Friday, March 26, 2010


One of the joys of teaching music at the elementary school level is that I get to teach recorders. Please note: I use the word "get" loosely. Also I think the word "joy" is used sarcastically.

I remember playing the flutophone in the 3rd grade. I had a recorder of my own starting in the first grade, which I used to pretend like I was playing the saxophone (the instrument my oldest brother played.) One time I tried to play my recorder with my next door neighbor who played the piano, but she told me it wasn't a real instrument. By the fourth grade, I started playing the clarinet. (Unfortunately that didn't work with piano either and it wasn't in C and no one told me I had to transpose the notes...)

However, in my school now and in schools across much of the U.S., many school bands don't start kids on instruments until the fifth grade now. The only logical reason I've been able to find for this is that this way they can torture fourth grade teachers and music teachers by having them make fourth graders learn recorder. The kids are a year older and a year more beyond the best fit for recorders.

Here are all the things I HATE about recorder.

1) Recorders teach children crappy embouchure. Regardless of how a kid frames their lips around the mouthpiece, the thing still sounds terrible.

2) Recorders teach children wimpy breath support. Most recorder instruction books even teach "warm air" which is actually the proper way to play a recorder. But it really doesn't help the transition into a wind instrument. Do you know how much it kills me to actually tell a child they have too much air going through their horn?

3) Recorders UNteach children their natural instinct for good intonation. Most people have a good "feeling" for what sounds in tune or even just what sounds good or bad. After four months of listening to 26 recorders, I promise at least some of those kids have lost that intuition as now it all sounds awful and no one can tell.

4) Recorders are (almost) unbreakable. Despite my best efforts to prevent such behavior, I've caught kids sliding their recorders across the MPR, hitting each other with recorders, dragging their recorders against the wall like a stick as they're walking home, and using their recorders as toy swords, guns, baseball bats, or batons. Of course, they are sneaky and most are smart enough to never get caught doing these things in my class. Nevertheless, I've seen them at it! Recorders teach kids that musical instruments are toys and not fragile. It's hard to make the argument "it's not a toy and it could break" when I remember using my own recorder to lead a parade of dolls I once had when I was six.

So there you have it. I hate recorders.

....Ok, sure, they introduce kids to music who would never otherwise consider playing an instrument. But I still hate them.

....Ok, sure, I get 100% participation and they kids love them and are really learning about the elements of music in a way that is accessible even during budget cuts. But I still hate them.

....Ok, sure, I sort of pretend like I'm Mr. Holland every time I make a special connection with a kid through recorders and I think I've changed a life (I haven't). It's like having my own little orchestra of terribly tuned horrific sounding toys. That's doesn't mean I don't hate them!

Just to prove my point that I don't like them, I'll write you a haiku. Haikus are poetry's highest form of hatred.

Stupid recorders

Performing really tuneless

Oh, I hate them, boo.

1 comment:

  1. Love it! You know, I couldn't sleep last night because I was so ticked off to learn that our education system encouraged wimpy breath support. As those breaths age, they will most certainly sag. Gravity, entropy, whatever, it's a dogged gone tragedy! Support them breaths why don't you! Love ya and keep at it sis. ~Rick