An Introduction to the Recorder

by Denis Karp, Music & Arts Lesson Instructor

Tools for Success

Music Stand Shop Now >
All recorder players require a music stand. More than just stands to hold your music, music stands ensure that your playing posture is correct and healthy for your back.

Cleaning Rod Shop Now >
Recorders should be cleaned every time they are played. Otherwise, moisture build-up on the inside of the instrument can lead to mold and mildew! Many times, cleaning rods are included, but if you do not have one they are an inexpensive necessity.

Cleaning Cloth Shop Now >
The cleaning cloth goes through the cleaning rod to swab out the inside of the recorder. Please make sure you use a proper material cloth. Only something that is soft, small and absorbent will do.

Recorder/Cork Grease Shop Now >
Depending on the type of recorder you own, your instrument might be made of several pieces. If this is the case, grease must be periodically applied to the joints of your recorder.

From beginner to professional, all musicians should always have a pencil ready while they practice. Pencils are needed for taking rehearsal and lesson notes as well as notes to help during practice sessions.

Metronome Shop Now >
This device provides steady beats through clicks to help develop the player’s sense of rhythm and steady beat. The tempo of the metronome can be adjusted to fit your needs whether you’re practicing a scale or a piece of music. It’s recommended to use one during every practice.

Sheet Music Shop Now >
Whether this is your school book, a book written specifically for beginner recorder players or a collection of more advanced exercises and solos, sheet music is essential for all musicians!

Staff Paper Shop Now >
This is paper with pre-printed groups of lines on which you’ll practice writing notes, rhythms, scales, chords, etc. In order to read music, you’ll have to learn how to write it, so staff paper is very important.

Practice Log
A practice log is essentially a journal that helps you to keep track of what you practiced, when and for how long. This is not only helpful to the teacher who will help keep track of your progress, but also for helping you develop a sense of routine and to keep track of what you may need any extra help with.

Types of Recorders and a Brief History of the Instrument

Types of Recorders
This is the recorder family from smallest (highest pitch) to largest (lowest pitch):

Sopranino, soprano, alto, tenor and bass recorders

Sopranino, soprano, alto, tenor and bass recorders

Sopranino, soprano, alto, tenor and bass recorders

The soprano recorder is what most people think of when they hear "recorder." It’s the type of recorder used in elementary schools. However, please keep in mind that many music stores will carry several of the above instruments, so make sure you choose the correct one! If you are purchasing a recorder for elementary school, you will most likely be looking for a soprano recorder. There are also several different types of each recorder. Recorders can be made of wood (different types of wood give different sounds) or plastic. Wooden recorders are preferred by professional recorder players, while plastic recorders are certainly encouraged for the young beginner. Some recorders will come in one piece while others will come in two or three pieces.

A Brief History of the Recorder:
Although many people think of the recorder as the instrument they were introduced to music by in elementary school, the recorder has actually been around for centuries. In fact, it is one of the oldest known instruments still played today! Prior to the 1700's, most pieces written for flute were actually written for the recorder. The instrument most similar to today's flute was called the "traverso" or "transverse flute" because it was held horizontally as opposed to the vertical recorder. Technological advancements of the instrument over many years led to what we now know as the modern flute. The soprano and tenor recorder still use fingerings very similar to the flute. The sopranino, alto and bass recorders share the same fingerings that are most similar to our modern clarinet.

Assembling, Holding the Recorder and Correct Posture

Depending upon the type of recorder you own, your instrument may come in all one piece or it may be made up of three parts: the headjoint, body and foot. When connecting the pieces, the hole in the headjoint should line up in a straight line with the row of holes on the body. The hole in the foot joint should remain slightly out of line with the others in order to allow the pinky to comfortably cover it completely.

To hold the recorder, make a "C" shape with both hands. Your left hand should be placed above the right hand, with the thumb on the hole in the back. Your fingers should wrap around and cover the holes on top like this:

Your right hand should make a 'C' shape with the thumb under the first finger and the pinky on the bottom key

Your right hand should make a "C" shape with the thumb under the first finger and the pinky on the bottom key

Correct posture is key when playing any instrument

Your right hand should make a "C" shape with the thumb under the first finger and the pinky on the bottom key. The fingers must remain curved:

Correct posture is key when playing any instrument:

  • Sit or stand straight and tall.
  • Do not allow your elbows to rest against the side.
  • Your chin must stay up, not down against the chest or shoulder.
  • When sitting, feet must remain flat on the floor.

Reading Music: Notes and Rhythm

In order to play the recorder, you must be able to read music. Most music for recorders is written in treble clef, except for bass recorder which commonly uses bass clef. All notes are one of the letters of the music alphabet: A, B, C, D, E, F or G. These notes can also be sharp (#), which raises the pitch by a half step, or flat (b), which lowers the pitch by a half step. The rhythm tells us how long to hold a note. Use of flash cards and/or note and rhythm game apps or websites is encouraged. The sooner music notation is learned, the easier everything else will be!

Producing Your First Sound

Fortunately, producing the first sound on the recorder comes fairly easily for most students! Take a good, deep breath through the mouth. Using your lips, form a seal around the opening of the recorder at the top. Keeping an open throat (think of yawning), blow the air through the recorder. Be careful not to blow too hard or you will produce a loud squeak!

Once you become comfortable producing a consistent sound, it’s important to begin "tonguing" as soon as possible. This refers to the use of a "too" sound to begin each note.

Practice Time

Proper practice is essential for the success of any musician. 20-30 minutes a day, five days a week is the minimum amount of practice required to maintain and progress on the recorder, although the more you practice the more you will improve! Check with your teacher for personalized practice time recommendations. Use of practice charts and logs is encouraged, especially for beginners.

Maintaining Your Recorder

Most recorders are fairly sturdy instruments, so most care is common sense:

  • Do not swing the recorder around.
  • Swab out your recorder every time you finish playing.
  • Keep the recorder stored safely and avoid extremes in temperature and direct sunlight if you have a wooden instrument.
  • Keep the recorder dry. Excess moisture can cause mold and mildew.
  • If you own a plastic recorder, it can be cleaned with water, but if your recorder has any wooden parts or has any pads, please avoid water!
  • If your recorder comes in several pieces, you may need to grease the joints occasionally to ensure proper assembly. To do this, use a soft cloth to wipe away any old grease. Then, using your finger, apply a small amount around the joint. Only a little is required! Wipe away any excess after assembly. And of course, don't forget to wash your hands after applying! If your recorder is all one piece, no grease is necessary.

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