HomePractical AdviceTop Tips for starting a beginner recorder group - John Pitts

Top Tips for starting a beginner recorder group – John Pitts

Starting a Beginner Recorder Group
If you’re thinking about starting a recorder group, then here are some thoughts and top tips by our resident recorder expert, John Pitts.
Where possible try to have all the same make, as this will help with tuning
At the beginning of each session make sure that each recorder is pushed well togther, mouthpiece correctly aligned. You need to check tuning- explained later below.
Starting Age
7 years upwards is best. Age 6 + is possible, but needs great care as some children will not yet have developed the necessary finger dexterity. They can find it difficult, are unsuccessful and can be put off music for life, not just recorders!
Group Size
If you start a large group you will probably need to divide the group into two smaller groups after only 3 or 4 weeks, based on different rates of progress. Otherwise as time goes on, the frustration will increase for everyone! With a smaller initial group you can usually cope with the varying rates of progress and provide individual help more easily. If you need to start a whole class, then try to work in parallel with another class and teaching starting at the same time, and after 3 or 4 weeks, for the recorder session sort the two classes out into two recorder groups based on skill and progress.
Hand Position
Insist on using the ‘left hand at the top’ right from the start, with no exceptions. If you want to justify this, try playing notes bottom D then Eb. To change from D the 3rd right finger has to move sideways to the right to uncover the small left one of the two sideways adjacent holes. This is physically impossible (also for note C#) if the left hand is at the bottom.
Playing The First Tune
Take ‘Little Fly’ in Recorder From The Beginning, Book 1 for example. This is likely to be in the 2nd lesson, after recapping pages 2 and 3 from the first lesson. Have the notation for Little Fly either written up on the whiteboard or on OHP. You can point to the words as the children say and clap them, then play the notes to match the pattern of the words, ensuring they move on at the right time. Remember always to ‘count in’ so we all start together. (For Little Fly count ‘1 and 2 and’) As soon as possible let the children play the tune accompanied by the CD – this turns the item into a real piece of music and is very satisfying for the performers. Then try playing from the notation in the book. This should all be within the second lesson.
Lesson Length
Usually between 20 minutes and half an hour, no longer.
The children should take their recorders and books home and be expected to practise. Best to enlist a written promise to this effect from the parents when the group is first set up!
Incentive – having the accompaniment CD at home to play along with is an enormous incentive and will revolutionize progress and parental interest. Get all those who can afford it to buy the book with CD at the outset.
Different makes of recorder can result in slight variations of pitch. When correctly assembled (all joints pushed fully in) a recorder should play at the correct pitch, so long as suitably consistent breath pressure and tonguing (and fingering) is used. At the beginning of a lesson it can be useful to go round the class and hear each child in turn play the same note, e.g. note B or A, and check tuning, eliminate overblowing etc. Where a recorder plays consistently sharp (i.e. high) it is possible to lower the pitch by slightly pulling out the top joint – e.g. two millimetres or so, by trial and error. Then tell the child to make this adjustment every time they play – and you’ll have to check the tuning! Do not accept a group sounds that is spoilt by some out-of-tune recorders – it is hard enough to achieve correct blowing and fingering!
Writing-in the Letter Names
In general try to avoid this – my beginner book is specially designed with material to teach notation. But where individual children need help for particular reasons, you can put the very occasional letter in pencil- e.g. at the start of a new stave or page. But keep this to a minimum, and soon start to rub the letters out again!
When the children can play just 3 notes (page 12, Book 1) they can play my special carol arrangements – see All Together Christmas Recorders with CD, enabling them to join the festive fun.

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