You sit down with your child after school to look at any notes that came home and to help them with their homework, when all of a sudden you notice a strange looking plastic object protruding out of their backpack. “What is this” you ask your child as you hold the foreign object in your hands. Excitedly your child answers, “it’s my recorder from music class and we get to bring it home to practice” as they proceed to play you a song that can only be compared to the sound of a flock of loud, dying seagulls. You wonder why anyone would want to torture you this way. What did you do to deserve such a cruel and unusual punishment? Why is your child learning this flute thing? Well, believe it or not, there are real reasons why the recorder is taught, and if your child learns how to play it correctly (unlike the sweet little boy giving it his all in the picture below), it can make a beautiful sound.
History of the Recorder
The recorder has been around for a long time (1400s or 1500s), and it is said that King Henry VIII of England owned 76 of them. It was known as the English flute in the 16th, 17th, and 18th Centuries, then it’s popularity declined when other woodwind instruments like the oboe, clarinet, and flute gained popularity. In the 20th Century, the recorder gained popularity again because of it’s ease in teaching it to children and gets its name from it being a simple instrument for students to use when they were practicing (“recording”) their music.
There are wooden and plastic recorders and different sized ones including the soprano, alto, and bass , but the most popular one is the plastic soprano recorder. It was used by the Beatles in”The Fool on the Hill”, by Led Zeppelin in “Stairway to Heaven”, and by the Rolling Stones in”Ruby Tuesday”, but of course the main popularity comes from using it in an elementary music class.
Why is the Recorder Taught
Like I stated above, the recorder is easy to teach to children. Band instruments require correct embochure, breathing, posture, tonguing, and hand position. The recorder requires the finger holes to be covered and the mouth to go over the mouth piece and that’s pretty much it. Now, when the recorder is taught, kids are instructed to sit up straight to play it, but since it doesn’t require a lot of correct breathing technique, it is not stressed too much (depending on the teacher of course.)
Before the 4th grade, children have probably played any combination of rhythm and barred instruments, but have never had the experience of playing an instrument that requires them to use their mouth. This experience sets students up for playing any band OR orchestra instrument, even the ones that don’t need to be played by mouth. The reason for this is while learning the recorder, students are needing to focus on more than one thing at a time. They need to focus on not blowing too hard (this is what makes the eardrum popping screech sound), covering the holes completely (making cheerios on their fingers), reading music notation, and staying with the beat. When and if they move on to a woodwind, brass, string, or percussion instrument, they will already be used to following along in music, playing with a group of students, and holding an instrument, and will have an easier time transitioning to their new instrument of choice.
The other reasons the recorder is taught is…
- they are cheap
- don’t break easily
- easy to put together and take apart
- don’t take long to clean after use
- are portable enough to take home (you’re welcome parents)
How To Teach the Recorder
- Go to your happy place. No seriously though, know that the recorder will squeak, it will cause internal pain to you as the teacher at first, and you will need to take deep breaths before beginning. As with teaching any instrument, it requires A LOT of patience by not only the teacher, but the student as well. I promise that just as annoyed as you are with the sounds coming out of the instrument the first few times, they are just as eager for a better sound to come out.
- Start with teaching how to put it together and take it apart. If the student puts it together correctly, the holes will line up in a straight line.
- Using any recorder method book, just start at the beginning of the book, and work your way to the end. The book will teach the student the proper way to put air into the instrument, how to hold the recorder, how to cover the finger holes, and a finger chart for the notes. If you google recorder books, anything written by Hal Leonard or Alfred publishing are great to use.
- Have the child practice the songs on their own and make sure they can play them with the correct rhythm while keeping a steady beat before moving on to the next song.
- Teach about recorder care. There will be spit involved since it is a wind instrument. Shake the spit out, use a lysol wipe to clean inside of it or any type of cloth, disassemble it, and put it back in its case or bag.
So as you can see, the recorder is taught for a reason. If you give it a chance, after getting rid of your headache, you will see your child improve over time. They will gain such confidence in learning an instrument at such a young age and will be so excited they have mastered a few songs. If your child wants to start on the recorder, the Soprano recorder is the best one to begin with.
Here is an affiliate link for great recorder and method book set that I recommend and have used myself Rhythm Band RBA100 Recorder Time Pack.
If you have any questions or want to share a funny experience with your child learning the recorder, I would love to hear about it.
If you are a parent, student, or teacher who wants to learn more about music, connect with other musicians, or wants to post their latest videos of what they’ve been working on, I would love for you to join my Facebook group Music Education Connection. Collaborate, learn from each other, and grow new friendships. This is a place to receive encouragement, positive feedback, and to ask questions.
This blog post contains an affiliate link.