My 4th graders are always SO excited to receive their recorders at the beginning of the school year. They can hardly control themselves when they hear that the shipment has arrived. They begin by working on basics (more info in Recorders Rock) and then start earning belts as they progress through a series of songs.
Over the years, the pattern has been that MOST students earn white very quickly and yellow fairly quickly. Then some students take off and fly, while others hover around blue and green. (There are always a small handful of students who really struggle with passing the lowest levels.)
All of my students have their own recorder that they purchase in a packet with Artie Almeida's Recorder Express method book. All music for their belts can be found in their book. We also have a class set of books, so they don't have to travel back and forth.
During class, I have always projected the music on the screen to track and keep students' focus where it should be when they are playing. ("Always" translated: ever since I got a document camera and projector!) I used to cover up parts of the song and zoom in to a couple of measures at a time while students were learning a new song. This year, I decided to create something with more visual appeal and ease of use. I broke down each song into chunks and notated them with large noteheads to help emerging music readers identify the pitches more easily. I used some cute graphics to foster excitement. I have all 10 belt levels (15 songs) in one PowerPoint presentation with 72 slides.
There are slides that introduce each piece in small excerpts. We work through each slide together by reading the rhythm, reading and fingering the pitches, and finally by playing it. The final slide for each song has the entire piece.
If there are challenging passages in a song, I might start the song sequence with that portion. In "Hop, Old Squirrel," beginning recorder players usually have the most difficulty with this passage:
If there are two parts of a song that are similar, I might have a slide that highlights the difference to help them prepare for the change:
If there is one particular pitch that tends to give students trouble, I might highlight it blue: (In this instance, we stop and practice moving from e to a several times before trying the whole excerpt.)
Often, there will be slides that combine two of the shorter introductory slides before moving on to the complete piece:
Finally, there will be a slide with the entire piece:
I love having all of the visuals so accessible. We can zip through different pieces at the touch of a button. There is no more looking up page numbers, flipping pages in a book, and then adjusting the document camera to zoom and focus right where I want. Now, the PowerPoint has everything ready to go at the push of a button.
It took quite a while for me to get all of the slides done, but I was able to stay one step ahead of my students. That reminds me...they are ZOOMING through their belts. My 4th graders have already passed the majority of my 5th graders that didn't get to use these visuals. They are reading so well, that I almost feel like I have a beginning band sometimes. I think there are several factors that have led to their success:
- We really focused on learning the pitch names at the end of 3rd grade.
- We used newly created graphics (Swingin' into Treble) for learning music notation.
- They love playing Around the World, which improved their ability to identify pitches even more.
- "Kicking it with Recorder" takes what we were already doing and makes it easier to see, identity, and break down songs, which increases their success. It doesn't hurt that they enjoy looking at the graphics.
If you use Recorder Express and would like to check out my reward system for this book, you can access it for free through my TpT store, Make Music Rock. The following products are beneficial for recorder players and are also available for purchase:
More products for the elementary music classroom are listed and described on my Resources page.
I hope this post has inspired you to start Kicking it with Recorder!