At Valley View Elementary School, music teacher Kathryn Roman’s reputation precedes her. Every student knows fourth grade is the year of the recorder.
Roman uses an unique program “Recorder Karate” to capture student excitement and keep it strong to the very last note.
“It’s a really innovative, motivational soprano recorder program,” Roman said. “It’s a method, and at the heart of the method is a positive rewards system.”
Each song a student masters earns them a colorful cord, or “belt,” for their recorder.
“It gets them playing right away ... They are playing within two days of getting the instrument, which I Iove,” Roman said.
Students can earn nine belts, with white being the first and easiest and black being the most difficult to earn.
“They want to get to that black belt as fast as they can,” Roman said.
However, the music teacher said it will take at least a few months.
She said being able to play a song instead of just notes, makes learning the instrument more fun for students. Each student has their own recorder throughout the program.
“Whenever we first got them, I was like so excited,” student Chase Hagler said.
Roman said she waits until the students have learned a song before she lets the students take the instruments home.
Student Forrest Moore said he was excited, and was looking to learning all the songs.
“Hot Cross Buns” is the first song that students learn. Roman said students must correctly play the song individuallyfor her in order to earn their white belt. On just the third day of working with the instruments, many students felt good about their progress.
Student Mary Stewart said she was doing well learning the first song.
“I’m looking forward to earn our belts and just learning more because Ms. Roman is a great music teacher,” Mary said.
Student Taylor Alloway said although the first song was easy, she knew the program would get more challenging.
“I’m looking forward to at least try my best (to reach the black belt),” Taylor said.
Hagler felt confident in his ability to play the white belt song, saying his brother had taught him it. Hagler’s older brothers also had Roman for music in fourth grade.
At the end of the program, students get to keep the instrument, the belts earned and the instructional book.
Roman said fourth-grade is a good age for this pre-band instrument.
“Their hands are big enough for all the notes. That’s probably the hardest thing for them is getting all those holes covered properly,” Roman said. “It’s just challenging enough without being overwhelming to them, but they find success pretty quickly as well.”
Breath control is also a challenge. Roman said if a student blows too much air into the recorder, it will squeak.
When students reach fourth grade, they have already learned about the musical staff and the names of the notes.
Students who like the recorder would probably also enjoy playing a clarinet, saxophone or flute, Roman said.
Some students in previous years have performed for their churche. Roman said the students learn “Amazing Grace” and “Ode to Joy.” These are the brown and black belt level songs.
Roman found the program and started using it four years ago. This year Roman was able to purchase the program through a mini-grant from the Bradley Cleveland Public Education Foundation.