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Live Recorder

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Teacher's Introduction
Live Recorder Books, CDs and Cassettes

'I realise that my class can't read, but you must remember that I'm not a reading specialist - and besides, what would the secondary school have to do if I'd already done their work for them?'

Imagine that spoken by a junior or middle school teacher, then imagine the cries of horror that would immediately follow it. It is inconceivable that any teacher would even think along those lines. The development of literacy skills is such a fundamental part of a teacher's role that it is almost impossible to consider the teaching process without touching on some aspects of reading.

But if the unthinkable statement above began, 'I realise that my class can't read music, but you must remember that I'm not a music specialist...' then quite a different reaction occurs. Heads nod sympathetically, teachers understand the problem and the vast majority of our children continue to leave primary school as musical illiterates. For despite the jack-of-all trades nature of primary teaching, music is still the odd subject out. Class teachers with no scientific training teach basic science skills; those with no knowledge of football have a stab at running a match (rule book in hand, perhaps!), and the system works very well. There are few teachers who would think of opting out of art and craft with the excuse 'I'm not artistic.' And this is the crunch. For too long music has been the property of the specialist, she who possesses insight into strange marks and squiggles on pieces of paper and who will communicate something of these mysteries to your class while you take hers for handwriting. I think the picture is uncomfortably familiar!

Most of us have willingly collaborated in this, believing it to be in the student's best interests ('I don't know the first thing about music, and I'd probably put them off it for life'), while being rather glad we haven't got to take that dreaded first lesson. The music specialists, with the best intentions in the world, have sympathised with our fears and let us off the hook. Only they haven't really, because in the final analysis only a tiny fraction of our primary students leave their schools with any knowledge of musical notation or instrumental skills at all.

Live Recorder is a response to these problems. It is a course in basic musical literacy, to be taught by complete beginners to classes with no previous experience of music. It can, of course, be used with smaller groups, but its main purpose is to be used by all students and taught by all teachers - or indeed by all parents at home!

It has the following aims:-

1. To equip the student with a basic proficiency in playing the descant recorder.

2. To enable the student to decode, interpret and respond to written music notation. Further, to enable him or her to
use and apply that skill in writing their own music.

3. To show the student the direct links between playing an instrument and reading music.

4. To encourage the student to participate actively in music making.

5. To open up to the student a glimpse of the joy in learning and using music, and thereby to lay the foundations on which their music can develop and grow.

The key to
Live Recorder is the CDs or cassettes, recorded on which are background accompaniments to play along with, together with recorded demonstrations of new rhythm patterns and notes. These are all indicated by the cassette symbol. The practice exercises which precede each 'set piece' are designed to develop new skills as gradually as possible, and of course it is very important that the students have plenty of time to try writing their own practice pieces where indicated. (This also allows the teacher time to catch breath!)

One of the reasons for the apparent 'wordiness' of the text, and the large number of questions, is that the student can read through
Live Recorder as a group with the teacher, or as individuals with their parents. Hence the text is aimed at the student, with a sidelong glance at the inexperienced teacher!

Naturally, no tuition system has all the answers, and some students will need a great deal of encouragement and reinforcement before they suddenly discover they can read and play music. But to work towards that self-discovery and watch it happen is a quite devastating experience for any teacher who has had no musical training at all. We have too long convinced ourselves that it is an experience beyond our reach - 'but you must remember that I'm not a music specialist'. It is time to put music back in the hands of the class teacher.

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Text copyright © James McCafferty 2000 Photographic images copyright © John Credland and James McCafferty 2000