The recorder is a popular instrument in the elementary music classroom. And for good reason – it’s an easy way to start students on a wind instrument. Plus, they get to practice note reading, musicality, and playing in an ensemble! But as any music teacher knows, unfortunately recorders don’t come with ear plugs. That’s why it’s super important to have your procedures down pat when teaching recorder! Here are some important routines to integrate into your recorder lessons:
Posture and Hand Position
What if I told you that you can practice playing the recorder before your recorders even arrive? (Ask me how I came up with this… it totally doesn’t have to do with our recorder order being 3 weeks delayed. Not at all.) Just use rhythm sticks! No, you can’t blow into them – but here, that’s actually helpful. With one less thing to worry about, kids can focus on fingerings. Don’t forget to keep them in the routine of having their left hand on top and right hand on bottom – no lazy right hands!
I also like to remind students about posture and hand position by having them silently copy me. This is a fun “game” I do with all sorts of instruments in the classroom. The sillier you can get, the better! For example, I might wave my recorder in the air, put it on my head, try to play it upside down. It gets everyone’s eyes on you, stops side conversations, and rests your voice. Be sure to show the expectations for playing. I might show my left and right hand and look very eager when my left hand is on top, but ridiculously sad when the right hand is on top. We do this at the beginning of most classes. Silly, fun, and memorable!
Breathing properly into an instrument is hard for any first-time wind player, let alone the younger ones. It’s developmentally appropriate for kids to not have perfect breath control in elementary school, especially in 3rd grade when most people begin teaching recorder.
One trick is to have students pretend they’re blowing on a candle. Blow hard enough to wiggle the flame, but not so much that it goes out. Adding this visual is very helpful for kids. It keeps them from using all their air at once like they might on their birthday cake – and that won’t be a fun sound once you add a recorder to it!
When teaching recorder songs, it’s also important to explicitly point out where to breathe. I find it helpful to play songs that the kids already know how to sing. Whether you start with B, A, and G or E and G, there are plenty of mi, re, do or sol and mi songs to choose from. Encourage students to take a breath on the recorder at the same time as they would if they were singing.
To create a clean and articulate sound on the recorder, students should use their tongue to “attack” each note. This can be done by saying the syllable “doo” or “too” as they start each note. (I’m a pianist, not a woodwind player, so I’ll let you guys duke it out over which one is better!)
One way to practice this is using the tongue twister “How much dew does a dew drop drop if a dew drop does drop dew?”. Start on this a few days before kids have recorders in their hands – it’ll take practice! Eventually, the goal is to turn the poem into “doo doo doo doodoo doo doo doo doodoo doo doo doo doo doo” – again, without the recorder yet! Only when you think they’re ready, add the recorder back in. You could do it just with the head of the recorder or all on one note to start.
Similarly, when reading rhythms together, have them read the rhythms on “doo” or “too” just before putting it to the recorder.
Many music teachers have found great success using color-coded looseleaf reinforcements to label B, A, and G on their recorders. You can color code notation to go along with it. For example, all B’s might be blue, all A’s might be red, and all G’s might be purple. (Remember to be mindful of students who may have trouble telling colors apart, e.g. due to colorblindness) You could easily do this for all your students or just a few who need help. If you decide to do it for everybody, enlist your students’ help! They can be in charge of coloring the reinforcements and putting them on in order.
By following these procedures, students will be well on their way to becoming proficient recorder players. Plus – happy bonus – you get to keep some of your sanity! Keep in mind that visual reminders are super important, too. I keep all recorder fingerings up throughout the year so that it’s easier to differentiate for students who may be ready to jump ahead. I make them in several themes to match your classroom. This bright rainbow theme is one of my favorites!