Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Recorder Mayhem

Ah, the recorder.  It's that instrument we love to hate sometimes, but I think it is an important part of my students' music education.  Some teachers use recorders regularly, starting in early grades--if you are one of those people, my hat is off to you!  I, however, have chosen to introduce recorders in a focused unit in fourth grade.  By that age, most of their hands are big enough to cover the holes (a few still struggle with this for a few weeks) and they are ready for a new challenge.  It injects some much-needed enthusiasm in my class for the spring semester, just when the kids are getting restless and ready to be done with elementary school.

After much trial and error, I have settled into my personal favorite method:  Recorder Karate.  It is by far the most motivating thing for my kids.  It's amazing!  Boys who never seemed to be that "into" music are suddenly racing to see who can reach their Black Belt first.  Kids who (I thought) were not really progressing musically are suddenly reading music like crazy.  I love it.  I begin the unit with class lessons to learn their first three notes (BAG), practicing together to learn the classic first song: Hot Cross Buns.  When they play the song alone successfully, they get their white belt.  After that, I begin each class with a group lesson, group practice, then independent practice time.  (Maybe I'm just a control freak, but that was something I had to learn how to do with this age of students--let them practice independently.  I'm so used to being the leader, director, conductor, etc., I had never set young kids loose on their own.  Guess what?  They CAN do it!) During independent practice time, they can sign up on the board to play for me.  I get to spend one-on-one time with kids, helping when they are struggling, cheering when they get it, and giving immediate rewards for success. Awesomeness!

So this year, I had a new problem.  I had a group of VERY competitive boys who made black belt (9 levels) in THREE WEEKS.  Yikes!  What now?  That's what they were asking me, every day, after school, before school, during class....they wanted more!  So I started digging, went to the yarn department to find new colors for belts, and gave them some more.  They are loving it.  I never dreamed I would be able to differentiate this much in an elementary music classroom.  I am having a ball, and they are keeping me on my toes. 

Now that's not to say that I don't have days when I don't want to hear another recorder sound--ever--but for the most part, I have a lot of fun with this unit.  Seeing kids get excited about making music is worth every ear-piercing, headache-inducing whistle.  Really. 

FOLLOW-UP:  Last week one of my fourth graders came to school in this shirt she made at home.  I heart her.


Chris Chaplik said...

What songs did you add after black belt? I need to have something organized in place this year for those who want more. I have been giving out old recorder books and I am running out of those.

ckmusicmom said...

I went through some recorder books I had in my collection and chose from those. I used the theme from New World Symphony, Simple Gifts; I wrote a harmony part to Ode to Joy and they had to play a duet with another student; there was one more, but I can't think of it right now....I'll check when I get to school and let you know. I also asked the kids for songs they wanted to play. Some were too hard (Mario theme), but Star Wars was a hit with the boys.