Issue 66: Beginner Recorders: reading the dots

I do go on and on about this, but I strongly believe that if you don’t teach children how to read music when you teach an instrument, you are not doing them any favours. So, my year 3 recorder players are presented with staff notation right from the very first lesson.

I also take a firm line on writing the letters in under the notes – when they are playing pieces with only one or two notes it is totally unnecessary. I despair of parents who “help” their children by writing the letters in – how hard can it be to distinguish between “B-with-a-line-through-it” and A-in the space between the lines”?

Yesterday we embarked upon our third note, “G”. I use John Pitt “Recorder from the Beginning” at this school, partly because that’s what they’ve always used, partly because it’s a good basic tutor. I know that there are others – in fact I use David Moses “Recorder Boppers” at some of the other schools I teach in, but that’s a topic for another day.

Anyway, John Pitt introduces with a brilliant little tune called “Joe Joe”. I won’t steal his work, so will illustrate how I taught “New-Note-G” using “Mary Had a Little Lamb…

STEP 1 Everyone puts their recorder down, and looks at the music (I have it up on a whiteboard, and the children mostly have their own books). We sing through just the first two lines to learn the tune. We sing it through again, following the pitch by pointing to our LEFT HAND fingers with our right hands:

Mary had a little lamb                  pointing to fingers 1 2 3 2 1 1 1

Little lamb, little lamb                   pointing to fingers  2 2 2, 1 1 1

Then we look at the dots (note heads), and see that there is a dot with a line running through it on the second line up – “New-note-G”

We sing through the song again, looking at the dots, and sing it with the letter names.

Then, when this is all going well (and it only takes five minutes or so) we pick up our recorders, and work out that the pointing to our fingers corresponds to the holes on the recorder, and new-note-G needs three holes covered. Now we play, and Mary and her little lamb should “happen” fairly accurately.

We then look at the notation for the last two lines, read the notes out one by one together, and most of the children will correctly call out “G” every time. It’s worth doing the finger pointing and singing through exercise first, before attempting to play these lines. By the end of the lesson, the children should be pretty fluent at reading B A G, from notation, without any letters under the notes.

By the way, when they are playing, DO NOT HELP THEM BY PLAYING ALONG WITH THEM! They will just watch your fingers, rather than the notes on the stave, and you will have started a most undesirable habit! You have been warned!

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