Aim: Joyful musical engagement in an ‘authentic’ jam-session type of atmosphere
Let the musical engagement be the reward.
The role of the teacher is that of accompanist/participant. Options are guitar accompaniment (preferred), piano accompaniment, autoharp, electronic keyboard, or ukulele. Human needs are met through recorder playing: Agency, Belonging, and Competence.
Agency—Students exercise agency through musical decision making, leadership, and creativity. Students learn to improvise from the first day, they play solos and duets, and they make their own song arrangements.
Belonging—Students cooperate with each other and with the teacher in making music. The teacher is a fellow musician whose primary role is to provide interesting accompaniments.
Competence—Students develop the ability to play the recorder proficiently and to read music. Motivation is provided through the music making. Students participate fully in all aspects of music making from the first lesson (improvisation, playing by rote, playing by note, etc.)
- Introduce notes: Demonstrate and explain how to play the note. Check to make sure all of the students understand and can finger the note. Play the note together listening to the teacher and then matching the teacher’s sound at a signal from the teacher (raised eyebrows, head nod, etc.)
- “Play what I play” or “Echo after” (echoing 4-beat patterns): The teacher plays rhythmic patterns on single notes at first and then adding notes and rhythms relative to the students’ ability level. Try to challenge everyone, but play at a level at which they can achieve. Make sure that there are no pauses between patterns—teacher, students, teacher, students. Add something interesting to keep it fun.
- “Play what I sing” or “Echo after” (teacher sings note name patterns): Same instructions as “play what I play” but the teacher sings the names of the notes. This process can be accompaniment by the guitar.
- “Sing and show”: Have the students show the notes on their recorder while singing the note names. You can also have some students play while the others sing and show.
- Play the tune together: This is what it’s all about. Vary the tempo of the accompaniment. Use a variety of set introductions so that the song doesn’t need to be counted off every time. Use some variety (tempo, style, etc.) to keep the students interested in playing the song multiple times.
- Solos: Have individual students or small groups play while the rest sing and show or at least show.
- Change the tune’s rhythm or add notes: Encourage the students to vary the songs by changing the rhythm or melody a bit albeit staying within the groups tempo.
- Improvise (A minor or C major pentatonic—c, d, e, g, a—works with most of the songs): Students can improvise on the first day. Always have students begin improvising with a single note in order to keep the improvisation rhythmically interesting.
The teacher is a participant in the music. I like to accompany the students on guitar or ukulele. That way I can walk around the room and provide suggestions and it’s easy to have the students “play what I sing.” Try to make the experience as natural as possible. Let the students stand for solos. Don’t force them to play solo. I have taught fifth graders using this method and it works rather well for me.
The reason that I have students play from tablature is because it eliminates the note-reading variable and students can find success quickly; they want to be able to play something. Also, I don’t want them to be tied to the notes, but to be able to play by ear, transpose, improvise, and compose as well.