a solid foundation for students who wish begin a band instrument in 5th grade. (Many woodwind instruments utilize fingerings very similar to recorder fingerings!)

The recorder was popular during the 16th and 17th centuries. 
Many famous composers of that time including Bach and Handel wrote music 
     for the recorder.  
The recorder is made in 5 different sizes; soprano, soprano, alto, tenor and bass. 
These 5 recorders can play 5-part music just like a choir can sing in 4 or 5 parts. 
Students at our school begin playing the soprano recorder in 3rd grade and continue 
playing in 4th Grade. 5th graders learn alto recorder and play soprano and alto duets.

Musicians with Instruments (Not kids with toys!)

When introducing the recorder I always stress to the students that they are musicians with instruments, and not little kids with toys. They learn that when the recorder was at it's height of popularity in the 16th and 17th century, many musicians played recorder similar to how many people play guitar now. I let them know: The recorder is an instrument worthy of respect and you are a musician who deserves respect as well. What message do we send to anyone listening when we over-blow and make horrible squeaky noises? (Maybe that you're a kid with a toy?)
Be a musician with an instrument. Just because you can easily make ear-splitting noises with the recorder doesn't mean you should!

A Quality Instrument

I purchase recorders, straps, and books from West Music for students. I don't require students to purchase recorders but many do purchase from the music room. Several years ago there were always a handful of students who would bring dollar store recorders to class. I began tactfully including in my recorder note home:

Many students prefer owning their own recorder so they can practice outside of music class. If you already own a recorder, please have it checked by Ms. LeJeune. Dollar store recorders are usually not quality instruments and can easily frustrate children while they are learning.

When a child is learning to write you would not give them a stick and some mud to write with, would you? That would take their focus away from the subtle mechanics of writing and the task would be nearly impossible. When we are learning the recorder we want to equip children with a good instrument so they can focus on their technique rather than the shortcomings of the instrument. No one sounds good on a dollar store recorder.

Recorder Karate

Like many music teachers, I have a recorder karate system in place. In recorder karate students earn "belts" after successfully playing and passing recorder tests/songs. I enjoy changing my belt list each year according to the specific group of students I'm teaching. There are pre-packaged recorder karate belt lists with the music included but I believe it makes more sense to create your own. Here are some ideas of types of pieces you can use in a recorder karate belt list:

Those are just a few ideas for recorders as this school year winds down.  Please comment below with your own recorder thoughts.

Have a great week and keep on teaching! (Summer break is nearly here!)


  1. This is great! Wonderful advice and guidance. I think I might copy the "Why Play the Recorder" list onto my school website for parents to see! That's a great justification! Thanks for sharing all of this!

  2. Excellent post Tanya! Great information. I did exactly what David did! I put the "Why play recorder" list on my Music class Weebly http://ryersonrocks.weebly.com . I hope that's okay! I really like the list!

    1. Thanks, Steph! I'm glad you're sharing with kids and parents. That's what it's all about!

  3. Hi Tanya! I'm new to blogging and came across your blog! I love it! There are so many helpful ideas that I plan on implementing in my music classroom. I LOVE your "Why I Play Recorder". I plan on including your information in my opening letter to parents at the beginning of the school year. Thank you!