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Have you noticed lately that recorders seem to be a hot topic among memes this year? Usually it says something along the lines of, “Here’s this torture device that your kid will bring home this year. Love, your sadistic music teacher.”

Personally, I love teaching instruments like the recorder, and I don’t mind the squeaks that go along with it. It’s all a part of the learning process. Squeaks happen. We learn from it. We grow as musicians. However, we don’t want the squeaking to last forever, or at all really.ย Here are my tried and true practices for teaching the recorder in elementary music.ย 

TEACHING POSTURE

Good posture gives your students’ lungs and diaphragm the room to expand and prevents them from developing poor breath support. However, it’s not a natural way of sitting, at least not for any children I’ve known. Therefore, it’s important to go over the basics of good posture early and often. And the more entertaining you make this process, the better. Here’s how I taught the tenets of good posture:

Don’t Burn Your Back on the Lava (sit forward)
To begin, I modeled sitting on the front of a chair versus leaning back and/or slouching. I taught all aspects of posture without a recorder, then added it later. Once I modeled the correct posture, and the students had imitated me, I told them to pretend that the back of their chair was made of lava. Apparently, lava is a serious threat as a kid, and I can’t refute that considering how often I furniture-jumped with that exact premise in mind…

Pull the String Tight (no slouching)
I stole this idea from my high school choir teacher. He would tell us to pretend that we had a string running through each vertebrae of our spine and out the top of our head. If the string was pulled tight, we sat up straight. If the string was cut, we slumped over, like a puppet without strings. I always modeled pulling the string tight and then cutting it. The more exaggerated I was with my movements, the more they were entertained, and the more it stuck with them. Later, when they began playing music on the recorder, I could silently “pull the string”, and my students would immediately sit up straight.

No Slides (feet flat)
First, I modeled sitting with my feet flat on the floor. Then, I straightened my legs, and observed that they looked like a slide because of the angle they created with the floor. At some point in my career, that observation turned into a story about how little children could slide down my legs. My students found this ridiculous story entertaining, so I stuck with it year after year.

Longtime readers of my blog will recognize many of these sayings from my post Teaching Recorder Basics, which you can read about here.

TEACHING BREATH SUPPORT

Just like good posture, proper breath support doesn’t come naturally. We’re not accustomed to regulating our exhales or timing our inhales. The situation becomes more dire as we attempt to keep our elementary students from blowing into their recorder like a train whistle. Here’s what I did to help:

Make the Tissue Wave (soft air)
I modeled blowing on a tissue (halfway pulled out out of a tissue box) softly enough that it waved, but didn’t completely bend over. Then, I went around the room and asked students to do the same. It was easy enough that most were able to do so on the first try, and they were all genuinely surprised by how carefully they had to manage their air flow. Plus, it’s better that they blow too softly on the first try, rather than too hard.

TEACHING ARTICULATION

Admittedly, I didn’t have a funny or memorable saying for teaching articulation. However, I do know that it’s important to teach articulation before the students get the recorders in their mouths. Otherwise, their tendency will be to use forced air as articulation, or do nothing at all.
I preferred to have students use “doo” rather than “too” for tonguing. I felt it was less explosive and less prone to creating unintentional squeaks. First, I had students practice tonguing on their own. Then, we worked on keeping a steady beat on “doo”. It’s important at this stage that students aren’t humming or whistling while practicing articulation. Otherwise, they’ll do that while the recorder is in their mouth, and it’ll become a strange hybrid of recorder and kazoo. You don’t want that.

You can use a fun beat track, like the one below as they practice. This will mix it up and keep them engaged. I searched “kid friendly beat tracks” on Youtube, and the following video popped up. Any beat track that you think will keep them engaged will work.
The last step is having the students put the recorders in their mouths. I demonstrated this transition by articulating without the recorder, then putting it up to my mouth without changing anything else. I did this several times to show that the technique doesn’t change, even after you place the recorder to your lips. Don’t be afraid to have students practice this for a few seconds on their own.
If they squeak, immediately stop, remind them of their breath control, and try again. Don’t allow for squeaking to become the norm, or heaven forbid, muscle memory.
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That’s it for today’s tips on teaching recorder. However, be sure to click HERE to read Teaching Recorder: Part Two.