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Recorder Resources, Part 1. By: Marshall, Herbert D., VanHaaren, Peg, General Music Today, 10483713, Winter2006, Vol. 19, Issue 2
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Recorder Resources, Part 1

As you'll no doubt recall from your elementary general music methods classes, there is a lot of material to learn! Sometimes preservice teachers don't acquire recorder skills, not to mention an understanding of the recorder's place in an elementary curriculum. Thus, it is no surprise that new teachers wonder why, when, and how to incorporate recorder instruction into their general music programs. Veteran teachers may have had bad recorder experiences--hearing loss, battle scars, thumb dislocation--and abandoned the beast, but periodically consider rekindling this relationship. Thus, I enlisted the help of recorder enthusiast and Michigan general music legend Peg VanHaaren to help me write a two-part column of recorder strategies and resources. Peg VanHaaren has taught recorder to young people in public school, private school, and camps--including special needs and gifted students in Michigan--and has shared her techniques with adults in numerous conferences, workshops, and adult education courses.

Goals for Recorder Study

Examine your learner goals for recorder studies. For many, this list includes

• Transfer musical skills learned on voice and percussion to a wind instrument.

• Learn to read, or reinforce the reading of, music notation.

• Learn to create, improvise, and compose.

• Acquire skills on an instrument that is a part of the approved curriculum, basal series, or general approach (Orff-Schulwerk) for your students.

• Experience learning and performing as an instrumentalist (significantly less cost and complexity than most school instruments, yet still a real instrument).

• Learn readiness skills for starting a band or string instrument.

• Learn a musical instrument through which music of other style periods and the technical evolution of woodwind instruments can be discussed.

• Learn about harmony, texture, and timbre through participation in a consort of recorders (ideally soprano, alto, tenor, and bass) or by adding recorder to classroom music that may include singing, unpitched percussion, pitched percussion, guitar, Autoharp, keyboard, and other timbres.

Organization and Timing of Recorder Study

Will you purchase a set for everyone to share in your classroom? Will you purchase one instrument for each student? Will you require that each student purchase an instrument for use in school and at home? These are decisions to make with the input of your music faculty and administration. It is possible to be somewhat sanitary while sharing recorders among classes, using rubbing alcohol or the sprays available from music stores. This system precludes, however, ever performing as a whole grade, or the students using the instrument outside of class. It seems that most schools make a yearly bulk purchase, and often students purchase recorders from the school for a nominal fee, usually less than retail. This insures that everyone uses the same type of instrument, which is easier to teach and produces a better sound.

Lest you think us overly optimistic about the recorder having a life outside of music class, listen to author Sarah Vowell play the recorder for a live audience and discuss her alternate life during middle school as a recorder consort member. You can hear this clip from a This American Life broadcast by going to their Web site, www.thislife.org, and requesting episode 104, "Music Lessons," from June 5, 1998. You will need RealAudio to listen to this online, or you can arrange for a CD or podcast. As you and your students become aware, you will notice many instances of recorder or recorder-type sounds in commercial, pop, film, and classical music. The main theme to the Lord of the Rings trilogy, for instance, is an accessible and current tune playable on recorder.

Our preference is for a culminating experience beginning at the end of third grade or during fourth grade and continuing through elementary school. At that point, the students have a strong sense of pitch, pulse, and rhythm and a large music vocabulary. Fourth grade students are usually physically capable of covering all the holes on the recorder. They are still curious and exploratory, but focused and responsible enough for a positive learning experience. Some teachers find it necessary to schedule recorder study as a finite unit of four to six weeks. We feel the process is more successful and satisfying if it is woven into the fabric of the curriculum over a substantial period of time, as one more vehicle for musical exploration and expression.

Recorder Equipment

Your decisions about goals for recorder playing and organization will help drive decisions about equipment and musical content. Laying about in your file cabinets and bookshelves may be instruments called Tonettes, Song Flutes, Flutophones, or recorders. In our opinion, the instrument that allows for the greatest potential and musicality (and the only one that comes in different voicings) is the recorder. But not all recorders are the same! Fingerings and intonation are different depending on if you use English Baroque instruments or German instruments. We prefer, and the majority of U.S. teachers use, English Baroque. Some recorders come with both fingering charts, so help your students know which fingerings to use.

Given an upper-elementary population, we advocate a tunable instrument (two or three sections) capable of all chromatic alterations (two holes under the ring and pinky fingers of your right hand). A three-piece recorder allows the player to adjust the lowest hole (low C) so that it is easily reached with his or her pinky. Some one- or two-piece recorders have already made this modification, but they are not adjustable for individual differences. Two- and three-piece recorders are readily available for $4.00 to $6.00 each (buying in bulk may lower this significantly). Accessories such as thumb rests and neck straps are not necessary, but welcome when used properly.

It is worth your time to find a recorder with a pleasant tone. You will listen to many, many tones emitting from this instrument, so choose wisely. Remember to choose what sounds good in the hands and mouth of a young person! You may ask for samples and return those that summon neighborhood canines or peel the chewing gum from under your tables. Conferences or even district inservice days are good opportunities to evaluate recorders. Common brands include Aulos, MIE, Yamaha, Tudor, GIA, Grover, Rhythm Band, Suzuki, MEG, Peripole, Zenon, and DaCapo. For warm tone, intonation, ease of response, and durability we both prefer the Renaissance-shaped recorders made by GIA, Peripole, and Tudor.

Aulos markets a recorder for special needs students. Each hole may be adjusted or closed to adapt to the learner's physical abilities. Suzuki makes a Precorder with all holes and chromatics but the holes have raised platforms and are closer together. There are many variations of the ocarina that one may use for younger children, which is preferable to teaching young children to play three note songs on recorder with their right hand on top, a shortcut that the classroom teacher must correct later to promote proper technique.

The question of musical materials for your recorder studies is complex. Is the recorder seen as a culmination of general music achievement or a preparation for instrumental instruction? Will instruction be by rote, note, or a combination? Are you striving to achieve comprehensive musical and cognitive goals in this unit or primarily music learning and performance skills? All these questions and more will inform and guide your quest for the ultimate recorder book--the topic for the spring column.

If you would like to sing the praises of your favorite system, or if you have other questions that have not been discussed here, send me an e-mail.

Web Resources

American Orff-Schulwerk Association--www.aosa.org

American Recorder Society--www.americanrecorder.org/index.htm

Orpheus Music--www.orpheusmusic.com.au/Home.jsp

Recorder Home Page, by N. Lander--www.recorderhomepage.net

The Society of Recorder Players--www.srp.org.uk/magazine

Winfried Bauer's Recorder Fingerings--www.recorder-fingerings.com/en/index.php


By Herbert D. Marshall and Peg VanHaaren

Herbert D. Marshall is assistant professor of music education at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. E-mail: hdm@umich.edu. Peg VanHaaren chaired the 1975 National Orff-Schulwerk Conference and is a past-president of the Detroit Orff-Schulwerk Association and the Michigan Music Educators Association.

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