Pandemic causes switch from recorders to ukuleles in Oak Creek music class

Posted at 6:11 PM, Mar 03, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-03 19:11:23-05

OAK CREEK — Do you remember playing recorders in elementary school music class? Well, times are changing now because of the pandemic. At an Oak Creek elementary school, they have swapped recorders for ukuleles.

"But because they're blowing a lot of spit and a lot of squeaking and they get a little messy, they didn’t want to take any chances with that," Carollton Elementary School music teacher, Sarah Atkinson, said.

Since recorders cause a potential health hazard, Ms. Atkinson had to come up with an alternative. She approached the parent-teacher organization, which approved the idea.

"I was just moved to tears when I found out we were getting a classroom set of ukuleles, because it gave me a new hope of some fun things to do with the kids," she said.

Recorders are one of those funny instruments we seem to only play in elementary school music class. They play second fiddle to guitars, pianos, drums, bass and even fiddles. It's why the switch is a welcomed change by students.

"It was such a high-pitched tone to the recorder, and it wasn’t like good. But on the ukulele it's so happy, and it's a lot easier to play," 5th grader Gavin Carlson said.

The tone might be one of the biggest changes. In fact, it's one of the reasons Carlson likes to play the ukulele so much.

"I can play happy songs to my mom when I get home and stuff like that," he said.

It's not just the students who like the change. Parents have been happy about it too.

"I know off the top of my head several adults that have a ukulele at home that play it for fun. I can’t think of one that still plays on the recorder," Ms. Atkinson said.

This is part of a larger change within music classes across the country. The CDC recommends these types of changes to keep students and teachers safe.

However, larger institutions like the Marquette University band have found ways to play woodwinds but stay safe. They have specially designed masks that allow musicians to play woodwind or brass instruments. They also put covers at the end of horns to trap any particles or moisture that might come out.

specialty marquette mask
Marquette junior Bailey Lewis can player her trombone with her specialized mask on.

Back at Carollton Elementary, students aren't even allowed to sing. With no brass or wind instruments allowed either, that means there is a lot of percussion going on. However, it comes at a cost.

Ms. Atkinson has to clean each instrument after each use. The ukuleles are wiped down after each use, but that has the potential to damage the instrument. At the moment, there isn't a great alternative. However, she has gotten some help from a local Home Depot. They donated buckets students use as drums. They are easy to clean without the risk of damaging the instrument.

Assessments are also done in a new way. Ms. Atkinson can't get too close to students. That means she can't adjust students' fingers to the right fret or help them with strumming techniques. If she were to get COVID-19, the entire music program would cease to exist in her absence.

Ms. Atkinson performs socially distanced assessments. She gets a student to record the performance for a later review.

"So what I do is I empower students that get it fast. They're my helpers, and I send them off to help the kids that are struggling."

Overall, adapting to the pandemic has been an issue, but Ms. Atkinson said she has learned so many new teaching methods and techniques because of it.

"I feel like teaching music during the pandemic has made me a better teacher."

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