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Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Teacher Tuesday: teaching students how to blow on recorder

As a long-time recorder player myself, I love teaching recorders to my elementary students each year. I started my 3rd graders on recorder a couple of weeks ago, so today I want to share with you my simple steps for teaching students to blow correctly on their instrument. Getting them to blow correctly saves all of us many a headache long-term, so I consider it a critical part of my job!

1. Always start with good posture

One of the common mistakes I've seen is blowing softly but with no breath support. Demanding good posture from the beginning has cut down on most of those for me! I use a simple hand sign cue to have students sit up in their chairs any time they sing or play a wind instrument, so I use that even to have them all sitting up even when I first introduce them to how to blow on the instrument (read more about my hand signals in this post). 

2. Say, then whisper, the number "TWO"

Once they are all sitting up correctly, I have them first say the number "two" out loud. Then I tell them to whisper it. Easy!

3. Hold out the whispered "two" longer, then softer

Now it's time to turn the number two into supported, controlled, and tongued breathing. I tell them to whisper the number "two" again but hold it out longer (I usually just do 4 counts- I don't want them to get in the habit of breathing until they run out of air). Then I tell them to do it again but gently. I talk to them about how the recorder is a beautiful instrument, not an obnoxious one, so if you blow too harshly it won't let you make a nice sound. The kids seem to respond better to the word "gentle" than "soft"- somehow more of them continue to use a supported breath when I say "gentle" than when I say "soft". I actually go around the room and hold my hand in front of their face to make sure they are blowing softly, and I have them check themselves with their own hand as well.

4. Blow into the recorder with a low G fingering

The first time I have them blow into the instrument, I start them on a G. It's easy to teach the fingering, and it's easy to get the correct note without being too easy- they still have to control their breath to get the lower note. At this point I also make sure they aren't taking too much or too little of the mouthpiece into their mouth, and also check that nobody is biting the mouthpiece.

And that's that! How do you teach students to blow into their recorders correctly? Share your ideas in the comments!


  1. "How to get students NOT to blow into their recorders" might be a more apt title! Haha! I use the word, "blow" as a negative. I like how Artie Almeida puts it, "The recorders can be a thing of beauty".. then play something for the children. "Or, the recorder can be a thing of torture" .. then blow while playing. I use this at the beginning of the school year and it cracks 'em up! After a good laugh, we talk about the difference between blowing out a birthday candle and blowing an eyelash off your finger. We then whisper- a lot! We whisper at feathers we are holding, we whisper the word, "dude" and do a lot of imitating me whispering various rhythms with the word "dude". I like the way that word has a beginning an ending articulation with the tongue and it is softer than "tute" which often gets a squeak. Besides, "dude" is cooler. *wink wink*. It's always tricky, isn't it? I tell them it's the hardest thing they will learn about recorder, and for some, it is. They have such a hard time keeping it quiet!

    1. Haha! I don't really like to joke about the recorder being an instrument of torture. I feel like kids hear that enough from people around them and at home- from me they only hear about how much I love it and how awesome it is. I do teach them a few tricks "to annoy their baby sister" just for fun, but the rest of the time we just focus on how quiet it is. For most of them, using the word "whisper" to describe the way they blow seems to work! I like your "dude" idea too though :)

  2. I too begin on G.Thanks for sharing the "whisper" idea.

    1. Such a simple thing but it seems to do the trick most of the time! Thanks for the comment :)