Monday, November 2, 2015

Recorder Instruction: Gimme an A, Gimme a C (by Phyllis Thomas)

There are several good reasons for beginning soprano recorder instruction with A, followed by C:

  • Logic: A is the first letter of the alphabet, and can be the first note on the recorder.
  • Relative strength of thumb, index finger, and middle finger to cover holes with the left hand, as the majority of students are right-handed.
  • Once A can be played well, raising the index finger for C is an easy next step.
  • All sol-mi songs learned in earlier grades can be played using C and A, immediately giving students a known repertoire of short, easy songs to play by simply raising and lowering the left hand index finger. The familiar sol-mi songs can also be played by ear and by rote.
  • Initially, students learn to read and play just one note on the staff (essentially reading the rhythm), and then are called upon to distinguish between one higher and one lower space note (C and A) on the treble clef staff.

The following is an overview of the process and materials I use to introduce A and C to beginning recorder players. Through each step, I emphasize beautiful in-tune playing (left hand on top, covering holes with “finger prints,” gently blowing into the recorder, beginning each note with a soft “d” tongue, etc.). The variety of materials keeps the students engaged. I do take the time to introduce and review score reading, including a focus on the time signature, key signature, measures, bar lines, and repeat signs.

  • Review the spaces on the staff.
  • Watch the FACE video (song by Teresa Jennings).
  • Project the "Meet the Recorder" Flash file published in the October/November 2015 issue of Activate!. Read the material on the first two pages and listen to the examples. Stress that the students will be learning to play a real instrument that has been around for a long time (information and recordings contained in this file can be referenced in subsequent class periods).
  • Show the class how to play an A and where the pitch is located on the staff. When they are mostly playing the pitch with good tone, lead some four-beat echo patterns. 
  • Display "A-Good Start" (from Artie Almeida's Recorder Classroom, Vol. 2, No. 2). Play the accompaniment track. Have your students read and play.
  • Display four-beat rhythm flash cards for the students to play on pitch A. I use the digital cards from "Rhythm Flash Cards, Set 2" found in Interactive Now, Vol. 2.
  • Have students get in pairs to create text messages using "Send a Text" (from Interactive Now, Vol. 10). Once the rhythm of their "texts" are in place, they play it on an A.
  • Display "Planet of the A" from BAG Warm-Ups and Workouts for Young Players by John Riggio and Paul Jennings. Play the accompaniment track and have the students read and play along. 
At this point, students should be able to play A well, and are ready for our next note...C!
  • Show the class how to play C and where the pitch is located on the staff. When they are mostly playing the pitch with good tone, lead four-beat echo patterns using just C.
  • Practice raising and lowering the left index finger without playing, resting the mouthpiece of the recorder on the chin. I lead students by saying, "Up, down, up, down, feel the burn, up, down..." When you feel most of the class has mastered the movement, have them practice playing between the two notes and then lead four-beat patterns for them to echo.
  • Display the "Counting Song" (without lyrics). Have the class look at the score and figure out the title of the song, with some helpful hints, if needed.
  • Display the "Counting Song" (with lyrics). Sing measures 1, 3, 5, 7, and 9 and have your students "answer" by singing mm. 2, 4, 6, 8, and 10. Switch parts and repeat. Sing the song using sol-mi and hand signs, and then on C-A. Discuss why the rhythm of measure 7 is different from the other odd-numbered measures.
  • Play mm. 1, 3, 5, 7, and 9 and have the students play mm. 2, 4, 6, 8, and 10. Switch parts and repeat. If you wish, repeat the process with boys playing one part and girls playing the other. Have the whole class play the entire song.
  • Display Recorder Rumble by Jeanette Morgan. Advance to level 2: C and A, and invite students to play the game.
  • Display, read, and play "Bye Baby Bunting," "Bye Low, Baby O," "Good Night, Sleep Tight," or "Star Light, Star Bright." Have the class clap the rhythm, then sing on sol-mi with hand signs, and finally sing on C-A. Discuss the appropriate dynamics for the song. Have the class play quietly.
  • Review the "Cuckoo" song and game. Have your students sit in a circle with one child in the center, covering their eyes. All sing the first phrase, and the "cuckoo" (chosen by the teacher) echoes the class. All sing "Cuckoo, where are you?" and the cuckoo echoes. The student in the center then uncovers their eyes and guesses who sang the part of the cuckoo. The cuckoo then moves to the center of the circle to become the next guesser, and the previous guesser silently chooses a new cuckoo. Play the game a few times, and then project the score and transfer it to recorders. Play the game using recorders instead of singing. 
  • Review the "Tinker, Tailor" song and game. Students stand in a circle with the teacher or a student in the center. All students in the circle make fists with both hands and hold them out at waist level, thumb side up (if you want a shorter game, have students begin with just one fist held out). As the class sings the song, the teacher/student in the center taps each fist around the circle on the beat. The fist tapped on "thief" should be placed behind the child's back, so this student is now holding out just one fist. Repeat. When both fists are "out," the student sits and plays the rhythm on rhythm sticks as play continues. When there is only one fist remaining, that student is deemed the winner and becomes the next to go to the center of the circle to play the game again. Play the game a few times and then project the score and transfer it to recorders. Play the game by having each student play two beats, progressing around the circle, until one student is out and must sit. Continue the game until one student (the winner) is left.
  • Review the other songs in the set, and then read and play on the recorder.
When students are proficient playing C and A, and can distinguish the two notes on the treble clef staff, move to the next note...D. Proceed with sol-la-mi songs and singing games, such as "Lucy Locket" and "Bounce High, Bounce Low."

**Click on "Counting Song" (without lyrics), "Counting Song" (with lyrics), "Bye Baby Bunting," "Bye Low, Baby O," "Good Night, Sleep Tight," "Star Light, Star Bright," "Cuckoo," and "Tinker, Tailor" to download and print the PDFs.**


Phyllis Thomas has taught elementary music for over twenty years, and has been on the faculty at Bridlewood Elementary since it opened in 1998 in Flower Mound, Texas. She received her BA from Adams State College in Alamosa, CO and MM from what is now the University of North Texas (UNT). She completed three levels of Kodály training and one level of Orff training at UNT. Phyllis is past Teacher of the Year, has been a Model Technology Classroom teacher since 2008, and has been a SMART Exemplary Educator since 2010. She is co-author and editor of the Music Memory Passport, published by the University Interscholastic League (UIL) of Texas and has written lessons and activities for the Online Learning Exchange Interactive Music powered by Silver Burdett, developed by Pearson in partnership with Alfred Music Publishing. Phyllis currently writes articles and IWB lessons and activities for Heritage Music Press (Activate! Magazine, Interactive Now, Mi in the Middle, and Step Up to the Major Scale). She is a frequent presenter for technology and SMART Board sessions at district, state, and regional workshops and conferences across the country. She has been a featured clinician for the Elementary Division at the Arkansas ACDA convention, the Texas Music Educators Association (TMEA) conference, the regional and state Texas Computer Education Association (TCEA) conferences, the Appalachian State University Silver Burdett/Pearson Summer Music Institute in Boone, NC, and the national TI:ME convention.

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