Friday, January 30, 2015

Year 5: Week 20 – Recorder-land

Beside the fact that I work with middle school students, the part of my job that people think is the unimaginable (and horrible) is teaching recorder.

One of my favorite principals observed one of my recorder lessons a couple years ago. She told me later that she had no idea how I managed to teach that class, and focus on the students with the sound of so many beginning recorder players. It was so bad that she confided in me later that the she turned off her hearing aid halfway through the class.

At my school the students start recorder about halfway through third grade and continue to use them in music class until the end of fifth grade. We weave the use of this instrument into activities and songs that we learn. It is one of the primary tools we use to teach note-reading, and this instrument helps students understand the family of wind instruments.

This week was a big week for recorders in my teaching world. The third graders started the recorder and I introduced my fifth graders to the alto recorder.

For about three weeks I’ve been lecturing my third graders to prepare them for their recorder quiz and showing them clips of professional level recorder players. I tell them that if they do not pass their recorder quiz, they will not get it. In reality, my third graders get so worked up about this idea of a “quiz” and being the one kid that doesn’t get the recorder that all of them pass every year.

It’s a simple quiz designed to help them start asking themselves about the recorder when they get it in their hands. I go over basics of which hand is on top, whether to start with slow or fast air, placement of recorder in the mouth and troubleshooting (e.g. make sure to cover all of the holes).

They deal with the lectures and this quiz because for some reason the third graders are insanely excited about the recorder. This unfortunately changes by fifth grade.

The recorder for many of my fifth graders has become a drag. For some of them, the note-reading has gotten in the way of making music and others simply have motivation and the patience to learn harder notes on the instrument.

To combat this feeling, I’ve done two things. The first thing is that I’ve created a packet of pop songs and written the recorder notes underneath the lyrics, “Some Nights,” “We Will Rock You,” “Let It Go,” “Shake It Off,” and “Rock and Roll Part 2.” These songs are a wide variety of skill level and purposely appeal to different genders. The idea is that kids will be learning songs that they like and want to learn and will be willing to work through the newer notes.

It’s been working really well. The kids enjoy having some freedom of song choice and breaking up in small groups to work through the songs. Along with a fingering chart, and how the song goes in their head, they have all the tools they need to make music.

I’m lucky to have seven alto recorders. During work time on the packets, I let each kid spend a couple minutes trying an alto recorder. I offered it as a different sound and an extra-challenge. In each class I had about four kids end up really liking the sound and the challenge of the instrument. Some of these students were the high-achievers in the class but a couple of the people who got most excited about the alto were some of my boys who aren’t as into the recorder and music class.

Between the excitement of my third graders and hearing my fifth graders explore the alto recorder and work really hard to make the jumps in “Let It Go” sound smooth, it’s been a good week for recorders in my life.

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