Thursday, September 20, 2012

Recorders Rock!

Our 4th graders are very excited about learning to play recorders. They selected their recorder colors (blue, green, or pink), and have anxiously been waiting for them to arrive. Yesterday was the big day! However, they had to be patient, so we could label the recorders and  place them in their teacher bins. So, the playing actually began today.
We printed a class list, cut the names out, and taped them to the upper, front part of the recorder. We used to write names in permanent marker, but the ink ended up not being so permanent. Names would fade over time. We continue to write names on the plastic cases, because the ink lasts on that surface. 

We keep the recorders for each class in a clear tub labeled with the homeroom teacher's name. The tub travels back and forth to the classroom, so students can take recorders home and return them to the tub during homeroom.

The challenge for new recorder players is learning to get a nice sound. We have a PowerPoint slide with a few pointers that we display on the screen to help students remember a few important tips:

We spend the first class working on soft breath, covering holes, and tonguing. We only play the pitch b, so there is less to think about. I tell the students to blow on the palm of their hand, as if they are blowing out birthday candles. The air is cold and forceful. Next, I ask them to breathe on the palm of their hand, as if they are fogging a mirror. They discover that the breath is now soft and warm, which is different from blowing. I also point out how they raised the soft palate to achieve the soft, warm breath.

When students blow too hard, I remind them to "breathe," not blow. I tell them to think about breathing "warm, stinky breath" on a sibling. They think that is funny, so it is easy to remember.

For students who are struggling with tonguing, I have them hold the recorder in front of them and whisper "tuh, tuh, tuh..." As they continue whispering, they bring the recorder to their lips. Hopefully, the tonguing continues and they hear and feel the difference.

Do you have favorite tips for helping students get a nice sound on the recorder? Try the "stinky breath" technique. You'll be surprised how well it works. :)

Update (March 2016): I have found that these tips seem to help students visualize ways to improve their sound in the following situations:

  • Too much air? Tell them to imagine breathing just enough air on a birthday candle to make the flame flicker, but not go out. 
  • Playing each note too forcefully and separated? Speak or sing a sentence in the same manner. Ex.: "We! Don't! Sing! Like! This! So! Let's! Not! Play! Like! This!"
  • Leaky holes? This is usually from a lack of fine motor skills or an understanding that they should be using pressure. Walk up and take the recorder out of their hands while they are playing. Then giggle and give it back, but tell them to cover holes and hold it tightly enough that you can't get it again. Next time you will merely need to say, 'Don't let me get your recorder!"
Have fun!


  1. If you are willing, please share your PowerPoint!

    1. Tenessa,
      Thanks for your interest in the slide. I don't mind sharing. I just started the blog Tuesday, and I just figured out how to share files yesterday. I'll have to do it when I get back to school, because the file is on a computer there.

      I just thought of an issue, though. I typically use fonts I download in my PowerPoint slides, and they won't display correctly on computers without the fonts. I can make a PDF, but it shows a white border. Would it be better for you to use the image of the slide in the blog post and insert it into a PowerPoint of your own?

      Let me know what you think would work best.

    2. I just experimented with the image. If you click on the image in the post, it will open in a new window and display larger. Right click and copy the image. Open a new PowerPoint presentation and paste the picture. It worked like a charm! :)

  2. I do the fogging up a mirror too, but found they sometimes fogged too hard making even warm air too fast. We talked about fogging up a mirror or car window so the person next to you cannot hear it. I thought that was helpful! Great tips and ideas! Thanks for sharing! :)

  3. Replies
    1. We start recorders at the beginning of 4th grade. We spend a good bit of time on staff notation at the end of third grade, so they will be prepared.

  4. Hi! I am a first year teacher, about to start a brand new elementary music program. Just found your blog and I am loving it! Could you tell me where you purchased your recorders? Thanks!

    1. I'm glad you are enjoying my blog. I have been pretty busy and haven't posted a lot lately, but hopefully you can find some useful ideas. I typically purchase our recorders from West Music. I usually buy them in a bundle with the "Recorder Express" book. They always have free shipping with the purchase of 100 recorders at the beginning of the school year.

      I hope all goes well as you begin the new elementary music program!

  5. I learned a great technique from a workshop - I wish I could remember the name of the teacher! - Each pair of students gets a pompom that they then have to blow across to their partner as carefully as they can. We talk about what kind of air it takes to get it there. Then I give each of them a straw and repeat the task. I walk around and ask them what they notice when they use the straw versus no straw. They love it! Then throughout the year I refer back to the activity to remind them to use soft, steady air.

  6. I am happy to find your distinguished way of writing the post. Now you make it easy for me to understand and implement the concept. Thank you for the post. buzzoid likes

  7. Do you have favorite tips for helping students get a nice sound on the recorder? Try the "stinky breath" technique. You'll be surprised how well it works. :)
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