Thursday, December 12, 2013

Recorder Karate Harms Children

Music teachers! Seriously! Have you stepped back to think--to really think--about the musical, social, and personal impact of Recorder Karate? Here's how I have seen it implemented. The students practice playing a sequence of songs in class. They take their recorders home and practice. Every so often (sometimes once a week), the teacher takes time to hear individual students pass off songs. Often there is a chart on the wall with stickers showing who has passed off what. When students have passed off a specific level (books are color coded into levels), they get a "belt"--a colored piece of string to tie around the end of the recorder.

So, here are the problems with this method as I have roughly outlined it above:
1. Musicing should be the reward, not belts. Long-term motivation is intrinsic.
2. This system is inherently competitive. It creates winners . . . and losers.
3. The students who get behind often give up and think they are simply not musical.
4. Sending recorders home reinforces social inequality; parents who are single and/or work evenings might not have the time to make sure kids practice and bring the recorder back every day.
5. Time that could be spent making music together is wasted doing pass-offs.
6. Music class should provide relief from the stress and stigmatization of standardized testing, not add to it.
7. Students miss out on the joy of musicing where all play together according to their current ability and in ways that are musically, socially, and personally fulfilling.

Could a teacher make Recorder Karate work? Yes. Here are some suggestions.
1. Keep all of the kids playing (or singing) for most of the time.
2. Add accompaniments (MIDI, chording keyboards, piano, guitar--my preference)
3. Break it down as a class. Sing the note names (with accompaniment). Sing the note names and show the fingerings (with accompaniment). Half of the class play while the other half sings, etc.
4. Have fun (rather than dish out praise). Musicing is the reward (see number 1 in the first list above).
5. Keep the recorders at the school. After you are done teaching recorder for the year, give each child a recorder and a book to keep.
6. Don't advance faster than the students who are taking the most time to develop necessary skills. Encourage all students to, once they can play the tune, create their own rhythmic and melodic variations. They should never be bored musicing, given this challenge. You can also use partner songs and descants to give added challenges.
7. If you have to give the belts, wait until the entire class has advanced through a level and give them all a belt at the same time. In this way, everyone is pulling for each other and you are fostering the type of teamwork that is becoming increasingly important in modern society.