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.
- OVER. BLOWING.
- 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.
- 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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Do you find that it’s hard for your kids to understand the difference between note names and solfege? Any helpful tips for distinguishing between the two? I have found similar problems with my recorder curriculum and I am looking for a change for next year’s 3rd graders so I can eventually phase out Recorder Karate.
I haven’t had any issues with this because of a really important in-between step. After I have them do the songs on solfege, they go back and repeat the songs, but instead of singing the solfege names, they sing the songs again but on letter names. I may not repeat all the songs on letter names if they seem to get it. I also always review the note names we have learned before teaching the new solfege name.
If you introduce the first note names by saying “the notes we read have letter names assigned to lines and spaces”, that might help as well. My kids know the concept of lines and spaces because they read solfege starting in first grade, but when I started this, a lot of my kids didn’t know that and were able to distinguish.
I hope this helps!
It’s so interating that this popped up on Pinterest.
All the things you were finding in the former method you used are exactly what I have been struggling with this year. It’s always a relief to know that others are finding the same outcomes.
I am excited to look at your method. It makes sense. Thank you for sharing your ideas
I taught recorder to 2nd-3rd grade for 9 years, until recently. After about 5 years I made my own belt system using the books I had already designed for recorder and saw massive improvements in home practice, reading, blowing and fingering (Wrong hand on top – no belt!) I have never taught using sol-fa, we started off with a two-lined stave, for GAB and C above the stave, then transitioned to the normal 5-line stave. This was an idea I saw in another tutor book and it has worked brilliantly. Another difference to your system is that I didn’t require students to memorise the pieces, they could read them while they performed for me. Interesting to read about different systems people use 🙂 I hope you sell lots of books, it looks great and I know how long those projects take!
I purchased your curriculum and I us d my old curriculum with 5th but used your curriculum with my 4th graders. It took much longer to get them to play correctly at first but eventually they started to get a hang of it. Next year I am very interested in seeing how much my new 5th graders have retained. Thank you so much for this curriculum.
This is a great idea!
I was struggling with the same issues
I am just beginning recorder with 2 of my classes and I will be trying your method.
It will be interesting to see how they progress compared to my previous method using Recorder Karate.
Thank You for your expertise and ideas
This is a godsend for me. We live in Israel and do not use note names. We use fixed do. All my Kodaly training went out the window. Thanks.
So happy this is helpful!