Here we go again! Another new school year, another intake of beginner recorders!
The classes seem to be getting larger and larger.
I used to worry about going too slowly, and the children getting bored. Now, I take my time. Plenty of games, plenty of repetition, plenty of stickers seems to be the key.
Challenge Number 1; holding the recorder with your left hand. That’s the hand nearest the window. Swap hands, not use your “other” left hand. OK, all recorders down, let go, PUT them DOWN. Now, on the count of three, pick up your recorder with your LEFT hand; 1, 2, 3; I look round the class. “Yes, Yes, NO, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, NO….” the children scramble to sort themselves out before I get to them…
And again; put the recorders down; and this time, if you have got your left hand on top, you can have a sticker… ready, 1, 2, 3; I look round the class; ” are you ready, here I come….” more scrambling, and eventually everyone gets a sticker, which I stick onto their left hand “leave it there, you can put it in your book at the end of the lesson”
Challenge Number 2; NOTE B: Thumb on the hole at the back, and pointy finger on the hole at the front. The top hole. Left hand; use your left hand for both of the holes, like me. No, your left hand, I’m the opposite way round to you…
Challenge Number 3; Reading your first bit of music. “here is how you write B in music. Like a bead, threaded onto the MIDDLE line. Every time I point to a B, play the note.”
Shocking din ensues as I point to notes and the children all play. I see the head teacher flinching as he walks past the classroom.
“How many Bs are there on this line?” “FOUR!” “So HOW many Bs was I expecting to hear?” “FOUR!”
” So let’s try that again, shall we?” (And again, and again, until they can all count to four in their heads and play B at the same time) “Oswald, left hand on top, remember? Your sticker hand, that’s right, no I mean you are right, that’s your left. Hand.” Oh dear.
Next week is plenty soon enough to introduce rhythm notation – crotchet and quaver – for B. By this time, half the class will have read and partly understood the first dozen pages of the book. Three-quarters of the class will be playing right-handed and need to be stickered again.
The week after, I will hand out MS paper and pencils, and they can all write music for note B and play each other’s compositions. That will give me a chance to see who has got the idea of pitch and rhythm notation, and who still doesn’t have a clue.
I’ll probably continue with note B and rhythm cards for several weeks. We will play “listen and copy”, where I play a rhythm, and they copy it, and “Don’t Play This One Back”. It will take time, but eventually I won’t need to say “Left-Hand-On-Top” every few moments (there will be one or two who always need reminding – I’ll bribe them with stickers) and everyone should become comfortable with the basic notation for B, crotchets and quavers. I’ll continue with these activities even after I have introduced note A and, sometime around Christmas, note G. At this stage I will stop and do a lot of consolidation on notation, breathing, tonguing etc before progressing. We will also do a lot of composition using MS paper and pencils.
If these foundations are secure, the children will have more chance of staying with you as more notes are added in the future. By the end of the Summer, they should all be able to read the notes D E G A B C’, and cope with the simplest rhythms.