child playing the recorder

How to Become a Black-Belt at Teaching Recorder in the Classroom

 Music educators working with young students have a difficult job on their hands. This isn’t exactly breaking news if you’re familiar with the many challenges that go hand in hand with teaching, but what isn’t talked about enough in early music education is the vast importance of making music fun and engaging for kids. Approached the right way, music taught in classrooms can be the perfect way to introduce children to the magic of music. But if your music lessons are dull, you run the risk of ruining the crucial first impressions young students have of music.

Making music lessons fun and empowering young students is arguably more important than anything else that happens in music education, but it’s not easy. One of the best ways to get young students excited about music is through the recorder.

Yes, you read that right.

The recorder is a powerful tool to make early music education exciting and memorable for young students. In this article, we’ll tell you what makes the recorder such an excellent teaching tool, and we’ll give you helpful tips for teaching it to your students.

Why the recorder is still the perfect instrument for introducing children to music after a century

According to the New York Times, “Recorders provide many children with their first musical experiences. They are known as ''pre-band'' instruments in music education lingo, and may be thought of as toys––but they can also be played with virtuosity by a master like Michala Petri.” Recorders have been the instrument of choice for early music educators for a hundred years for a couple of reasons. Most importantly, they’re easy for kids to play and for educators to teach. Typically made of plastic, recorders can take a beating and keep on ticking. And, like the Times article points out, these instruments might look and feel like toys but are frequently played by some of the world’s most virtuosic musicians. All of these features make the recorder the perfect introduction to music for children learning about music for the first time.

kids playing recorder

What makes the recorder easy to play for kids:

  • These instruments are lightweight and compact
  • Simple construction allows for easy, intuitive playing
  • Recorders don’t require muscle memory or special skills to generate sound. All a child needs to play is their breath
  • They’re durable and can be dropped without becoming damaged

The recorder was originally used as a fundamental instrument for renaissance and baroque ensembles before German composer and music education pioneer Carl Orff began looking to the instrument as a way to introduce children to music in the 1920’s.

Perfect for trained music educators and non-musicians alike

Every school year, thousands of teachers without musical training teach the recorder to their students. This is because the same features that make this instrument easy to learn for kids give non-musical educators the ability to play and teach the recorder intuitively. If you’re an educator looking for resources to learn how to get started on the recorder, this guide is a great place to start.

Basic classroom tips for teaching recorder

recorder on sheet music

Have a plan for managing sound

Upon handing out recorders to your classroom, you’re likely to get overwhelmed by the cacophony of sounds generated from your students exploring their new instruments. To maintain the peace––and your sanity––form an agreement with your kids when it comes to when they’re expected to play and when you need them to listen. Hand gestures and songs can be effective for getting you kids to listen.

Start classes off with fun and memorable warm-ups

According to the Yellow Brick Road music education blog, warm-ups are essential for teaching the recorder effectively: “Warmups should be a part of every recorder lesson. Just like athletes, musicians need warmups to prepare for practice and/or performance. And secretly, it gives you a chance to review basic technique and assess student progress.” The blog goes on to recommend incorporating call-and-response drills as a way to reinforce basic skills and musicianship during warm-ups.

Don’t rely on charts to teach fingering

Walter Bitner’s informative music education blog recommends taking a hands-on approach when it comes to teaching students fingering on the recorder: “Don’t use those silly charts. Anyone who has stood before a group of children, each of whom holds a recorder in their hands, and tried to get them to all play the same note knows that the primary means for making sure everyone is playing the same fingering is to show them yourself on the instrument in your hands.

Simply handing out fingering charts and expecting your students to play the right notes isn’t realistic. Provide fingering charts for reference, but make the effort to show each and every one of your students fingering positions by example first.

Sing and play

Before teaching things like complete songs or music notation is on the table, you’ll need to introduce basic musical passages to your kids by singing short ideas with them first and having them play the ideas second. Singing short ostinato patterns to your kids having them repeat the passages on their recorders is a great way to develop their ears and musical skill.

teacher with student playing the recorder

How to make learning the recorder fun and empowering for your students

 Most educators can follow a step-by-step recorder lesson plan, but doing so won’t necessarily mean your students will find the experience fun and rewarding. The amount of enthusiasm an educator displays is crucial, as is knowing the unique strengths and limitations of their students. Recorder Karate is a phenomenal method for teaching recorder that’s designed to promote fun and musical creativity in your classroom. Recorder Karate introduces kids to music on the recorder by having them learn songs that gradually grow in difficulty. After they master each song, students earn a small “belt” to wrap around their instrument similar to the ones awarded in Karate. Different colored strands of yarn can be used as belts. Bulletin boards with fun shapes and themes can be used to inspire students to practice their songs and technique at home and increase to the next belt level. 

Benefits of Recorder Karate

  • Motivates kids to learn music with fun rewards and challenges
  • Allows for flexibility, giving music teachers the freedom to teach at their own pace and best meet their student’s needs
  • Helps kids master recorder fundamentals gradually through fun songs and incentives

There are fun books teachers can use to teach Recorder Karate, or they can simply form their own fun lesson plans themed around awarding belts for different songs learned or musical concepts mastered.

Programs like Recorder Karate are powerful tools for making music fun in the classroom, but they won’t work unless your heart is 100% in it. In addition to common sense ways of preparing for lessons like knowing the material you’re teaching and approaching every session with a detailed game plan, you’ll need to bring loads of enthusiasm and patience to your recorder lessons. If you’re musically experienced, it might seem like just another lesson for you, but for your kids, it’s an important first musical impression. Will learning music be fun, freeing, and empowering, or will it just be another chore packed with strict rules and limitations? It’s all in how you present the lessons to your students. 

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