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Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Teaching Recorder: the basics

I love teaching recorder. I loved learning recorder as a child, and even played with some early music groups in college, and I love passing along one of my favorite instruments to my students. I know not everyone feels that way, and no matter how much you love or hate it, teaching recorder can be quite a headache (literally and figuratively)! Today I want to talk about some basic considerations for recorder teaching: everything from choosing a recorder for students to use, to what age to teach it, and other basic questions to think about before you get started. Whether you're just getting started teaching recorders for the first time, or are unhappy with how you teach them now, I hope these ideas will help!


1. Communal or personal instruments?

I'll be honest- when I first found out that there were schools where students a class set of recorders rather than getting their own, I was pretty shocked. I know there are a lot of reasons why schools/ districts/ teachers end up doing this, but I highly recommend looking into ways to get students their own new recorder. I teach in a school where, for many students, paying $5 for an instrument is no simple request. Here's what we've done in my district: the district purchases a class set of recorders each year, and students are given the option to buy one of those new recorders from the school or rent a sanitized old one from the school (I only ever have 1-2 students who rent, so I actually just buy it for them and tell them an anonymous donor paid for it). We keep the rented ones from year to year, and we use the money from the previous year's purchases to buy new recorders the following year.

The nice thing is I'm able to keep the old rentals as spares when students forget to bring their instrument to class (more on that below), and because everyone buys their recorder from the school, parents are much more likely to buy them for convenience's sake, and I am ensured that everyone has an appropriate instrument with the same fingering and a decent tone.

2. Which recorder to buy?

I like 3-piece recorders with Baroque fingering (you can see if it's Baroque or German by looking on the back, just above the thumb hole, for a small B or G). I like 3-piece so that students can practice proper tonguing and breathing with just the mouthpiece and adjust the foot joint's angle so that their pinkie finger can reach the holes. It's also easier to clean it if you need to.

The Baroque fingering is more of a personal preference, but I do find it is more common in schools and in professional practice and I think the tuning is better on the low F's (and I actually like the idea of teaching students forked fingering, which prepares them for other instruments later on).

I'm honestly not too picky about brands, but trust Yamaha and Aulos the most. And this may come as a surprise to my long-time readers: I do NOT get recorders in different colors. Much as we all know I love rainbows and color groups for everything in my room, I feel strongly that it is my job to make sure students take the recorder seriously. There is so much disdain for the recorder by most people in the United States, and too often because the instrument is made of plastic, the students treat it like "baby instrument" or a toy. I like to stick with black, brown, or white for that reason.

3. What age is best?

In my current district we teach recorder in 3rd grade. As a student, I started recorder in 3rd grade myself. In my experience, though, recorder works best with 4th graders. Our district does recorder in 3rd grade to prepare students for instrument lessons, which they can start in 4th grade, but I find everything takes a lot longer, and the whole experience is much more frustrating for students, because we teach it in 3rd grade. If you have a choice, I would teach recorder in the fall of 4th grade- they have better fine motor skills, their note reading is better, and they have more maturity to handle the new challenge and the responsibility of bringing an instrument to class, practicing at home, etc. In my previous districts I always taught recorder in 4th grade, and in 3rd grade I focused a lot more on xylophones to get them ready for general instrumental skills and note reading skills on an instrument that was easier for them to play.

4. To karate or not to karate?

I love the idea behind the Recorder Karate method books. I see so many students be so motivated by the concept of earning "belts". I've written a number of times about how I manage all of the logistics of the program- you can read about how I organize all the sheet music here, and what I use for belts (and how I store those) here- but ideally I think the program is best suited as a supplemental program rather than an instructional method for classroom use. It is an awesome way to motivate those students who either need some extra help and a slower pace, or to give enthusiastic students an additional challenge. In my previous districts, I had some days where students could sign up to come test on their belts during their recess time- they worked at their own pace of their own initiative outside of class to learn the songs, and it was a great motivator for them!

For large group instruction, I think there are a number of method books that work well- the key is in the delivery and sequencing, which I'll be writing more about in the future. If you're looking for some resource recommendations, though, check out EEEase Into Recorder by Angie Kelton, or the Complete Recorder Resource Kit by Denise Gagne (to name just a couple of favorites). Truthfully, I pull from all different sources to keep things interesting for the students!

With all of that said, my current district uses Recorder Karate, so that is what I use now. As with any resource, though, there are many different ways to deliver it- stay tuned for a future post on some options for how to structure your class when using it as your primary recorder resource!

I hope this helps answer some of those basic questions as you get ready to start teaching recorders! I just started with my students last week and we are all. so. excited.

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Monday, January 22, 2018

Fresh Start 2018 Challenge: craft supplies

Welcome back to the Fresh Start 2018 Challenge!

This is week #4 of my weekly series this month to try to give my home life a bit more of a New Year's kick in the pants while dealing with the reality that school is back in session and I do NOT have the time or energy for a full-on deep clean/purge. I'm making an effort this year to find small but impactful ways to make my home a priority during the month of January. So far I've tackled closets, purses, and the car. This week's focus: craft supplies!


If you haven't already, I hope you'll look through all of the "fresh start" posts and maybe get that extra motivation you need to do a little cleaning up! It has been so helpful for me to stay motivated by picking a manageable task each week and keeping myself accountable on Instagram.

It's no secret that I love crafting. I love making things to use or decorate around the house, decorating in my planner, or just creating art for the fun of it (especially with my daughters!). Because of this hobby, I have quite a collection of stickers, washi tape, scrapbook paper, pens, and more. And that's not even counting all the art supplies my daughters have!

This week's fresh start challenge: purge and organize all of the craft supplies!

This is a 2-part process: step 1 will be to get rid of supplies we're no longer using. I know I have some old washi tape I've had for years that is all stuck together and doesn't work. My daughters have old markers that have dried up, tiny pieces of broken crayon, small scraps of paper that never get used, and random stickers from grocery stores and dentists that nobody has touched for months. The first step to giving our craft supplies a "fresh start" is to go through and get rid of all of that! Hoarding isn't helping anyone.

The 2nd step is to get everything that's left re-organized. I have to confess, I have collected enough additional sticker books and washi tape rolls that I need to revisit my organizational system- yikes! I currently have several things just floating around aimlessly in my drawer, which means it's hard to find what I need when I want it, and I often forget about things that I have.

If you're joining me in organizing your craft supplies, you'll want to create an organizational system that works for you and the supplies you have. If you need some ideas, here are some of the systems I've used in the past:





Want to join me in this Fresh Start 2018 challenge? I'm going to be posting a photo on Instagram on Sunday of what I accomplished for the challenge this week. If you want to join me, share your own pictures and include #FreshStart2018Challenge in the description. You don't have to stick to any schedule either- join me any time! The goal is to get a cleaner, more organized home without the guilt or stress.

This has been a great way for me to force myself to set aside some time to clear things out and clean up without feeling overwhelmed. Here's to a fresh start this new year!

 


Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Current Musicians of Color for Black History Month and Beyond

In the United States, February is Black History Month. Making sure my teaching values the broadest spectrum of music and musicians possible has always been a passion of mine, but this year I feel an even greater sense of responsibility to my students (and to myself) to make more room in my classes for musical role models who are people of color.

I think as music teachers when we consider ways to incorporate Black History Month into our lessons, the history of jazz, a study of Scott Joplin, or maybe even protest songs or hip-hop come to mind. But today I want to focus on current musicians of color outside of the traditional "pop music" realm who are making music in a variety of genres with "kid-friendly" songs.


Of course there is an endless amount of material out there I could include and dozens more musicians I wish I could feature in this post, but I hope these examples will spark further exploration of other music by these artists as well as many other musicians as well. The videos and music below would be great to play "just for fun", to use as a listening example and discuss the musical and/or lyrical content afterwards, to introduce instruments of the orchestra or genres, and more- both during the month of February and beyond.

Kevin Olusola, best known as a member of Pentatonix, is an amazing cello player and composer:


Esperanza Spalding is an amazing bassist, singer, and composer:


Daniel Bernard Roumain is a violinist and composer:


Robert Glasper is a grammy award-winning jazz pianist:


Leon Bridges has lots of great songs with jazz influences:



India Arie's song "Breathe" is a great conversation-starter:


So much amazing, positive music from the show "Empire"- this is one of my favorites:


Alex Boye has written lots of positive, empowering songs, including this one which also features people with different abilities:


Alright, it's time for me to stop and pass the baton to all of you: what current musicians of color have/will you share with your students? I'd love for my readers to add to the list in the comments to create an even more amazing resource for all of us to use! It's so important for all of our students to see themselves reflected in the role models we choose to present to them in class. 

If you're looking to explore more ways to foster understanding amongst your students, here are some other related topics to explore:




Happy Black History Month.

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Monday, January 15, 2018

Fresh Start 2018 Challenge: car

Welcome back to the Fresh Start 2018 Challenge!

This is week #3 of my weekly series this month to try to give my home life a bit more of a New Year's kick in the pants while dealing with the reality that school is back in session and I do NOT have the time or energy for a full-on deep clean/purge. I'm making an effort this year to find small but impactful ways to make my home a priority during the month of January. So far I've tackled closets and purses. This week's focus: the car!


I know the car isn't *technically* a part of the house, but I know my car could use a good "fresh start" right about now with all the "living" we do there! So this week's fresh start task is to clean the outside and inside of the car! 

The outside is easy: I'll be taking my car to the carwash and I'm getting that nasty salt and snow scrubbed off. Even better, Santa gave me a gift card to the local car wash (best stocking stuffer ever), so I don't even have to pay for it!

The inside will take a little more doing, but that's the area that really needs some attention. My main goal is to go through every nook and cranny to clear out the stuff that has gotten left in the car and doesn't need to be there: the trunk, glove compartment, and all those little side pockets and other compartments still have stuff in them from months, even years ago!

Bonus: here are a few things I do to try to keep the car clear and clean:

1) I try to go through and clear out the trunk every 6 months. I like having a few things stored there, like a small snow shovel in the winter and a bucket of sand toys in the summer, but I have to make sure I don't permanently leave everything back there or it becomes impossible to find anything!

2) I empty the trash out that collects in little compartments etc every time I get gas. I always seem to end up with dirty tissues, wrappers, and other random things left in the car, but making it part of what I do while the car is filling up with gas has made it easier to keep the junk from getting out of hand.

Want to join me in this Fresh Start 2018 challenge? I'm going to be posting a photo on Instagram on Sunday of what I accomplished for the challenge this week. If you want to join me, share your own pictures and include #FreshStart2018Challenge in the description. You don't have to stick to any schedule either- join me any time! The goal is to get a cleaner, more organized home without the guilt or stress.

This has been a great way for me to force myself to set aside some time to clear things out and clean up without feeling overwhelmed. Here's to a fresh start this new year!