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posted: Tue, Mar 31st, 2015
Recorder black belt Jack Ferrara

Black belts in music

About a dozen Mountain View students already have their black belts and will soon enter the school’s hall of fame. Black belts in Recorder Karate and the Recorder Hall of Fame, that is. 

Music teacher Laura Rutan created Mountain View’s Recorder Hall of Fame in 2008-2009 as a way to both encourage and recognize third-graders who excelled in playing the recorder. Posters line the music room with the names and photos of all the students who have been inducted.

Recorder black belt Emily Dolan

The recorder is a simple woodwind instrument that reached its height of popularity in medieval times. Elementary schools have seemingly been using the instrument as a teaching tool since then because of its relative ease of use. By playing the recorder students learn to read music and get a sense of rhythm and melody. The instrument is very much a gateway into the performing arts. Students can use it as a barometer that helps them decide whether they want to pursue music in later grades.

Ms. Rutan uses Recorder Karate, a method that teaches students progressively difficult songs. After a third-grader masters one song, he or she is given a “belt” that indicates ability level. The belts are actually pieces of yarn that correspond to the colors of the belts in karate, going all the way from white to black. 

Many of the songs in Recorder Karate are ones that students have grown up with or are familiar with. These include “Twinkle Twinkle,” “Old McDonald,” and “Amazing Grace.” 

“By learning to play a song that’s familiar to them, students already know what the song should sound like and what the rhythm should be,” said Ms. Rutan. “They can easily compare in their heads what they are playing to how the song should sound. They immediately can tell when they have gotten it down or when something is wrong.” 

Students who earn black belts become “teaching assistants” in their music classes and mentor their peers. They can also move up a notch in difficulty and earn the rainbow belt by playing duets with each other.

Mountain View annually holds a third grade recorder concert in the spring. This year’s concert is scheduled for April 30.

In 2013-2014, about 72 students were inducted into the school’s Recorder Hall of Fame.


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Mountain View School
118 Cloverhill Drive Flanders, NJ 07836
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