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Tuesday, February 1, 2022

Pandemic Recorder Teaching

Recorder is one of my favorite things to teach (yep, you heard me) but the last few years we haven't been able to play recorder in person because of the pandemic. This year I am teaching recorder again in person for the first time in 2 years, but I've had to make some adjustments to make sure I am putting as many mitigation strategies in place as I can to keep everyone safe. Today I wanted to share what I'm doing differently to adapt to the ongoing pandemic.

I've been hesitant to write this post because I know not everyone feels comfortable teaching recorders in person yet, and that's fine. If you're looking for specific research-based recommendations for recorder playing from the Colorado aerosol study, this panel discussion highlights recorder specifically (go to 15:15 in the video). Based on that research, in our area the protocols have been to use a bell cover and keep at least 3ft distancing (the same as all wind instruments). I should also explain that in our district we continue to have mandatory masks for all students and staff and 3ft distancing in all classrooms. 

With that background, here are some things I'm doing differently this year with recorders:

1. Bell Covers

Based on the research study linked above, we are using bell covers on all recorders. I looked around quite a bit for different solutions- baby socks are one option, but we went with microphone covers like these. Besides being much cheaper, they're also much smaller so they don't cover up as much of the foot joint. I found for the ones we ordered, it works best to put a loom band over the cover and then fold the top edge back down over the loom band. That keeps it on tighter and also keeps the edge from covering the bottom holes on the foot joint. I have a lot of loom bands already because I use them for our belt system, and I purchased a set that had some colors I don't need, so this was perfect!

2. Masks

It's just not practical to have slitted masks for elementary music class. Instead I am spacing the students out 6ft when they are playing, and they lower their mask only when they put the recorder in their mouths (the protocols we're following actually say that we can do that at 3ft, I just choose to put more spacing since I can). I have always taught the 3 positions for holding the recorder the first time they get the instrument in their hands: rest position in their lap, practice position under their chin, and playing position. This year I've taught them to lower their mask only for playing position, and they cannot speak or do anything else while their masks are down. 

I found it helpful to explain that the bell cover essentially is acting as their "mask" for the air coming out of their mouths when the recorder is in their mouths, and that seems to help students remember what the can and cannot do with their masks down. We do all other practice, whether it's practicing how to blow without the recorders in our mouths, fingering practice, etc, with masks on.

3. New Problems, New Solutions

I've gotten pretty good at troubleshooting beginning recorder playing problems over the years, but I've discovered a new problem my students are encountering this year because of the addition of masks: holding the instrument up too high. I noticed several students were holding the instrument straight out in front of them when they were trying to play, which made it impossible for them to blow correctly or get their hands in a good position. I realized after correcting a few students that it was because they had their masks under their chins- it was just instinctual for them to hold it up to avoid touching the mask. Once I pointed out that they could hold it down in front of them with their elbows relaxed at their sides, they were able to correct their tone pretty quickly- it was just a matter of pointing it out to them.

It's definitely harder than it used to be having to work with bell covers and masks with beginning recorder students, but I keep reminding myself it's so much better than the last year, trying to teach it over zoom! It's definitely a positive step and the students are so very excited. I've written a lot about my step-by-step lessons and procedures for teaching recorder in the past- you can catch up on all those posts below:

I hope this is helpful for anyone else teaching recorder in person right now! If you've discovered any other solutions for pandemic recorder teaching, or have questions about how I'm doing things, please leave them in the comments below.


  1. This is very helpful! Do you have the students put on the bell covers and loom bands or do you do it for them? How often will you change the bell covers?
    Thank you for your help!

    1. I put them on myself before I handed them out the first time. I am only planning on replacing them if they get worn down/ ripped. I haven't had to replace any yet but I know some of my colleagues have, so I'm sure there will be some, especially once students start taking them home to practice (I have them keep them at school for the first few weeks of playing so I can make sure they have the correct technique down first).

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