Play on!


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Summer Camp Week 3: Beginning Recorder

We’re back with the recorder today.

I know hearing small children play the recorder is not the most soothing of activities, but if you can manage to put up with the noise for 10 or 15 minutes there is a lot the kids can gain from this activity.

Our little ensemble sat in a circle and we reacquainted ourselves with the recorder.

  1. Hold recorder with left hand (LH) on top, right hand (RH) steadying the bottom half. The mouthpiece should be resting just inside the lips, not touching the teeth.
  2. Practice blowing gently, try some short notes and some sustained notes. Listen to the difference it makes when you blow harder and softer.
  3. Make sure your left thumb is completely covering the hole at the back of the recorder, and put your pointing finger over the top hole on the front. Now blow gently to play a B. NB. I use the term ‘pointing finger’ here to avoid confusion with the fingering numbers used on the piano. Usually in recorder books this (index) finger is labelled as 1, in piano the thumb is 1.

E and O (ages 4 and 3) started losing concentration here but L (age 6) was able to remember how to play A (LH thumb covers back hole, pointing finger continues to cover top hole and middle finger covers 2nd hole) and G (as for A but with ring finger also covering 3rd hole).

L practised playing B, A, G – listening for squeaks (from fingers not fully covering the holes or blowing too hard) and getting used to transitioning between notes. In the meantime I suggested to E and O that they join in playing without any holes covered – this produces a sound that is just slightly sharper than a D so didn’t harmonise too badly with L’s playing. I then joined in playing G, A, B in contrary motion with L.

As we played together we fell into a ta, ta, ta-aa rhythm (crotchet, crotchet, minim – or quarter, quarter, half note) which they chanted as ‘I love you-ou, I love you-ou’. E then altered her rhythm to ta, ta, ti-ti, ta (crotchet, crotchet, quaver-quaver, crotchet – or quarter, quarter, eighth-eighth, quarter). We also took turns using the recorder cleaning rods to conduct and drum along and, to my pleasant surprise, we seemed to be making a fairly rhythmic and melodic sound together.

So, clearly we weren’t making music that anyone would much want to listen to, but what we were doing was:

  • Learning how to blow into the recorder to make a ‘nice’ sound.
  • Listening to the notes we were producing and correcting squeaks.
  • Practising transitioning between notes.
  • Improvising with rhythmic patterns.
  • Hearing changing harmonies.
  • Listening to each other to keep in time.
  • Learning to mark a beat with a baton (and watching a conductor).
  • Listening and watching as we drummed along with the beat.
  • Linking language and rhythm.
  • Having fun!

For a lot more information about playing the recorder and some useful diagrams, have a look at Squeaky’s Recorder Playhouse. And for reassurance that the recorder can actually sound ok…