Reteaching myself to play the recorder ends on a high note


Emily London

My recorder from third grade, still adorned with the colorful belts I earned in elementary school.

By Emily London

I hit the peak of my musical career playing the recorder in third grade music class. I practiced tirelessly, annoying my dog nightly with the instrument’s high-pitched squeaks and eventually mastering my performance of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star for the school’s end-of-year showcase. Unfortunately, my recorder career was cut short when the school year ended and I promptly forgot how to play. 

So, when I found my old recorder sitting in my closet after all these years, a wave of nostalgia hit me. I knew what I had to do to relive my elementary school glory days: I was going to reteach myself how to play the recorder.

To achieve this, I followed the same program that my elementary school music teacher used, called Recorder Karate. In this program, students would get a colored “belt” — which was really just a piece of string to tie on to the recorder — for each song they completed. The belts had different levels of difficulty, with white being the easiest and black the most challenging, just like karate belts. My goal was to get all the way to the song for black belt, Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy.”

Filled with childhood memories and a desire to play, I picked up my recorder, still adorned with all of the colorful belts from elementary school. I felt a little bit silly reading directions on how to play an instrument that countless eight year olds easily pick up every year, but after a few minutes I got the hang of it.

  The first song I had to learn was Hot Cross Buns. It only had three notes, all of which were pretty simple to play. The song started out great, but just before the end a horrible squeak came out of my recorder. For the people reading this that have never heard a recorder squeak, it’s not a very pretty sound. It was painfully high-pitched and incredibly shrill.

I eventually got the song down and quickly moved through the rest of the program. From the jazzy “When the Saints Go Marching In” to the solemn “Amazing Grace,” my recorder skills improved and I began to remember why I originally loved the recorder in elementary school. It’s simple enough for elementary schoolers, but I could still play the same music as much more complicated instruments.

Finally, after eight songs and around 20 minutes, I reached my goal and played “Ode to Joy.” At this point, I was cruising through recorder songs. I probably was even better than I was when I was eight — and that’s saying something. Yet, I couldn’t help but feel a little bit sad that my trip down memory lane was over. I really enjoyed getting the chance to revisit my elementary school days.

While the recorder might seem like it’s just a poor man’s flute, it can be so much more than that. It’s a dose of childhood magic, a portal back to the days of recess and no homework. It can be a great starter instrument, one that doesn’t care how old you are. Most importantly though, it’s just a ton of fun to play.

If you want to play the recorder, do it. Embrace your inner eight year old.

Put your heart and soul into “Hot Cross Buns” and play — just remember to avoid squeaks.