By Ed Sueta, Jr.
When you hear “recorder,” what is your reaction? Some teachers smile with satisfaction knowing the success and fun they have had with their students. Others may be less certain, but we want you to become a member of that first group. Recorders are iconic. Almost everyone has memories of recorder in school. Our goal is to make sure that those memories are good ones.
Why the recorder? The recorder is a powerful tool in the general music classroom and one of the most effective ways to teach music reading skills to young students. The development of music reading skills lays the foundation for future musical involvement in band, orchestra and choir. This foundation helps instill a love and appreciation for music that will be a source of joy throughout your students’ lives. Helping instill the love of music is one of the most important jobs that can be entrusted to an educator.
To be successful, it is important to choose sequential, student-friendly materials. We get contacted by teachers who want to convince their principal or administrators of the value of establishing a recorder program and we provide them with a letter which covers many of the points discussed in this blog. These points are also worth considering if you are thinking about establishing or making adjustments to your recorder program because they illustrate the benefits of teaching recorder and ways that you can teach more effectively.
There are a number of practical aspects to the recorder that make it a compelling choice. The recorder is both a solo and ensemble instrument which is equally effective for individual practice and group performance. The affordability and portability of the recorder make it suitable for both classroom and home use. Since there is no embouchure requirement, it is relatively easy for students to produce a tone. The affordability is important because students or the school can make a relatively small investment which will enable students to see if they wish to make a larger commitment to a band or orchestra instrument. Recorders are an effective use of budget dollars and don’t require replacement strings or instrument maintenance.
Portability is important because if you are going to get the most out of your program, students have to do some work at home-especially if you see your students just once a week or for a limited time. Music is like math, language arts, science or any other subject. If students are going to retain what they are learning in class, they need to review the material at home. Practicing at home can be for as little as a few minutes a couple of times a week (maybe just practicing songs for the next class) but you will see the benefits in your students’ understanding and retention. We are big advocates of Play Along Accompaniments because students love having background support and playing along. Accompaniments are fun and motivate home practice! Accompaniments also help instill a sense of time and pitch.
Accompaniments may also come in the form of Orff Orchestrations or handheld rhythm instrument accompaniments. The Be A Recorder Star Curriculum offers over 40 Orff Orchestrations for those teachers who have Orff instruments and over 40 handheld rhythm instrument accompaniments for those who don’t. You can write your own accompaniments as well. Both types of accompaniments are great for developing rhythmic independence and students are excited to play a new instrument-it provides variety and can serve as a great motivator.
Orchestrations and rhythm instrument accompaniments are also an option for students who, due to physical or learning challenges, are unable to play the recorder. The accompaniments make them feel included and part of the class which is wonderful to see.
My Dad, Ed Sueta, who authored the materials always said, “If you are not having fun, you are not doing it right.” Students will have more fun if your materials are engaging and speak to them. Also, and this is CRITICAL: purchase good quality recorders for your students. Do not use instrument-shaped objects. From personal experience, I know how complex recorder molds can be and how just a slight change can severely impact the responsiveness of the instrument and the tone quality. It is a tricky process. Test a recorder before you purchase it for your students and make sure it meets your standards. Recorders are made from a variety of plastics. Get a recorder that either has a guarantee against breakage or you are comfortable will hold up. Nothing is more disconcerting for a student than dropping a recorder and have it chip or shatter.
Having fun does not mean that learning recorder is not a challenge for young students. After all, you are putting a lot on their plate. They are simultaneously blowing into the instrument, fingering the notes and reading the music. Young students can have great success, but it does require effort. We advocate focusing on the development of music reading skills through the use of Rhythm Charts, repertoire and Music Theory Pages. Many of the challenges of learning to play the recorder are rooted in difficulties with music reading. If students are strong readers, they will do very well. It is important to nurture your students’ interest and provide rewards.
As the saying goes, nothing succeeds like success. Fun comes in accomplishment. At the end of the year, we want our recorder students to have strong fundamental music reading skills, feel good about themselves and be proud of their accomplishments and abilities. Success on the recorder will encourage students’ continued musical involvement. Their potential is limitless! Please contact us and we will be happy to provide no obligation review materials and a recorder and help you in any way we can in establishing or enhancing your recorder program.