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May 2016 Slice: Third Graders Take On Their First Musical Instrument

LES third grader Sophia Gold leads her classmates in song as music teacher Susan Comber looks on.

During Lafayette Elementary School music teacher Susan Comber’s third grade music class one afternoon, she asked for responsible volunteers to hand out to the rest of the students what for many of them would be their first musical instrument – a recorder.

The class sat in three rows with their recorders, listening as Mrs. Comber went over the correct angle to hold the instrument, proper finger placement and way to blow into the mouthpiece. She then lead students through a song called “Queen B” and asked the students which notes were in the song (as the song’s title suggests – all of the notes were B).

“One, two, three…third line B!” she said, explaining where the B note falls on the treble clef.

The students then performed the song together, following along as the teacher pointed out which notes they should be playing. She later introduced the A and G notes and asked different students to come up to the board to point out the notes as the rest of the class played.

As third graders get ready to choose which musical class they want to take in fourth grade (fourth graders can take either chorus, concert band or strings in the orchestra), the introduction of a simple instrument like the recorder is a way to prepare them to read music and play along with other performers.

“Recorder is a wonderful introductory instrument in the general music classroom,” says Angela Schmidt, who teaches general music and chorus at Happy Valley Elementary and chorus at Burton Valley. “It is the perfect way to build upon the musical skills students have learned, while preparing them to play other musical instruments in the future.”

Like Mrs. Comber at Lafayette Elementary, Schmidt introduces her classes with the B, A and G notes and teaches several simple songs that can be played with those. From there she adds the C and D so that the students can play up and down a 5-note scale.

“I use fingering charts to help them see which holes to cover, and have them playing constantly to reinforce their musical skills and develop finger dexterity,” she says.

Susan Comber says that third grade is an optimal time for students to start learning a new instrument, not only because many of them will choose to play in fourth grade, but also because it is an age where students have more manual dexterity and the patience to follow along with reading music.

“My intent is to introduce them to playing an instrument physically,” says Comber. “Putting their hands on something and discovering that the way you follow directions make a difference.”

Both teachers say they use musical games, simple songs and rhymes to help the students learn the notes and Schmidt says she does something called “Recorder Karate,” where students earn “belts” for each musical concept they master.

“This is just a fun way to keep the students motivated to practice and improve,” she says.

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