Music Masters by Barbara Gruener
by Barbara Gruener, Monthly Columnist
I just spent the most wonderful week teaching at my church’s summer Music Camp and you won’t believe what my assignment was: Recorder Class. I know, I know, that does NOT necessarily sound like your dream job, mid-July, trapped inside with fifty kindergarten-through-fifth-graders squeaking out notes on those plastic instruments. But I’ve been volunteering in this spot now for about ten years and this summer was the best ever because we tried something new, a motivational strategy known as Recorder Karate.Now, before you stop reading because you are not a music teacher, humor me because I’m not a music teacher, either. I’m a school counselor. But, like you, I am familiar with the myriad of educational benefits of music.
Music is a more potent instrument
than any other for education. ~Plato
I agree with Plato; the best money I’ve spent in the last twenty years is on private music lessons for my children. I also strive incorporate music into my practice whenever I can. Which brings me back to the Recorder. Recorder Karate makes learning to play the Recorder fun and engaging because students earn belts (notice them tied around the bottom of the Recorder in the picture above) as they master levels of play. It’s an incentive plan, all beautifully laid out in the book that we used entitled Recorder Karate by Barb Philipak. I just had a week, not the luxury of a semester or even a quarter, so my Music Camp version of Recorder Karate was a bit relaxed. Still, I am with Ron Clark, who emphatically believes that “not everyone deserves a cookie,” so my campers had to work to master a song at increasingly difficult levels to earn their belts.
My favorite belt, an idea I adapted from Laura Rachita, our school’s outstanding music teacher, is the pink belt. This belt is essentially the character belt, for Tickled-Pink moments. It’s all about catching kids doing the right thing. And what you focus on, you get more of, so as I watched for Tickled-Pink behavior, guess what I found? Yep, Tickled-Pink choices. And when I had to correct a behavior (playing your Recorder during instruction was a big one), all I had to do was ask my friends, “I wonder if that’s a Tickled-Pink behavior?”
A few benefits that I observed this week courtesy of this one little plastic flute-family musical instrument were:
1. Discerning left from right. The left hand has to be on top.
2. Increasing fine motor skills. Those little fingers really had to work hard to cover the holes completely and move at the right time.
3. Counting notes and rests. We learned to play eighth notes, quarter notes, dotted quarter notes, half notes, and whole notes as well as to rest on quarter, half, and whole rests.
4. Learning rhythms and keeping the beat. We read music and followed along with a orchestration on an accompaniment on CD.
5. Practicing self-control. We had to whisper into our Recorders so they sounded melodious (and didn’t squeak on us!).
6. Working together for unity. We had to make sure we were all on the same note at the same time.
I especially like that last one. We can’t all talk at the same time, but we can all play at the same time. Music truly is a universal language that we can all master, and that tickles me pink.
About the Author
A bilingual educator who was raised on her family’s farm in Wisconsin, Barbara Gruener has been the counselor and character coach at Westwood-Bales Elementary School in Friendswood, Texas for the past ten years. She’s also a motivational speaker and loves to influence and impact workshop participants in her signature Sing, Dance, Laugh and Build Character sessions. When she’s not at school, Barbara likes to write, read, knit, bake, and spend time with family and friends. Check out Barbara’s uplifting blog, Corner on Character, to read her inspirational stories about positive people and elevating experiences.
Barbara’s inspiring articles appear monthly on The Teachers’ Lounge.