As long as music teacher Joe Farmer has been working at St. Timothy’s, the fall has gone hand-in-hand with the sound of recorders being played across campus. For more than 10 years, fourth graders participated in the Recorder Karate program: they would show how they combined reading music notation with playing to earn “belts,” or colored cords with tassels.
However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services guidelines during the COVID-19 pandemic state that playing woodwind or brass instruments and singing should be avoided.
Unable to follow the usual fourth-grade music program, Farmer thought of another idea. He said, “I had heard of schools introducing the ukulele as part of their elementary music curriculum but had never pursued it—mostly due to a lack of classroom time since Recorder Karate, the Christmas Pageant and the trip to the North Carolina Symphony completely filled the fourth grade curriculum.” With this year’s restrictions, Farmer decided to swap the Recorder Karate program with the Rainbow Ukulele curriculum.
Now the gentle sounds of rhythmic strumming can be heard from the music tent in the courtyard as fourth graders hone their beat competency, left-right hand coordination, fine motor skills and other musical skills.
The third-grade curriculum was also thrown for a loop this year. Instead of beginning the year with singing, like usual, Farmer has incorporated bucket drums, xylophones, scarves and beanbags into his lessons. While studying form—the different parts of a composition—third graders played xylophones and drums to show the A section, swung scarves over their heads to show the B section and threw beanbags to show the C section. As for the bucket drumming, Farmer says that it “provides an accessible alternative to singing where students can grow musically and most importantly, express themselves musically. Bucket drumming fosters beat competency, reading notation, dynamic expression, gross motor skills and improvisation, among others. Plus, it’s just fun!”
The third and fourth grade students are loving the new instruments, and their playing, reading music and beat competency has only improved throughout the first month of school.