Friday, March 10, 2017

Year 7: Week 25 – Recorder Wars: The 5th Grade

I love how enthusiastic my 3rd graders are about playing the recorder. They look forward to it, have a sad when we don’t do recorders and they genuinely enjoy playing the instruments.

Then 5th grade hits. I’m not going to get into why the enthusiasm disappears when they reach 5th grade, but I will say there is dramatically different. Many 5th graders openly dislike the recorder. The focus breaks down. It’s really hard to get them to work as a group. I’ve never been able to get them into a good groove working as a class.

So I gave up on teaching 5th grade recorder in the large group. It just wasn’t working. There wasn’t enough buy in for them to learn as a class. I could never strike the right balance, which resulted in advanced kids being bored, and students who fell behind confused. When 5th graders feel bored or are confused, often they express this by being disruptive.

I feel better about what I’ve figured out for my 3rd graders on recorder then what I do with my 5th graders. However, I have found some things that work, so here they are:

1. Recorder fun: I remember the moment when I realized that I could play pop music on the piano. It was through the songbook for The Little Mermaid. It’s a powerful moment when students realize that they can play music they know and like on an instrument. Hal Leonard has this series of recorder books, Recorder Fun! (here’s a link to the Adele one). Each book features a finger chart, basics on reading music and pop songs. Each song is written in big notes with the note names written inside the note name. Lyrics and chord symbols are also included.

Most of the time the rhythms are too complex for my students to read, however, if they know the song, then they are mostly using just the note names to play the song and ignoring the notation. I’m okay with that. At least they are being exposed to notation and feeling the gratification of playing a song that they know. However without knowing how to read rhythms, well it's hard to play as a large group which leads to. . .

2. Small group work: After students try some songs out of the Recorder Fun! series, they give me a list of their favorite songs and I put them in groups according to their song choice. They have the fingering, the notes, and they have an idea of how the song works. Then they can go at their own pace and figure out how to play together. This takes some doing, but I find that in a small group, they can usually figure out a way to play in sync with each other. I work my way from group to group giving them specific goals to work on during the lesson.

3. Alto recorder . . . or tenor?: I have all of my students try the alto recorder and in every class I have three or four students who love it. It fits the bigger hands of some students; many like the lower sound and more advanced kids often enjoy the challenge of the larger instruments. Alto recorder is in a different key then soprano recorder so there’s some transposing that needs to happen. Usually I give them a chart that shows how the transposing work and have them write out a transposed parts themselves.  And surprisingly one of my 5th graders got really into playing the tenor recorder even though she could barely stretch her fingers out to cover the holes.  Hey, she worked really hard at it and made it work.

4. Recorder as a unit: Instead of doing a little recorder as part of a class over a period of time, 5th graders seem to do better with recorder if they do it every music class for the whole period across a series of classes. 5th graders are ready to focus on projects for longer periods of time. It is also easier for students to see growth and feel success if they are working on recorder songs more often during a shorter span of lessons.

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