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R.C. Buckley students earn their black belts - in Recorder Karate

The halls of R.C. Buckley Elementary School are often filled with the familiar sounds of excitement and laughter. However, on certain days during the morning announcements, the halls are filled with a new sound – a gong.  
At the end of some morning announcements at R.C. Buckley Elementary School, you may be lucky enough to hear Buckley’s Music Teacher Mrs. Howell take to the microphone. During this time, she will introduce the newest third grader who has received their “Black Belt” at Buckley. At the end of her speech, the special student is invited to ring the gong over the morning announcements as a celebration for receiving their black belt.  
The black belt award is a part of the Recorder Karate program, started by author Barb Philipak, at Buckley Elementary. The program involves no chopping or kicking, but it certainly helps and encourages students to build their music skills. Similar to karate, students work to develop their skills on the recorder over time, by learning new songs. They then receive a colored belt as they begin to master a skill and learn a new song on the recorder.
At the start of the Recorder Karate program, each third grader is given a recorder and a packet of eight songs. Each song is selected to build on the next, helping students with reading notes and rhythms, and playing with good hand position and breath control. During music class each week, students are invited to work in large or small groups with their recorders, as well as play a song for Mrs. Howell. If the student plays the song well, they receive the colored belt associated with the song. The belt is then tied to their recorder. After the students have tested for their first belt, they are then invited to test for up to three belts at a time if they wish. Throughout the entire program, students are welcomed and encouraged to move at their own pace.
“Students are very excited to get to play recorders,” said Mrs. Howell. “They really enjoy this program and working their way through the book of songs.”
The songs students are invited to play for their various levels of belts are:
  • White Belt - Hot Cross Buns
  • Yellow Belt - Gently Sleep
  • Orange Belt - Merrily We Roll Along
  • Green Belt - Skin and Bones
  • Purple Belt - Old MacDonald
  • Red Belt - Twinkle Twinkle
  • Blue Belt - Yankee Doodle
  • Black Belt - Ode to Joy 
To receive the treasured black belt, students must score the highest score of ten points when playing “Ode to Joy.” While it may take students more than one test to master the song, they are then invited to ring the gong for the whole school as a mark of this great accomplishment. There are also more song books available for the students who wish to continue to play their recorders after receiving their black belt.
“The students love Recorder Karate and being able to hear their peers hit the gong at the start of the day,” said Mrs. Howell.
The Recorder Karate program is not meant to be a competition for students. Rather, it is an opportunity for students to encourage each other to reach their own goals, no matter what they may be. In an effort to help students encourage and cheer each other on, no other belts but the black belts are posted or announced during the Recorder Karate program.
“The Recorder Karate program encourages each student to learn to read music as they prepare to choose a band or orchestra instrument for fourth grade,” said Mrs. Howell. “We hope that each student has a wonderful time learning to play music on an instrument.”