A few years ago, I was feeling
SUPER frustrated with my recorder curriculum.

I didn’t see the retention I wanted, left hands were everywhere but on top even with reminders, students memorizing and forgetting, and memorizing those songs for belt tests…


  • “Belt” Resource issues: Kids focused on the prize but didn’t retain note names.  Music was memorized and then forgotten.
  • “I don’t know how it goes”.
  • Letter names are ‘arbitrary’ so kids don’t retain, even with lots of practice games.  When you start with B-A-G it’s super confusing because they aren’t alphabetical, and skip around.  Kids can’t understand it in terms of alphabetical order or backwards order because of the jump between A and G.
  • Hands anywhere on the recorder but where they should be.
  • Method book type issues: Not engaging for students. Very sterile.
  • Lack of connection to previous instruction, previous knowledge and there is very little that carried over.

Other issues:

  • Playing music without knowledge of tonal center doesn’t help them later in ensemble classes.
  • Does not follow “Sound before Symbol” approach.  Again, seems arbitrary to the kids.  The kids don’t have any frame of reference for what those notes are or should sound like.  While this can be argued that “this is how it’s done”, that wasn’t an acceptable arguement for me.
  • Doesn’t use what they know, or their first instrument, their voice.

What I Did:

  • Did away with belt tests.  I don’t like to give a reward for everything, and while I see the value of motivation, my kids weren’t getting the what I wanted them to out of the motivation.
  • Use solfege to teach the fingerings, then add note names when the kids know the fingerings.
  • Moved to folk songs only
    • Quality literature that is kid friendly.
    • It’s the music of the people and can be chosen to represent any culture. (So you can tailor it to your student population if need be!)
    • Folk Music has all the basic characteristics needed to teach the foundations of music and to develop a love of music – a love that will last a lifetime. (OAKE.org)
    • Not contrived – kids will enjoy the music and stories.
    • Literature can be used to reinforce melodic and rhythmic concepts.
  • Follow a new sequence that starts on E-G instead of BAG.  The sequence is actually similar to traditional Kodaly sequencing with the exception of Low Sol and Low La.
  • Use fixed Do.  For now.  My kids use movable Do in the classes, but this allows me to help them relate the music to solfege.

What Has Happened in the Last Two Years:

  • Kids don’t have a wandering right hand, and left is on top more consistently.
  • WAY less overblowing.  Kids start low, so they get there faster. I’m currently 4 weeks in with my 4th graders, and they sound great! They can read Sol-Mi-La-Do notes, and that low C is actually coming out correctly.
  • My kids in band have been better readers, and have much better intonation.
  • Older students have had better retention of note names.
  • I don’t have kids memorizing for belt tests, writing in note names, or relying on knowing how the song goes!

How To Make It Work for You:

  • Folk Songs – For this, I use fixed do folk songs.  In my classes, the kids use moveable do, but this allows me to help them relate a fingering to solfege. If you need to, you can customize folk songs to fit your students’ cultural needs.
  • Teach the solfege – sing each song, sing it on solfege while fingering along and then play.
  • After they do this for all the songs on a concept, go back and do it again but with the correct letter names before moving on to the next concept.
  • If you really need assessments, you could still add belts after different solfege concepts in the sequence.

This has been a huge passion project for me, and I wrote out the curriculum that I use in my school.  You can find it here.

The method comes with a teacher manual (complete with all the games for the songs included so you can add them to your repertoire), a reproducible student book (unlimited copies!), and fingering chart posters!  And it comes with the right to make unlimited copies for your classroom!

In addition to the method, I’ve created visually engaging practice sets and worksheets that I’ve been using in my classroom to go along.  They can be found here.

I really hope this has been a helpful post for you! If anyone is considering making a switch to E-G (sol-mi) starts, folk songs, or doing away with belt tests, I’d love to hear from you or answer any questions!







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