Singing Your Way to Recorder Success!

Hi, everyone! This is Kate from Kate's Kodaly Classroom. As I have become more and more inspired by the Kodaly methodology, I have found it harder and harder to include recorder in my teaching.  Often, I feel that when it comes time to teach recorder, I put everything I have been teaching "on hold" to teach a unit. The singing we have been working so hard on stops and in it's place I find myself trying to tame the squeaks and shrieks of the recorder.  And yet, I feel like it is a crime to rob my 3rd graders of the excitement that they have for learning the recorder and earning that coveted black belt in Recorder Karate. Plus, it is a great way to teach note names and treble clef reading.

So this year, rather than allowing myself to dread the recorder, I decided to work on trying to integrate the recorder into my Kodaly instruction. Now, obviously, we had to lay the foundation and spend a couple days learning the basics. However, I can say that for the first time since I started teaching Kodaly, I am actually enjoying teaching the recorder! Here are some of the ways I have been trying to incorporate recorder into my prepare and practice activities...

Rhythm Flashcards on Recorder:

I use the following sequence for rhythm flashcards with recorders
1. Speak the rhythm
2. Speak the rhythm on "too" or "doo"
3. Play the rhythm on recorder (specify the note for them or have a student select a note to play)

Using recorders to play rhythm flashcards is a quick and fast way to continue practicing wherever you are in your rhythm sequence and teach students tonguing!

Rhythmic Dictation from Recorder
Last year, I had one of those "duh" moments when I was at a presentation and someone suggested using the piano for rhythmic dictation. I sometimes struggle with melding melody and rhythm together, so this was a perfect way to get my kids to understand the two in harmony with each other. I used this same strategy with my recorder to help my students practice syncopa, tika-ti and ti-tika. I simply play a melody and ask the students to speak the rhythm back to me or write it down for me to assess.

Recorder to Solfege
I often have my students decode patterns I sing on "loo" in solfege. During my recorder unit, I have been using the recorder to play patterns and then have students sing them back to me on solfege. I will tell them the starting solfege of my pattern. This way, we can still practice low la, low sol, high do, and some of the other tones we are working on before we get to those notes on the recorder.

Play What I Sing
When we are working with three notes (BAG) and four notes (D'BAG) I will sing mi-re-do and sol-mi-re-do patterns and have them play them on the recorder. I will also sometimes have students divide into partner pairs and have one student sing a melodic flashcard while the other plays. This is, again, a great way to continue the singing during your recorder unit.

Lastly, I have been trying to draw all my recorder repertoire from my folk song collection. With the exception of a couple tunes (Jingle Bells, Ode To Joy), I have been using only the songs that my students have sung. For example...

mi-re-do (BAG)
Hot Cross Buns
Closet Key
Frog in the Millpond

so-mi-re-do (D'BAG)
Let Us Chase the Squirrel
Old Aunt Dinah

mi-re-do-la, (BAGE,)
Old House (have the recorders only play the response part)
Skin and Bones (again, recorders play the "oo")

Cotton Eyed Joe

As I started with this new approach, what really shocked me the most was the quality of my student's playing. Rather than trying to teach them new songs, notation, fingerings, and playing technique all at once, they were able to focus on the new (the instrument) and use their ears to help them figure it out when they were making a mistake. Plus, they started to try to figure out EVERY song they had learned to sing on the recorder. It was fun to see them connect their singing and their playing! I rewrote all my karate belts to be based in folk song repertoire, and have tried to design my lessons in a way that incorporates singing before playing always. I have even managed to keep my Kodaly sequence going by teaching low E and low D before high D and high C to use my low la and low sol songs.

In order to make sure that our recorder playing doesn't stop the singing in my classroom, I have developed a "practice spinner" that I use on my smartboard with my students. It looks like this...

Once we have learned a song, I let students come up and spin the wheel. Then we do whatever it lands on. The kids are all eager to spin the wheel, so it gives me a chance to include repetition and practicing without the lesson becoming boring. You can make these using an interactive white board software, or paint over an old board game spinner to make one for your classroom!

There are many great resources for teaching recorder and note reading on TpT that you can check out, too! Here are a couple examples...


Finally, I have been drawing a lot of my listening lessons from The Complete Recorder Resource Kit. I like this resource for several reasons...
- Many of the songs are folk songs or excerpts from songs by classical composers
- It includes a brief history of the composers included (Schubert, Beethoven, Grieg...)
- It includes copies of the music with and without note names to allow you to differentiate when needed

You can check it out here...

I know that most of these ideas are not "ground-breaking," but for me they made a world of difference! When I stopped thinking about recorder as a "unit" and started looking it as a tool for teaching my Kodaly sequence, I found that I could have fun while teaching the recorder and help my students become stronger readers, players and SINGERS while working on the recorder.


  1. Great ideas, Kate! I especially love the idea of singing patterns and having them play them back, and playing patterns and having them decode the rhythm. Thank you!

  2. I love your ideas! I play a game called "Recorder Volleyball" (creating a TpT product for this at the moment) with my classes that is basically a fun way to do melodic dictation with voice and recorder. In the younger grades I play the same game with voice and mallet instruments. They love it :)

  3. So helpful!! I dread recorder too and I've been searching for ways to incorporate it into a Kodaly framework.


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