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Book Review: Jump Right In: Instrumental/Recorder Series

June 10, 2013

by David Birrow Birrow.David@MacPhail.org

I often evaluate my teaching in terms of what was missing from my own education.  My biggest struggle as a beginning percussionist was reading music with meaning. While I was able to play a tune in band or a snare drum etude, there wasn't a sense of what it should actually sound like when I played. In other words, I could tap my foot and count, but I couldn't hear the music in my head.

Jump Right In: The Instrumental/Recorder Series by Richard F. Grunow, Edwin E. Gordon, Christopher D. Azzara, and Michael E. Martin(Instrumental Series only) addresses this key question: How should you teach if you want students to develop the auditory/cognitive skills that will allow them to be successful musicians, not just button pushers and foot tappers?

One point of clarification: I'm actually talking about two different books here, albeit two very similar books. The Instrumental Series Book is what a band director would use with their beginning band and the Recorder book is what a K-8 general music teacher would use for classroom music.  There is also a series available for strings. In addition to the teachers guide, there are student books as well as solo books for continued student practice. MacPhail's CP library currently owns the Instrumental Series Teachers guide and Student Book 1 & 2 from the Recorder Series. I've used the Instrumental teachers guide to teacher recorder, so I believe they are very similar.

There are a few key differences that separates this book from other approaches like Essential Elements and Standard of Excellence.  In Jump Right In(JRI) students sing songs before they play them on their instrument. This way students build a mental representation of the song before they are asked to reproduce it on the instrument. Music Learning Theory is the guiding theory in this book, so another difference is the inclusion of Learning Sequence Activities in every lesson. These sequential tonal and rhythm activities build Audiation skills which in turn allow students to make sense of the music they are hearing and performing.

The publisher outlines some defining elements of the method:

Helps develop musicianship beyond instrumental classroom

  • Progress from sound to sight in logical, common sense sequence
  • Opportunities for improvisation from early stages of instruction
  • Students learn to read and write with comprehension
  • Arrangements of over 40 songs included in the student books
  • Includes National Standards and suggestions for measurement and evaluation
  • Comprises many styles, tonalities, and meters and spans many cultures and many centuries

The book is separated into two major sections: lesson plans and instrument specific technique. The lesson plans include teaching procedures but are not overly embellished, which allows for various teaching styles. The technical reference portion covers specific instrument technique. It is very convenient to have all of this in one book.  The included high quality CD has all the songs, patterns, and learning sequence material recorded by members of Eastman School of Music.

I've used the Recorder series for the past three years at New City School and have found it to be very successful. The main strength is the thoughtful sequencing of skills which build on each other and culminate in students performing with cognitive meaning.

Using JRI has helped me teach articulation and intonation, as well as challenged my own musicianship. Below is a recent performance of the first song found in the book: "Major Duple." You'll hear the 4/5th graders at New City play a four part arrangement including melody, two inner voices and a bass line.

Using this sequential, logical method has influenced the way I teach drum set and snare drum as well. My percussion students all learn "drum songs" before seeing the notation, chant rhythm patterns, and move to music as they perform. 

While this is certainly different that how I was taught, it addresses the major underlying issues at play when teaching an instrument.  I'm a Music Learning Theory advocate and it took me awhile to understand how all the pieces fit together in this method.  But it was absolutely worth the challenge as I now feel that I am providing instruction which will create life long musicians, not just foot tappers and counters.

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I'm looking into this as an orchestra teacher. I don't know of anyone in my state that uses this so I'm trying to reach out to people who have used it. What did you find difficult about it? How did you overcome the fact that they don't read a note in the first book? How long did it take you to get through the first book? I've asked my mentors (I'm going into my third year of teaching), half of them say go for it and the other half are iffy because of the note reading thing.