Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Recorder Playing Tests

Several people have asked on music teacher Facebook groups how others handle playing tests for recorders. Here is an overview of how I assess recorders . . .


I teach recorder in 4th grade. For each unit, I provide at least 3 songs with varying difficulty. (Buzzword: DIFFERENTIATION!) I don't follow any particular recorder method book. I have gathered songs from several books, from my Orff levels courses, and from various workshops and conferences over the years. Lessons in the unit may also involve games, dancing, or playing accompaniments to the songs on barred instruments.

At the end of the unit, I hear each student perform one of the songs for a playing test. On test day, the students rotate in centers. My classes are 50 minutes long. I try to allow 10 minutes at each station. That leaves 10 minutes for instructions at the beginning of class and maybe a couple minutes of clean-up before they line up to leave.

One center is the playing test where I am stationed. I hear each student in the group perform a song and then I tie their strings before they rotate to the next center. I used to hear students one at a time and it took a long time for students to come back to me and then go back to their seat. Many times, students would be very nervous playing for me it would take forever to get them to even begin their song. In small groups, it seems less formal and the students are also very supportive of each other. While I'm formally assessing them on the rubric, they are watching their peers and offering suggestions like--"Your thumb hole wasn't covered all the way." and "You didn't have your right thumb kickstand."

Before they play for me, there is a center with an exit slip or short quiz assessing any new vocabulary or concepts we learned in the unit. These students have finished their written assessment and are working in small groups preparing for their playing test.

Two other stations are games or activities which reinforce music skills taught in the unit. This was the first recorder playing test and we are still learning the lines and spaces of the staff. The students chose either relay races or Twister with the giant floor staff. The next station was Treble Toss where students draw a popsicle stick and then aim their beanbag at a specific line or space on the staff. If you would like to learn more about my music centers, follow this link to previous blog posts.


My rubric addresses posture, breathing, fingering, hand position, steady beat, rhythmic accuracy, and pitch accuracy. If you would like to download my Recorder Rubric, click here. If I need to save time before the rotation ends, I wait for class to finish to add up the scores.


For each note the students learn, they receive a different colored string tied on to their recorder. I use embroidery floss cut to 12 centimeters. I sometimes have students or parent volunteers cut the strings for me. After the strings are tied, the students love to fray the ends. Some units introduce two notes, so the students would get two colors. Some units introduce only one note, so the students would get one string. We start on red and follow the order of the color wheel. The last string is a black string. There is a bonus string in the last unit. The last note we learn is F#. If the students can play "Frere Jacques" (in the key of D) in a round with a partner, they get a gold metallic string tied on their recorders.

I store the strings in my organizer station. Each color has its own drawer. I also have drawers for office supplies like paperclips, sticky tack, rubber bands, pushpins, etc. This organizer sits on a bookshelf behind my desk and makes things so easily accessible. Follow this link for more information on how I organize my classroom, including printable labels for your own organizer.

If you have any questions or suggestions, feel free to comment below!


  1. I just nominated you for the Liebster Award. You can read more about it here: