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FOR NEWCOMERS to the RECORDER WORLD
Welcome to my page of recorder information. It is aimed at existing players looking for guidance. There are many tutor books on recorder playing listed here. They are all worthy of your consideration but I have listed them roughly in order of preference and suitability for older aspiring players... the sort of people who will be viewing these pages. Some important basic technical points are often overlooked or glossed over and I have produced a little check list of really fundamental things that should go without saying but are often forgotten. Some 'advanced' players may feel a little uncomfortable when they read them! For ease of use I have made it two identical pages that you should be able to print side by side on a single sheet of A4 (select 'multiple' in your print dialogue) and cut in half for you or your pupils. Curious? Click here Check List.
There is fingering information here.
CHOOSING AN INSTRUMENT.
For some basic information about understanding the descriptions of recorders I have produced a new page 'Recorder Models' which you may find helpful.
If you do not already play the recorder and have no knowledge of their qualities it may be better to have a look at my comments on what you can expect from recorders of different sizes and prices by clicking here first.
It is best to come and visit me. (Appointment essential.) You may play any of the stock instruments. It does help to have your usual instrument with you, for comparison. Take the elementary precaution of being reasonably well in practice, do not wear lipstick, and trim your thumb nail! Picture Horror Picture! If possible, have some clear idea of the style of instrument approved of by your teacher. Lists of things to try playing are only of use if you know how to interpret the results. I am not able to ensure that the instruments only play the right notes, but I have played them all and they work well. A tuning meter is available, though it may well tell you more about your technique than the instrument you are "testing". Should you need help I am well equipped to give it having been a woodwind teacher and professional player for many years. You may trust me to give unbiased advice but my perspective may not be the same as yours. I have professional experience, I blow confidently and I can play in all keys.
For massed use, in schools for example, it is best to choose plastic instruments, and to keep to the same make and model for each size. My recommendation for plastic recorders is Aulos for sopranino, descant and treble, with Yamaha for tenor and bass. The cheaper models of large recorders are excellent value, but small cheap ones can be a problem. Small Yamaha recorders do not mix with other makes unless the head joint is pulled out about 2 mm. Your players should be shown how to do this. The alternative option of "under blowing" , which can result in a sweet sound, is not good for the musical development of the players. There is no reason why wood and plastic should not be mixed, but the instruments used should be adjusted, by pulling the head joint out, to the lowest pitch being produced by strong players.
For the very young, or very small, sopraninos may be used instead of the usual descant. Click here for more on this subject.
I'm no longer trading but I am happy to respond to email if you would like clarification or have any comments about these pages. I can usually reply within 24 hours.
The choice can be quite daunting. Price can be a good guide for quality but it does not tell the whole story, it is not unusual to find a suitable instrument which is well within a price limit. The very best instruments are worth the high price, but only if you can appreciate the difference. An expensive instrument will not make you play better, it enables you to make the most of your ability.
The wood (or
plastic) used is of less importance than the design in
determining the tone. If you have followed the changes in the advice over the years and wondered why
some models have been quietly downgraded, it is because they have changed. Even plastic models change,
you can compare mould numbers and prove it! Unfortunately, such changes are generally for the worse.
Once a model is selected it is worth trying the range of available woods to discover the
Much attention is paid the the density (weight) of different woods in catalogue descriptions. I think it is misplaced. Recorders are very light compared to other woodwind and the effort of holding one's arms in the right position far exceeds that of actually holding the recorder. It is my view that it is the resonance of the wood, a combination of stiffness (modulus of elasticity) and weight, that affects tone and should be the focus of attention. You have only to compare the 'chink' produced by the parts of a palisander recorder being bumped together when the instrument is assembled with the 'clunk' produced by maple to realise that there is a great difference. (Claves and xylophone bars are always made of palisander, the resonance makes it the best material for the job.) The head is the most critical part. It is not generally appreciated just how thin the section between the window and the socket is. (Flute players may like to experiment by holding the head joint of their flute by the crown, letting it dangle and flipping the open end with a finger mail. Plated heads always 'ping', while solid precious metal heads 'clang'.)
Some players come up in a rash as a result of playing one of the resinous tropical hardwoods, palisander in particular, I do myself. Should you discover this after purchase I will exchange the instrument or make a full refund.
Solo or Ensemble?
There is no recorder that is perfect for all purposes. Just pause and have a moments thought about it. Is there a perfect car? How do you reconcile the attributes of a car; speed, space, economy, size, style... ? No wonder there are so many different models on the roads.
A good recorder will be much better for most uses than a bad recorder but there are times when a really good recorder can be a liability. It all depends on the company you keep. For playing by yourself or with a keyboard and other instrumentalists the best instrument you can beg, buy, or borrow is the order of the day. If you play with a mixed group you need to be able to go with the flow. If the group is dominated by low priced models, say plastic and 'student' or 'ensemble' recorders the pitch will inevitably wander and vary with dynamics. A really good recorder will not, and that can be a problem. Being the only player actually at concert pitch is not good. Forcing your instrument to play sharper, so that you are no longer out of tune, will make you louder than the rest. It is not a good way to go.
The better ensemble recorders are not costly. If you play in a group and feel the need to get away from plastic, a plain recorder made of maple or pearwood will serve you very well. If you develop a taste for baroque sonatas you will probably enjoy yourself more with a hardwood 'soloist' model. However, you may be criticised (unjustly!) for playing out of tune if you flaunt it in an ensemble of novices. A good conductor should be able to sort out any problems, but be prepared for any aggravation that may come as a result of everybody having to accomodate you, because you cannot accomodate them. For reasons that I do not understand, flatness always seems to be regarded as a more serious fault than sharpness even though sharpness in a recorder is easily correctable and flatness can be impossible to correct.
Have a look at my comments on what you can expect from different recorders by clicking here.
KEYS & PADS
Larger recorders have keys fitted so that pads may cover holes that are out of the reach of fingers. Sometimes they enable two holes to be controlled by one finger, or, with rings, give a choice of action. Their function is very much the same as on orchestral woodwind, clarinets, flutes and even saxophones. Because their fitment is often optional they are not well understood and give rise to many queries.
Keys can be added to almost any size of recorder to help you overcome injury or age related problems. I recommend Peter Worrell for this work. There is a reference and link to his web site lower down this page.
It is very common for tenor, and larger, recorders to have one or two keys fitted to the foot joint. (For simplicity I refer to these keys as "C" and "C#", for F recorders make the mental jump to "F" and "F#".) There are versions of wooden treble recorders with keyed foot joints. I do not advise these except in cases of physical abnormality or very small (typically a child's) hands. I am not aware of any plastic treble recorders fitted with keys. When there are two keys they are often spoken of as "split" or "double". On the tenor recorder one key covers the lowest hole to enable the production of C. If there is no other hole or key low C# is impossible to play. A second key may cover a second hole or control a small hole in middle of the C pad. The systems vary, on some instruments the action of the keys is logical, both for C and one only for C#, and on others, the opposite, one for C and both for C#. You have to know your own instrument.
If you have no C# key you have no low C#. Don't hold this against your instrument, it matters very little, C# is generally avoided in real recorder music. You can usually find a convincing solution like missing the note out altogether or playing the third above. The C# key, like double holes, is a relatively recent feature.
One way in which tenor recorder makers solve the problem is by changing the bore of the recorder so that the instrument is shortened and keys become unnecessary. This makes for a cheaper instrument with no impossible notes. There is an additional advantage in that the tenor recorders made this way are easier to handle overall and may well be easier to play than the keyed model if you have short arms or small hands. (Moeck Rottenburgh models without keys are the same length as the keyed models.) Because the long, keyed models have a larger bore, they are generally somewhat louder than the unkeyed ones.
The bigger recorders have more keys and generally require a much smaller hand span than tenors. Some makers will fit extra keys to the body of a wooden tenor recorder. These have extensions that reduce the finger spread. It is usual to have these fitted to hole III and hole IV. The cost is about £80.00 for each key, including the fitting. These extra keys may be the answer, but do little to reduce pain in the right wrist if it occurs. If you are an adult, and find either style of tenor recorder a strain on your hands, try a knick model, particularly one with extra keys. A pair of keys can be fitted to a keyless foot joint (tenor or treble). These double keys cost around £150.00. I recommend Peter Worrell for the fitting of special keys. Example Peter will now fit keys to plastic reorders. (Some other repairers and shops will too. It is worth asking around.) It is better for you to approach Peter direct. If you still have trouble, admit defeat. It is a problem which gets worse with age. Play the other sizes.
The big instruments all have keys on the body as well as the foot. These keys can make the span similar to that of the treble. Where there is a ring connecting to a key pad this device is used to play the note a semitone above the one produced by closing the hole surrounded by the ring, by touching the ring alone. It is a favourite device with Kung instruments.
Some older bass recorders from Germany have an extra hole in the middle of the body and a key with two pads, one with a hole in it, for the RH first finger (hole IV). I have (Feb. 2018) added some notes on using it here.
The pads set into the key cups are made of various materials. Whatever it is, it must be completely airtight. The traditional (and best) recorder pad is leather over felt with a card backing. Alternatives are closed pore foam and cork. Frequently the covering of the felt is missing, torn off or eaten by moths or insects. Felt is porous and will not work without its covering. A good woodwind repairer should be able to replace a standard recorder pad. Both the thickness and diameter of the pad are critical. Pads intended for bassoons are often suitable. The edge of the tone hole needs to be fairly sharp and all in the same plane. Some instruments, padded with foam, are very poor in this respect. A traditional pad will not work until the imperfections of the hole have been corrected. When this is done the results are better than new. I have produced a page on the 'do it yourself' replacement of foam plastic pads here.
While keys are usually made of metal, some are not. Older Aulos tenors have metal plated plastic keys which are no longer obtainable as spare parts. Do not assume that a broken recorder key can be replaced easily, in most cases in cannot. It is however possible to repair most broken metal keys if all the parts are available. The cost of a skilled worker's time needed to repair the broken key of a cheap recorder could exceed the value of the instrument. Any complications like a missing piece make repair an uneconomic proposition. I have a small stock of spares for currently produced plastic recorders.
Take great care of the keys on a recorder. Be especially careful when putting it together and taking it apart that you do not grip and bend the keys.
To reduce the noise of keys clicking up and down the axles should be lubricated when necessary. A drop or two of non-gummy oil (gun oil is very good) applied to the junction between moving parts will do the trick.
Click here for a guide to making a thumb rest yourself.
Ever since Aulos started supplying their plastic models with moveable thumb rests there has been increasing interest in this accessory. In my view it not needed at all for the smaller recorders and may well stand in the way of good technique. It is however a useful feature for tenor and larger recorders, where it is becoming a standard fitting. Thumb rests are standard on the larger and heavier orchestral woodwind, clarinets, oboes and saxophones. To anyone who has played these instruments the concept of a recorder being "heavy" is mildly ridiculous.
This little bracket is not so much a rest for the thumb as a device to prevent the instrument falling through one's fingers when playing the notes which use a few fingers of the left hand only. It complements the friction between the right thumb and the instrument and comes fully into its own when the recorder is held nearly vertically. It is hard to hold a tenor out at an appreciable angle, and virtually impossible with the bass and larger recorders. This is where a thumb rest comes to the rescue. I suggest that it should be positioned so that if you let your recorder slide down between your right hand thumb and forefinger, when the thumb rest stops it, your forefinger falls naturally onto the fourth hole. Trebles and smaller recorders should be held out at about 45°. At this angle there is very little inclination for the recorder to slip down and a thumb rest is more likely to promote poor style by permitting the instrument to be held vertically, than it is to enable rapid playing by increasing the security of the hold.
Before any one starts an attack on me I would like to make it clear that I do realize that there are situations where a thumb rest on a descant recorder may be useful. For the very young, those with some disability, and in the class-room where it stops the recorder rolling off tables, a thumb rest may solve a problem or two. However, please be aware that it is not a standard fitting for expert players of small recorders.
There is another problem. Where should it be fitted? In my, now fairly extensive, experience, it is never ever in the right place. Certainly the manufacture never puts it in the right place because I am always being asked to move them! The trouble is that when I move one I usually find that it has been moved before and the underside of the recorder is honeycombed with nasty little holes, some of which penetrate right through to the bore, and must be plugged. Moving the thumb rest is not the panacea which will stop pain and cramp in the thumb joint. Do not be fooled. Take a break. The attractive unorthodox new position that you may favour will become torture very quickly. Give or take very little, the thumb rest should place the thumb more or less under the hole covered by the index finger. That recognizes the way the hand is made.
It is worth having a bass thumb rest fitted to a tenor. A bass rest has a ring incorporated so that a sling may be attached. A sling will take the weight off your over stressed thumb. If you incorporate a section of "bungee rubber" (light duty shock cord) into the sling you can adjust the amount of weight taken and avoid being "locked" in an unnatural position. The sling does not have to go round your neck, either shoulder may do instead. Experiment. Many bassoonists use a "spike", but this is difficult to fit to a recorder. An alternative is a strap round the thigh or a piece of webbing, or a cushion with a sling attached, to sit on and so lend support to a big recorder.
An effective solution for a bass sling that is too short, or has a hook that will not pass through the ring or hole on the recorder, is a small loop of cord permanently fitted through the hole and set to a suitable length. (String will do but cord has more credibility!) Use a good knot. I suggest the 'Fishermans Knot'.
I've found it perfectly possible to sling a knick bass recorder from the bell when playing sitting down with the recorder between your legs. A normal sling will link with cord tied round the last grooved feature of the bell. A slipknot will hold it tight. Picture of loop. The player needs to wear trousers or slacks. The sling should go round the waist. It is possible to put it on either over the head, or by stepping into it. There is not much to choose between the options, it will depend on your hair-do and degree of athleticism.
If you want to try out a new and lower position for your thumb rest, do not move it. Add thickness to the lower face by fixing a piece of cork to it with glue or sticky tape. You need something firm but "friendly", foam rubber and "Blue Tack" are no good. If you are really sure, after an extended session of playing, you have the option of making a tidy job of it or having the thumb rest moved. If you do decide to move it, have it done by someone who understands the need for accurately bored blind holes and who can produce them.
The Aulos plastic thumb rests will fit most wooden recorders (Kung tend to be an exception). They need to be treated with care so as not to scrape tram lines up the side of the instrument and should never be pushed straight on. If you insist on using a plastic thumb rest on your latest and best superior wooden treble, consider the use of a tenor rest with the difference made up with sheet cork. The result is a shade bulky but your recorder will be unharmed.
I can still deal with most
small troubles, quickly and economically.
I can replace corks and pads, adjust tuning and clean
instruments quickly, often on a "while you wait" basis.
(New corks require at least a full half day because of the
time taken for glue to set.) You may be able to fix a malfunctioning key yourself. Click here. More serious troubles are
generally returned to the maker.
'Re-voicing' is a highly skilled operation best left to a trained and experienced recorder technician. Unfortunately, the term is something of a 'catch all' and suggested as the answer to all recorder ailments. Wood can only be removed and although it does have a tendency to swell with use there is always a danger that a recorder can be 'improved' to the point of uselessness. I have found that most recorders returned to me as being in need of 're-voicing' can be returned to their original playing condition by thoroughly cleaning the windway, block, bore and tone holes. The block has to be removed, and reset to its optimum position afterwards. This is generally flush with the head of the recorder at the beak end. If your recorder has 'gone off' and the block is too far in, or too far out of the head to be described as 'flush', re-setting it will probably cure the problems. As a result of my experience with recorders (new and old) I am convinced that the block should not enter into the bore of the recorder. (I define the 'bore' as the air column below the flat cut at the upper end of the window, that marks the end of the windway.) I am confident that I can clean and re-set blocks. You can see some picture and comments here. In the past I have made blocks, and performed on them, but I am reticent about doing any 're-voicing' work of this kind on a client's recorder. You may be interested in some unusual blocks pictured here
I am highly suspicious of both 'recorder oil' and 'anti-condens'. I have never used 'anti-condens' on any of my own instruments. If your recorder has 'gone off' there are two courses of action that you could take if the instrument is not in need of cleaning and block re-setting. You will have to decide yourself which course of action is appropriate. The first is to play it more, ie. play it back in. The other is to play it less, ie. give it a rest, in its case. Dosing it with a 'magic potion' will only confuse the issue and get in the way of the wood recovering its normal condition.
Cork joints are a little tricky to replace but thread lapped joints are a good 'do it yourself' proposition. Use thread treated with beeswax. You will have to obtain the wax from a craft store, (it is used in needle work and woodwork), or an apiarist. There is no reason why this cannot be a replacement for a damaged cork. Here is a link to a printable instruction sheet. If you are handy with sharp tools you may like to read my notes on replacing a failed lapped cork joint. There is another style where the cork is permanently fitted into the socket. It is mainly found on old model low priced recorders, but my excellent 'concert' Hohner 'Telemann' descant is also made this way. (Picture)
Stiff joints on large recorders, even plastic models are a regular problem. I offer the following advice in the hope that some of it may 'hit the target'. Also, please follow this link to joint care in my section on the need to clean (dry) recorders after playing.
Try flexing the instrument across you knee (gently, you don't want to break it). This will usually break the seal which is holding the joint tight.
If flexing does not work, hold the affected joint of a plastic model under a running hot tap and try again. I have not yet met a case where this has failed.
If two of you have a go together (quite a common occurrence) be sure to twist and pull straight, and do be careful not to wrench the keys off. Do not use any sort of tools, strong hands are enough. (Ladies, find a willing man, do not grab that plumbing wrench from the garage.) Even if there is only one of you, be very careful that you are not trying to bend the recorder as you twist and pull. It may help if your mental image is of one hand holding firm and one hand twisting. Let your dominant hand do the twisting.
Conversely, I have some clients who suffer from loose joints on their plastic recorders. I haven't a clue why this should be the case but suspect that it may be due to storage conditions. Perhaps they should exchange their instruments periodically with those from players whose recorders get too tight! A quick and easy fix is to apply a thin smear of thick cork grease to the tenon. If the joint has a 'liner' and the tenon has a 'step' on the inside apply a smear of grease to the inside of the tenon as well. Its counter intuitive but it works because the grease fills the very small clearance between the parts with a viscous fluid and in doing so binds them together. The cork grease in the little black pots provided by Mollenhauer works well.
Transparent sticky tape, neatly applied (one layer should be enough) can be used to tighen a joint. Clean all dirt and grease from the tenon and wrap a turn around its base with a significant overlap. Cut off the excess. Then, with a very sharp blade, cut a single line at an angle through the overlapping tape, both layers. This will become a flush mitred joint. Remove and discard the piece of tape separated by this cut and the peel the angled end back. A short angle ended piece, from the start of the layer may peel back too, or remain stuck to the tenon. Remove and discard this short piece. Smooth the tape back carefully, squeezing out any air pockets and lining the mitred joint up tidily. Apply a very little grease and assemble the joint carefully. It will bed in and can be a long lasting fix if treated with care.
I have found that the following fairly risky procedure may a cure for loose plastic recorder joints. Be very careful! Use a hot air paint stripping gun (hotter than a hair drier) to warm up the tenon. If you hold recorder body through your fist you will stop when your hand gets uncomfortably hot. Make several passes and let some hot air blow down the joint. So long as you hold near the tenon with your naked hand you are not likely to overheat the plastic. After you have let things cool down you will probably find that the parts go together without being too loose. If this doesn't work more drastic action involves more heat and forcing a tapered object (like a chisel handle) into the bore to expand the plastic slightly. If you overdo the heat the edge of the tenon will soften and form a bead. You will then have to reduce it with fine abrasive paper but you will ultimately achieve your goal.
Plastic joints need to be kept clean, both the socket and the tenon, inside and out, need attention. Use warm water with detergent, or alcohol (after-shave). NOT ACETONE (nail varnish remover). Afterwards the joint should be sparingly lubricated. I am suspicious of some of the supplied creams and I do not advise Vaseline (petroleum jelly). My suggestion is the sort of white lipstick used to reduce the affect of winter weather on the lips. Always replace the joint caps (and make sure that they too are clean) with a straight push, and remove them the same way. Twisting sweeps up the lubricant into ridges. Wipe a joint clean at the first sign of grittiness and re-lubricate. Never apply lubricant without first cleaning the parts. Do not idly twiddle a joint. If you do it will eventually wear loose, or it will overheat and weld itself solid.
If you are having trouble with a wooden bass cap, particularly one from Moeck, be very careful not to grip it round the thin wood at the socket. It is surprisingly flexible and you can easily work against yourself. Grip the solid top most part.
I have prepared a help page, with illustration, about the springs on Yamaha Plastic Bass keys (YRB302B). Breakage is fairly common (mainly due to an error in manufacture). The tenors are similar, but do not seem to be so prone to broken springs. This could be seen as a comment on the frequency of bottom C's compared with other notes. These springs are not too difficult to replace. Click here for the self help guide.
Loose blocks are common with old and infrequently used large recorders. Do not panic or fret! They can be pushed or knocked back with a length of suitable wood. You can use the handle of a hammer or a sweeping brush if nothing else is handy. If the block is very loose, and will not hold its position for playing, drop a small amount of water down the bore onto the flat face by the window. Shake it out after about half a minute and wait a minute or two for it to take effect. With normal playing and storage in a case or bag the recorder will probably give no more trouble.
I have several times been presented with large recorders to repair. They make strange sounds and some notes do not work at all. Frequently I am told that the keys are at fault. The answer is embarrassingly simple! If you should experience these problems, for goodness sake look down your recorder before throwing a fit and calling out troops for help. You are likely to discover just where that missing grease pot went, or what happened to the cleaning mop that you couldn't find to pack away last time you played, and were distracted halfway through putting your recorder away.
I am concerned only with 'English', otherwise known as 'Baroque' fingering. 'German' fingering, invented in the 1920's exists. It is not used for serious study. You can find more information here. Other fingering schemes are of minority interest. I have copied some, together with some modern ones, here.
Fingerings are not 'set in stone'. The advanced player builds a large repertoire for special purposes. If you are a beginner though, you should follow the chart in your tutor book, or the one provided with your instrument. Pay particular attention to (on the descant instrument) both F naturals and low B flat, in particular.
Bass recorders come in many styles and the fingering and number of keys is not standardized. More recent models tend to need 'shorter' fingerings than those on smaller recorders. For example, low E flat may not need the first finger of the right hand. You will have to exercise judgement and listen carefully to the pitch of the notes you play, adding or subtracting fingers to optimise the intonation, particularly in slow passages. The high D natural on many basses, particularly old models with few keys, may seem impossible. The fix for this is almost always to close the foot joint key (right little finger). I do not understand why this valuable alternative is not better known. I have yet to see it in a specialized list of alternative bass recorder fingerings. You can find some suggestions for using the double key at hole IV on some old German basses here.
I am frequently asked for advice on "left handed" or "right hand at the top" recorder playing. My answer is often unpalatable, "It is a serious error and should not be done." A left handed person is not disadvantaged. However, if as a tutor, you encourage or permit them to play with their left hand at the low end of their instrument you are effectively disabling them. Its a sobering thought.
The reason for this is that although people are not made with left or right handed advantages in respect to recorder playing, the instruments are. Furthermore, all other wind instruments are made to be played with the right hand at the bottom. If you play the recorder with the left hand at the bottom you suffer several disadvantages, inability to play all the notes in tune, inability to play large recorders, inability to play other woodwind instruments. Of course, it is possible to adopt two styles of fingering, one for the recorder and another for the rest of the woodwind. It is not a good plan, instead of reinforcing each other, the different patterns conflict and seriously limit achievement.
Most people come into contact with the recorder for the first time as a child at school or as a teacher. Unfortunately, most recorder teaching is done by non-specialists, often by non-players. There is a lack of background knowledge and appreciation of all the implications of the "training" being given. Indeed, it seems that the recorder world is dominated by amateurism at all levels... Do not submit to the child who maintains that they can "do it better" the other way up. It really is wrong, and it really does matter. In some ways it is unfortunate that descant recorders with moveable foot joints have become the standard good quality model and two piece instruments are relatively rare and regarded as inferior. When I started playing, in the early 1940's, only the excellent and very high priced Dolmetsch model had the moveable foot. It was obvious to everyone that recorders had to be played with the right hand at the bottom.
"Right hand at the top" recorder playing is a very short road leading to a very limited achievement, and should be discouraged and corrected as early as possible. If you are teaching yourself, or guiding others with the aid of a book, make very sure that you do not corrupt the facts. Follow all the factual instruction. Left handedness and right handedness in the player has no bearing on the way you hold the instrument any more than the side of the road you drive on.
I have been taken to task over the above comments, which some have described as 'harsh'. I regard the word as inappropriate as I do not invoke any sanctions. (The rest of the world does, however!) There are times when 'No' and 'Don't do that.' are the correct response from a teacher or parent. Emotional issues should not be allowed to bias one's judgement. Going against the flow can be a very bad decision. Musical instruments are designed the way they are for historical reasons of utility and have become standardised for the good of the vast majority. (Cars are the same, and even left hand drive cars have the pedals the same way round. A driver knows that this is a very good thing though children may ask why. No one would dream of producing left hand drive cars with the accelerator and brake reversed to match.) Nothing in my discussion of hand position should be taken as applying to those who have a special, physically manifest need. They need a personalised instrument and that is the end of the matter.
Its a few years since I wrote the comments above, and I stand by them. Now (March 2016) I see that Mollenhauer have added comments that support my views, from a recorder maker's stand point, to their new web site. If you are one of those who disagree with my opinion, which is coloured by my teaching experience, you should have a look at what a highly regarded maker has to say on the subject.
(It is part of a complicated page and may take some time to load. While you are there do have a look at the other topics.)
There seems to be a trend, in elementary tutors, towards the promotion of unusual fingerings as the first choice for the production of some notes. The reasons for this are varied but include "they are easier", "they are better in tune" and "it is better for the musical development of the player". In the cases I have met I am totally unconvinced of the validity of the arguments, and the musical results of using these non-standard fingerings.
There is indeed good reason for the advanced player to depart from the "chart" fingerings when the performance of the music is best served by doing so. Non-standard fingerings offer greater facility for some rapid passages, scope for greater dynamic variation, fine control of intonation and variation of tone colour. They also become necessary for performance on the various members of the recorder family. It is remarkable how little one has to change when going from an instrument six inches long to one six feet long, but not everything is the same, and some things which work well on the treble do not suit the descant.
"Chart" fingerings have become standardized over the past seventy years to the point where they are the starting point for the production of all recorders which are not deliberate attempts to replicate some historic instrument. It is thanks to the far-sighted and pioneering work of the Dolmetsch family, Edgar Hunt and others, that today's recorder, well suited to the needs of baroque and modern music, is a living instrument and not a dead curiosity or some museum piece mongrel, the result of ill judged modernization.
For 'replica' and early models like 'Kynsecker', there will be differences. The range of notes may be limited and a few may need a different fingering. The starting point for playing these models is the maker's fingering chart. There is also an unexpected issue. Size. Bass recorders and garkleins usually have several departures from standard fingering. Even within a model there can be differences between the popular sizes. Some fingerings that will work with the C instruments will not work with the F instruments, and vice versa.
The fingerings I use when I judge the performance of a recorder, either for possible purchase for sale here, or for the alteration of intonation, are the first choice "chart" fingerings provided by the best manufacturers for their instruments. They are all the same except for the altissimo notes. There can be no other point of departure.
I adopt the same approach to the tutors which I stock as I do to the instruments. As in all other aspects of life there is value in variety, but some of its manifestations are ill-judged, some are mistakes, and some I regard as heresy. I will advise if asked, and you may of course make your own choice, but I will not promote heresy. For my further comments on one fingering in particular, click here.
TWO PART RECORDERS
Unless you have an abnormal hand the fixed position of the lowest hole of a two part recorder is of no consequence. The moveable foot joint is a relatively modern feature. I wish that school recorders did not have it. Without it there would be no 'left handed' playing. (See my comments on fingering above.) Beginners would also not be able to adopt unsuitable positions to suit their 'needs'.
Baroque trebles seem to always have had a separate foot joint. It may be more necessary for the accommodation of different hands. It is also an acoustic design feature as there is usually a sudden change in the bore diameter at that point.
Queries about the tuning of recorders are not uncommon. Some popular models do not play well in tune with the accepted international standard of A=440 Hz. (A 'Hertz' is one vibration per second.) It is generally possible to play these models (which are usually higher than standard pitch) in tune by blowing less hard or pulling the head out from the body by a small amount, typically 2 mm. Because the majority always wins the day in this sort of situation the owner of a better quality recorder is generally made to feel that they have a faulty instrument when the reverse is the actual case. There are comments on tuning groups of players in my advice on choice below. If the 'flat' players are not blowing in a feeble way all the 'sharp' players need to be persuaded to blow less forcefully or pull out a little. Sharpness is correctable by the player, flatness in a good player is not. The responsibility for tuning an ensemble and producing a pleasing musical result rests with the leader, not the majority.
Three factors affect the pitch of a recorder.
When it comes to warming a cold recorder, body heat is good. Never use a radiator, fire or hair dryer. The head is the most important part, and this will fit into a trouser pocket. Otherwise, a descant can be slipped up one's shirt sleeve. If formally dressed, an inside jacket pocket can take a recorder in two parts. Even holding the head in your hands before playing is beneficial. Temperature is very important and wood recorders take longer to warm up than plastic. Its all to do with 'specific heat' and 'thermal conductivity'. A good rule of thumb is that the heavier an object is, the longer it will take to warm up. When you start comparing wood with plastic it should be no surprise that plastic recorders have to be tamed to control their sharpness.
The recorder is not a loud instrument. Not even the very big ones can ever be described as loud. The small ones are, but the word changes to "piercing". In the early days there were "outdoor" instruments, and "indoor" instruments. Recorders are "indoor" instruments and benefit greatly from a resonant acoustic. Problems arise if you want, or need to play out of doors, in a folk group for example. The most expensive baroque models are inappropriate, they do not have the 'punch' needed to hold their own with accordions and percussion. Many players use one of the old model Aulos, brown and white, flat bottomed descants (particularly the late production models that may be regarded as being slightly flat). These are ideal, and I do not know of any expensive model that is better for the purpose. However, the wooden Dream models from Mollenhauer work well and have a lot more class. Wind, outdoors, or a breeze from an indoor fan can have a bad effect on the way a recorder plays. A recorder works best in still air.
The harder you blow the louder and sharper the sound. There are fairly narrow limits though. The need to avoid the sound jumping up a harmonic or rising unbearably sharp restricts the dynamic (loudness) range that you can achieve. The better the recorder, the less the range is restricted. It is possible to make the worst instruments produce music, but it takes more skill than one can expect of a beginner, and even then the results are feeble and unappealing.
There may be times when you need to practice without disturbing the neighbours (don't worry about the baby, they thrive on music). The simple device suggested by Carl Dolmetsch in his book on Advanced Recorder Technique, also known as "School Recorder Book 3", really does work. (The book is long out of print but I have copied the page, click here.) I have devised a version using plastic (not available in the 1940's). Click here for the details.
Most low note problems are the result of fingers not covering holes or faulty pads on keyed recorders. It is that simple!
Covering the holes on bigger recorders is not easy and tenor recorders can be very troublesome. If you have not thought seriously about how your fingers relate to the holes of your recorder now is the time to explore the subject. Its no good just reaching for the hole and hoping for the best. You must learn to feel the holes under your fingers. An experienced player is aware of the holes in the same way as a blind person reads Braille, unconsciously. The feel of the holes translates directly in the players mind to the sound and the musical note. It comes with practice.
I think that it is very important to be religious regarding the covering of the lowest hole(s) for the low F natural on the descant (low B flat on the treble). While the prime purpose of this is to play the note in tune it also produces a lovely smooth toned note which is, I believe, one of the defining characteristics of the recorder. Amateur teachers and beginners often do not appreciate the need for the correct fingering and claim that it doesn't matter and that they can't hear the difference. A useful benefit of always playing low F properly is that the very under used little finger is exercised and comes to know where the bottom hole is. The F will always be improved, even if the bottom hole(s) is not perfectly covered and the effort is always worthwhile. When the rarely used low C is needed the chances are that it can be played without difficulty because covering the bottom hole(s) is not a new skill to be acquired.
When you pick up your recorder caress it and let your fingers explore all the holes before you attempt to blow any note. Your finger action needs to be firm, brisk and confident. Excessive pressure will blur the mental image of a hole. You need to be aware of your fingers bedding down snugly into the hollow of each hole, or the recess that surrounds the small holes that cannot be felt directly. Somewhere, a long time ago, I read the comment that at first one fingers grope, them drum and finally dance on the holes. Even in slow music your finger action needs to be quick so that the change from one note to another is instantaneous. If the instrument is strange, get to know it by playing slowly down it from the thumb and one finger note, adding another finger and then another, to make three fingers. Do not move from one note to the next unless the sound is strong and resonant. Miss four fingers (always a nasty, crude, sound) but go on to five, then six, and finally add the little finger.
Try trilling while not blowing the recorder. With good finger action the drumming of your finger on a hole will have a musical pitch that you can hear when you are not blowing. The 'pitter patter' of your fingers on the holes excites to air in the recorder and brings it to life. If it doesn't you are squeezing onto the hole instead of dropping onto it and you should do your best to improve your finger action. Brisk finger action contributes greatly to the tone and musicality of your performance.
When you can finger the holes with confidence you will wonder why you ever thought that the lowest notes were difficult!
I find it quite difficult at times to explain why it is that a recorder "will not play" certain notes, usually the ones above G on the descant (C on the treble). The unfortunate truth is that without human intervention it will play nothing. In the same way that we have CD players there have to be recorder players. The player piano with phantom key action is now an instrument of the past, there never was a "player recorder".
Click here for a collection of my thoughts on tone production and top notes in particular. It has turned out to be a fairly long dissertation!
All recorders have a tendency to 'clog' during playing. Unfortunately, high quality wooden recorders are rather more prone to the trouble than the bland cheap models. Water droplets collect in the windway and disrupt the air flow. Various words are used to describe the effect on the sound, 'hoarse' is a favourite one. The sound becomes weak and the tone has to be 'nursed' otherwise it shrieks or disappears altogether. Some notes are more vulnerable than others. Experienced players try to keep their recorders warm particularly in the winter. The 'shared bodily warmth' so appreciated by James Bond works for recorders too. Keep at least the top part up your sleeve or jumper before playing. Gentle warmth over a reasonable period of time is best. Never use any sort of heater. Blowing or breathing into the recorder is likely to make the problem worse. For a permanently troublesome recorder see the notes below.
If possible, clean your teeth before playing, its good for you and your recorder. Avoid drinking anything sugary or milky during a playing session. The first thing to check is the cleanliness of the windway. There should be no food (bits of crisp, or peanuts!) or other foreign matter, fluff or hair. I was once handed a fuzzy toned tenor to try and didn't check first. The problem was down to a dead earwig. I'm much more careful now.
If there is a cleanliness issue the best way to clean the windway is to remove the block and wash the windway surfaces with a cloth or wet recorder mop. Do not poke anything down the windway of a wooden recorder. With a plastic recorder you will probably have to use a bit of bent wire (paper clip) to pull a lump of crud out, or blow water back through. Don't use anything stronger than a piece of card from a cereal pack if you feel you have to work hard on something nasty in the windway. And, don't pull it hard against the chamfers, they must always be extremely crisp. Its not difficult to remove the block of a wooden recorder but if you are not 'handy' and afraid of doing it, leave it alone, and take it to someone with more experience or nerve. Two tools are needed, a hammer or mallet and a length of dowel. A recorder technician will probably have a single tool, a hammer with a handle that fits up the recorder. One can tell by the sound whether the block is moving, and experience guides you as to how much force to use. There are often times when the safe procedure is to do nothing for a day or two and let the recorder dry out a bit.
The standard advice for dealing with clogging problems is to use 'anti-condens' but I am far from convinced of its value. Indeed, I have never used it on any of my own instruments. However, some teachers use large quantities of it. If it works for you stick with it.
As anti-condens is only a benign detergent, or wetting agent, I suggest that, as a last resort, if you don't have any, you should try flushing the windway through with a weak solution of washing up liquid. Say, one drop in an egg cup full of warm water. I am told that (out of date) contact lens cleaning fluid is very good too. The recorder should be left to dry naturally. The idea is to leave a very thin film of detergent behind so that condensation spreads more easily.
My advice is that you, the recorder player, should keep on top of the problem. Recorders never perform well if under blown and clogging is one of the problems that arise. It is important that you minimize the amount of water in your mouth by having a lick round and a swallow immediately before you start to play and repeat the exercise every time you have the chance. Keep the wet part of your lips away from the recorder. Do not tongue against the end of the recorder. Keep your ear and brain alert for the first signs of a 'clog' and take remedial action as soon as you can. Do not stop at the first appearance of a 'clog'. Suck back, swallow, and play on. You will come out the other side. You have to show the recorder who is the boss. It will come to love you and work well for you.
I have mentioned elsewhere that the common practice of putting a finger over the window and blowing hard is injurious to the recorder and ineffective. A violent air blast will, over time, damage the labium edge, A sweaty finger or thumb will inevitably soil the labium. Pressure on it will give it a permanent downward curve that will ruin the tone. A long nail will damage the wood. Have a look here for more, and a warning picture. Students of science will know about the venturi effect that draws droplets together at the windway exit as a result of the airstream through it. It is inevitable that warm, wet air at high pressure will produce water droplets where the pressure is reduced at the end of the windway. The answer is to suck. Sucking reverses the pressure gradients and the water can be wiped off the end of the beak. (Don't feel squeamish about sucking, its only water. If you have been dribbling into your recorder, its your saliva. Learn to stop dribbling and your problems will be over. Of course, I'm assuming that its your recorder... )
There is another side the clogging problem. I have to acknowledge the existence of recorders that are especially prone to the trouble. There is a manufacturing defect that I can spot instantly by eye, and recognize by its sound, that makes a recorder suffering from it unplayable when wet. I have rejected a batch of plastic recorders for a similar problem. Other recorders of the same model, but in a different colour, were fine. I have no doubt that an expert in rocket science and fluid dynamics would be able to explain what was going on. I rely on my experience to catch the rare rogue recorder before it escapes into the wide recorder playing world.
THUMB HOLE BUSHING.
Some recorders have a ring of white material around the thumb hole. With moulded plastic models this is a feature of their design and is a cosmetic response to the need for the thumb hole to be larger on the inside than the outside. A separate part is required and the colour contrast is conceals the manufacturing necessity. The material is no more hard wearing than the rest of the recorder.
A few wooden recorders come with a ring of something hard defining the edge of the thumb hole. In the old days it was made of ivory, nowadays it usually white plastic.
Recorders that have become damaged by playing and have a notch worn across the thumb hole can be restored by the fitting of a thumb hole bush. This is a good and economic option for an expensive, high quality recorder. I can arrange to have a thumb hole bush fitted to a new instrument for about £35.00. It costs the same to have one fitted to a damaged instrument.
This work is now done for me by Peter Worrell. If your recorder needs thumb hole bushing you may save a little time and postage cost by going direct to him via this link.
It is my opinion that badly worn thumb holes are the result of faulty and aggressive technique. There are detailed notes, and pictures, linked from my 'Top Note' comments (above), and those on 'Choosing an Instrument' (at the top of this page).
I often get asked how to clean old recorders. Usually they are plastic instruments that have been rescued from a dark and dirty school store cupboard. There is no problem with plastic recorders. Hand hot 'washing up' water is the answer. You can use a bottle brush or recorder mop to shift stubborn dirt. The general rule is not to poke anything into the window or windway, but if you must, cardboard (from a cereal packet, or similar) will not do any harm. A lot can be done by up ending the head, putting your thumb over the window the beak into the water, and your mouth over the joint end. Blow and suck the water back and forth through the beak. Leave the parts to drain dry. I believe that you can clean wooden recorders in the same way, but you must be very quick about it. Mop the instrument dry afterwards.
Do not immerse plastic recorders in 'Dettol' or similar antiseptic. The solution attacks the plastic. If hygiene is an issue (and it should be) each player should have their own instrument.
I have been told that plastic recorders will survive a session in a dishwasher! (This supported by Mollenhauer, for their recorders.) I have not yet tried it myself and I would advise caution, particularly for instruments of one of the less well known brands.
Many low priced plastic recorders can have the block removed with a length of dowelling and given a thorough clean. The popular (and very good) Aulos 205 cannot be taken apart in this way. The old ABS Dolmetsch models can have the white beak removed for complete dismantling. If you do this to a tenor be careful to put the parts back the right way round. If you force it together with the internal piece the wrong way round, the recorder will not play and it is very difficult to get it apart to correct the situation.
The following section's comments on oil give me more trouble than anything else! Please read it completely. It is my reasoned advice on the subject. If you have abused your recorder I am certain that oil will do no good and will probably be harmful. You need to play it back to life gently. Since I adopted these recommendations I have seen fewer damaged instruments and the number of my guarantee returns has also fallen. If you disagree, your supplier hasn't a clue, or your teacher fudges the issue, do not ring me to discuss it. I have better things to do than argue the toss. If you ask me for my advice this is what you will get, I am not going to change my mind. If you don't like it, that is your business, make your own decision. There is no consensus on the sort of oil to use. I had a very bad experience with almond oil in my youth and it took me several decades to grow out of the sensitivity that I developed to the wood of my flute. A silver head was the only answer. (The oil was a vector for the allergens in the cocus wood.) I am happier with linseed or flax seed oil. If you need to know more, look up the flax seed oil entry in Wikipedia. It supports my long held view that their effect is cosmetic and that they do next to nothing to prevent wood from absorbing water.
WOODEN RECORDER CARE
These notes are based on my many years of experience as a player and seller of recorders. I have given much thought to the subject, examined damaged instruments and done my best to link cause and effect. Much traditional advice is ill-founded folklore.
Some of my recommendations contradict some manufacturers' guarantee statements and advice for new instruments. I have decided that in the case of used instruments I can make my own rules. The advice below stands firm, and I will not resolve any problems with used instruments that have been heavily oiled or have developed splits other than from the end of a joint, without negotiation over the cost. I am highly suspicious over the role of oil; large amounts of it always seem to be present when a split recorder is returned. I am also convinced that when a head joint splits from the middle, towards each end, it has been played to excess or my advice regarding storage and drying out has been disregarded.
This is perhaps a good place to spell out the other advantages of cleaning your recorder after every playing session. Apart from the reduction of the risk of splitting, and hygiene considerations, it keeps the interior smooth. Some woods, particularly some boxwood used by Moeck exude a wax like substance which roughens the bore and can partly obstruct the finger holes. Picture. If your recorder feels rather flat in pitch it is well worth checking the holes and bore for unwanted gunge. You would be amazed at the amount cleaning I have to do to some instruments. Usually a wet cloth or mop with a little detergent is sufficient, but in really bad cases I have to resort to solvents, wire wool and scrapers. The build up of congealed linseed oil, applied to excess, is very difficult to deal with. It sets like chewing gum and sticks to everything, blocking holes and reducing the diameter of the bore.
If the joints of your recorder become very tight, wood on wood, after playing this is a sign that the wood is moving with a new humidity regime. Do not continue the present level of usage, you run a severe risk of making your recorder split. Do not add cork grease or oil. Put the recorder away for a while to stabilize. If you can't get it apart, do not leave it out because it won't go into the case. Remove as much excess moisture as you can, wrap it up in a duster or similar and try to separate the parts every few hours. When the trouble is cleared resume playing, though preferably with shorter sessions. If the problem returns consult a repairer regarding opening out the joint socket. Cork grease is suitable only for cork and should not be allowed to build up on wood. Excess should always be wiped off. Joints that become stiff as soon as the parts begin to engage should not be lubricated, but left to sort themselves out or be attended to by a repairer.
The bend in knick model recorders is produced by cutting a standard head at an angle and glueing the parts back after rotating one half a turn. Hidden pegs may be used to aid correct alignment. You must take great care not to stress this joint. It is, inevitably, a weak link and may break apart if the recorder is dropped. If the cork joint below it becomes stiff do not apply force across the glued angle joint.
Do not use any more than a trace of grease on the cork joints. Apply grease only when the joint is very stiff and squeaky. If one application does not do the trick, another will probably make things worse. You can remove excess grease with a rag moistened with alcohol (methylated spirits). I find colourless lipstick, sold here in the UK to protect lips in the winter, to be a good joint lubricant, and cheap. Regular woodwind grease as supplied for clarinets is generally suitable for recorder joints and comes best in lipstick form. The standard recommendation to use vegetable grease is probably to veto petroleum jelly (Vaseline) which rots corks and is too "stringy" to be a satisfactory lubricant. Remove excess grease from the wooden parts of the recorder, otherwise it will migrate into the end grain of the wood, spoiling the appearance, (oil will do the same). Lipstick stains are similar and are impossible to remove. Do not use any sticky gease (it is usually brown) on the joints of a large recorder. If you get grease on your hands... for goodness sake... wash it off before playing. Please see my notes on cork joint replacement for comments on sanding a joint.
If the cork of the joints becomes saturated with grease or oil it is very likely that the modern 'impact' adhesive, used by most manufacturers today, will fail. The traditional shellac is very resistant but difficult to use and slow to set. I use epoxy or 'Gorilla Glue' for my repairs; they have all the right properties. I also favour the synthetic polyurethane cork substitute now available.
Take great care not to score marks round your recorder if you wear rings. It is easy to bruise the wood or scrape off varnish while putting your recorder together or taking it apart.
Take care when assembling and separating the joints that you hold the recorder either side of the joint, with your thumbs pointing the same way. Picture This gives you better control and enables you to keep the two parts in a straight line. This advice also applies to plastic models, particularly the cheaper ones. If you point your thumbs together your elbows will droop and you run the risk of bending and breaking your recorder at the joint. Mishandling of this sort is the reason why metal flutes get so loose at the joints that they fall apart. It helps to twist the joint too. Generally, it will move more easily in one direction than the other. Go with the flow and do not force things. Especially, do not ram the two parts together. If they are the slightest bit out of line you will gouge chunks out of the middle of the cork. Picture Do not under any circumstances grip around the keys of a large recorder. If you do you are almost certain to bend something that will result in stiff key action or unplayable notes.
Where my advice here conflicts with the leaflet supplied with your recorder you will have to make your own decision. Oil is not supplied with soft wood recorders. Apply any bore oil sparingly and evenly. Avoid the block and corks. Do not oil a recently played recorder, and leave it for a day before playing it again. Remove excess oil with a cloth. Do not oil impregnated soft wood recorders, i.e. most maple and pear wood instruments. Do not oil internally varnished recorders, e.g., Dolmetsch handmade and the square section Paetzold basses. Do not use paper tissues on the inside of a recorder. Makers never provide oil with maple and pear wood recorders even when it is mentioned in the 'one size fits all' instruction leaflet. I am very unhappy with the latest Moeck recommendation to keep the bore of a recorder glistening wet with oil.
Mechanism will work better if lightly oiled occasionally with sewing machine or gun oil. Do not use "3 in One" it goes hard and gritty. Case catches should also have their pivots oiled from time to time, especially if they begin to grate.
Recorders with keys are quite vulnerable. Watch what you do and take care not to catch long keys on clothing or bend them by twisting right round. If you do damage or break a key let me have it for repair. Do not give it to an amateur plumber to fix. I can avoid the pitfalls and in most cases mend as new.
Try to protect the recorder from large and rapid changes of temperature. Roll bags offer good protection, but not from knocks if the recorder has keys. Cases do not always protect well from temperature change. Avoid draughts and sunlight through glass, cupboards with hot pipes, car glove boxes and boots and similar perhaps unexpected places of extreme temperature. A bag produced for transporting frozen food offers very good protection, summer and winter. Never ever leave your recorder on a chair, bed or music stand. If you don't sit on it or knock it off yourself, someone else will do it for you. Beware of dogs, they love to chew recorders.
Here is a link to some notes on brass parts of recorders.
CASES & STANDS
I strongly advise the use of cases for the storage and transport of recorders. These do not have to be elaborate and they may well be improvised. It is important to protect your instrument from knocks and rapid changes in temperature. Do not mock those who lovingly wrap their recorders in blankets or towels or drop them into old woollen socks or jumper sleeves! Old anoraks and fleeces can be a good source of fabric. A hard outer case is advisable, but this need be nothing more elaborate than a suitable stiff carton. Card document rolls and short lengths of pvc drain pipe make effective hard cases. Bagged recorders will live quite happily in a briefcase with your music. (You really do need to keep your music flat.) I have been dismayed by the sight of enthusiastic players tramping round recorder festivals with rolls of music and bundles of recorders sprouting from tatty supermarket carrier bags.
Click here for my listing of recorder cases.
I am very unsure of the value of stands, and do not stock them. My experience is that instruments left standing are all too easily knocked over and damaged. Recorders are difficult to control in a stand because the bore expands from the bottom up. Clarinets stand straight when dropped over a peg like an upturned ice-cream cone and flutes hardly lean when held by a peg slightly smaller than the bore, but recorders, unless carefully very balanced on their bell, (they are top heavy, and many are rounded at the bottom) twist and wobble like drunks at a bus stop.
If you are determined, then have a peg board made for you by a friendly handyman. The pegs should be carefully sized to suit your particular recorders and about half the length of the assembled recorder. Tenors in particular vary greatly. The board should be substantial, wide enough to be stable and heavy enough to balance the weight of a set of leaning recorders. Do not use such a device for storage, played recorders should be kept disassembled, in their cases and in a stable environment. Remember too that you will have to lug your stand around, together with your cases and music if you take it to a big event.
I have found that for quick changes the sort of briefcase that hinges open at the top will provide a handy parking place for a second instrument in a work that demands the use of two.
In short, recorder stands are suitable only for display. Used recorders need to be kept in cases. Anything left standing around will sooner or later get knocked over even if the stand is effective, and recorder stands are not very effective. My advice is to have nothing to do with them. This advice has now been reinforced by experience. The damage to a sub-bass, the result of it falling over while unattended, has cost a significant four figure sum to have repaired.
This may help clear up sources of confusion!
The site has a collection of sound files, click here.
In German, nouns start with a capital letter.
|German words||English words|
|Ausdruck, ausdrucksvoll||expression, with expression|
|Beginn (wie zu Beginn)||beginning (as the beginning, come prima)|
|beliebig||as you wish|
|breit, breiter||broad, broader|
|beschwingt||cheery, in high spirits|
|bewegt||with movement, animated|
|etwas||a bit, somewhat|
|Fluss, Fluß||the flow|
|Flzg. = Flatterzunge||flutter tonguing|
|Gang, in breiten Gang||in a broad fashion|
|ganz; ganz zurück||whole, quite, go or keep back|
|getragen||measured, stately tempo|
|H||B natural (B♮)|
|hervor||brought out, standing out|
|im, in||in the, in|
|im Zeitmaß||in tempo|
|kein||no, not a|
|langsam, langsamer||slow, slower|
|mässig, mäßig||at moderate speed|
|noch||still, more, yet again|
|Partita||suite (from the Italian)|
|schnell, schneller||quick, quicker|
|stark, stärker||strong, stronger|
|Tanz, tänzerlich||dance, dancelike|
|v.A.b.E. = von Anfang bis Ende||from beginning to end, da capo al fine|
|im Zeitmaß||in time|
|zu, zum, zur||to, to the|
|A, H, C, D, E, F, G||A♮, B♮, C♮, D♮, E♮, F♮, G♮ (naturals)|
|Ais, His, Cis, Dis, Eis, Fis, Gis||A♯, B♯, C♯, D♯, E♯, F♯, G♯ (sharps)|
|As, B, Ces, Des, Es, Fes, Ges||A♭, B♭, C♭, D♭, E♭, F♭, G♭ (flats)|
Notes on Recorders & Pitches
The standard recorder sizes are not usually played as transposing instruments. This is why I do not refer to them as being 'in' a key, but name the lowest note. The rare unusual sizes are have names like 'alto in G'. These are transposing instruments and the written music reflects this (as is the case for trumpets and clarinets, for example). Early terminology used names that related to the interval difference from the treble recorder. The C18 name for our descant was 'fifth flute'. The overall sizes I quote are approximate and vary between models and makers. (The bore shape and diameter as well as its length defines the pitch, and windway lengths vary.)
Garklein Flötlein (17cm. 6.75in.) Lowest note C written as middle C but sounding two octaves higher. Best at a distance, with lower recorders, and in small doses. There are unexpected and illogical differences in fingering from descant recorder. If you buy one, be sure to study the chart provided by the maker.
Sopranino (24cm. 9.5in.) Lowest note F written as F above middle C but sounding one octave higher. A sopranino can play many descant parts, with a lighter sound, and easier technique. It is a cheap way of learning to approach the treble fingering scheme, particularly for young players.
Descant (Soprano) (32.5cm. 12.5in.) Lowest note C written as middle C but sounding one octave higher. The sound can be rather hard. Sopraninos are usually prettier.
Treble (Alto) (47cm. 18.5in.) Lowest note F above middle C sounding at the written pitch. Many second descant parts can be played on the treble, transposing an octave up. This can be easier and produces a richer sound.
Tenor (64cm. 25.5in.) Lowest note middle C sounding at the written pitch. Treble parts can provide an interesting challenge for players who feel they are under stretched in a group.
Bass (96cm. 38in.) Lowest note F written just below the bass staff, but sounding one octave higher. Solo music for the treble is a good source of recreational music, and much may be performed. The sound is an octave down. Do not neglect to play from the treble clef at the true pitch as well, tenor parts provide not too difficult a challenge. There are several styles of bass recorder. I have produced a page of details .
It is common for descant and sopranino music to have a small 8 added to the top of the treble (G) clef to indicate the octave transposition upwards. Similarly the bass (F) clef often has an 8 added.
Great Bass (Contra -Bass) Lowest note C (128cm. 51in.) sounding an octave below middle C.
Sub-Bass (Sub-Contra-Bass) (192cm. 76in.) Lowest note F sounding a twelfth below middle C.
Music dedicated to the very big recorders is rare, so here are some pointers for using them to play other material.
A Great Bass is usually able to play all the notes in a Bass part. Some extra high note fingerings may need to be learnt. but usually work well. A Great Bass may be an advantage on a Bass part because it is able to descend a fourth lower. Places where the music goes up when you feel it ought to go down can usually be re-interpreted at sight.
Consort music can be played an octave down when a Great Bass and a Sub-Bass are available. The Descant and Treble lines are played on the Tenor and Bass. The Bass being played as a Treble, reading the treble clef, and producing notes an octave lower. The Tenor and Bass lines are played on the Great Bass and Sub-Bass. The result is that instead of the highest part sounding an octave up, it is played at written pitch, and the other parts are sounded an octave down. The result can be very pleasing (and more acceptable to close neighbours).
There are cunning plans for coping with unusual parts but I feel that it is best to be aware of the real notes by learning the clefs and the notes on each instrument. This way all manner of music may be approached. One needs to be conversant with the C scheme and F scheme of fingering and the two common clefs, G treble and F bass. Everything can be give or take an octave, or two. Do not be tempted to produce personal transposed versions, for example, treble fingered as descant. Such strategies will limit your repertoire and enjoyment. Solve problems by learning where the key note of the piece is, both on the page, and on your instrument, and learn some scales. Your inner ear will guide you once you get started.
A few thoughts on these essential but misunderstood and maltreated items!
Every instrumental musician needs a stand. Avoid the injury to ego and physique suffered by Hoffnung's maestro (illustrated in 'Hoffnung's Musical Chairs') by heeding the following advice. These instructions will work for the models which give users trouble. There are a few models which only fold in one way, but note the advice about the screws.
Metal stands are generally supplied tidily folded when new, unfold as below. If yours is unfolded, this is the way to fold it.