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SAUNDERS RECORDERS

BRISTOL ENGLAND

VAT reg no GB 140 4633 02

The business proprietor is John Everingham F.T.C.L.

 

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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.

CHOOSING AN INSTRUMENT.
"Which recorder is right for me?"

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 Dolmetsch 'Nova' or 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.

Where you cannot visit me I will do my best to help via the postal services. Email, write, or phone me and I can usually get something in the post the same day. For more details see under "Mail Order".

There are so many instruments here that 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 additional characteristics.

Broadly speaking, maple and sycamore (white) and pear wood (pinkish brown) are relatively cheap because they lend themselves to machine production and originate in temperate climates. They are usually impregnated with wax to help preserve the soft wood and stabilize it. Pear wood usually gives a more vibrant tone with greater presence than maple. These woods are not long lasting and do not produce loud recorders. They are not a good choice for a really serious player except in tenor and larger recorders

Box wood (yellowish when not stained) comes in two types, European and non-European. Although their characteristics are similar when made into a recorder, the much more expensive European variety is to be preferred despite the frequent occurrence of knotty blemishes. In the best instruments the characteristic tone is warm and full.

European fruit woods are becoming more common. Cherry and olive are available from some makers. Cherry wood recorders are light, responsive and tend to be more 'reedy' than olive. I like the tone of olive wood but it tends to be very expensive and I am not convinced that its durability and dynamic range are in keeping its cost. Plum wood is used for some high quality recorders. It produces beautiful red/brown instruments with vibrant tone.

Tropical hardwoods were little used in the C18 but are valued now for their bigger tone and durability.

Two of these woods give trouble over the names because of contadictions between German and English usage. On my pages I have now decided to use the terms used in the German catalogues, with the English equivalent bracketed. Palisander, also known as rosewood in England, comes in many varieties and colours, from almost black to light red-brown. The characteristic tone is more edgy than box, with overtones tending towards oboe tone.

Rosewood, rosenholz, also known as tulip wood is striped like streaky bacon. Ebony and grenadilla are black and heavy. These woods produce recorders that have a more silvery and flute like tone.

Other exotic woods are used, king wood (stripy red brown) gives an "elegant" tone, choose coral wood (red orange and rather rare now) if you are sensitive to palisander, while satin wood (yellow), a good choice for a "wet" player, has a sound and appearance similar to boxwood.

Tropical hardwoods are becoming subject stringent controls. They are unlikely to affect you, but I now (2017) see CITES statements on incoming invoices. You can see the pdf of the regulations, that I have copied to my site here. If you are concerned about travelling with a palisander recorder this may put your mind at rest.

The block or plug is almost universally made of cedar.

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
(Tenor Recorders)

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 (wooden) 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 It is better for you to approach him 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.

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 do not have any contacts who are able to produce keys of any kind suitable for plastic recorders. 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.

THUMB RESTS

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.

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.

REPAIRS

I can 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. A missing beak (mouth part) for a pipe blown bass can generally be replaced by one from Aulos but bass pipes are a difficult problem. Aulos pipes (there are two sizes) are obtainable at a price, as are pipes for most current basses. Most old instruments cannot be suited "off the peg" and the cost of having a pipe made specially is so high that I have never been asked to provide one. I have managed to modify an Aulos old cap so that it takes the current pipe. Click here if you would like to see a pdf showing what is involved. If you cannot do it yourself, I may be able to do it for you. I have produced a page of notes on the subject of repairs, click here.


'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)

Some lower priced recorders have rubber or plastic 'O-ring' joints. (Picture). (Makers include Moeck, Mollenhauer and Aura.) Joints of this type are easier to produce and help to keep the cost down. They work well. However, when the ring fails you really need an exact replacement. Spares are available.


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'.

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. 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.

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.

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.

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.


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 but are no longer free, I am having to buy in and modify clarinet springs. The price is a nominal £1.00 each. 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.


The mouth pipes early for 'Classica' basses and great basses have an unusual feature that can give trouble. Click here for a pdf help page on the subject.

FINGERINGS

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 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.


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.

http://www.mollenhauer.com/en/useful-information#acc7

(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 are 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.

TUNING.

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.

Please consider the factors below and try to compare the pitch of your recorder with an absolute standard before asking me what to do about it being flat. (Nobody ever contacts me regarding a sharp recorder!) Imagine this situation... You are driving along a clear main road at the speed limit. All the other vehicles whizz past you. What is going on? Should you contact the manufacturer of the car and complain that the speedometer is faulty?

While 'classical' musicians are usually governed by the pitch of a piano, folk musicians and bands tend to be independent. If the group includes an accordian or similar 'free reed' instrument it is that instrument which sets the pitch. If it is sharp (and they frequently are) this can be a big problem for woodwind players. The tuning of a 'free reed' instruments is a major undertaking so the rest of the players in the group always tune to it. Because high quality recorders are voiced for tone and pitch at relatively high volume they are often flat to the pitch of a folk band. The most popular recorder for folk music has been the old Aulos, yellow bag, 205, often the early production that was very sharp. If you are happy using one of these with your band, and not pulling it out to lower the pitch, you are not likely to find a better recorder made of wood that will suit your purposes.

Three factors affect the pitch of a recorder.

  • Size. This the responibility of the maker. However, an instrument can be made longer, and, as a result, play lower in pitch (flatter), by pulling out. (Please ensure that any recorder that is the subject of a pitch query is free from all dirt, throughout, and is fully assembled, with all the joints pushed tight.)

  • Temperature. This is relates not so much to the ambient temperature as to the temperature of the air inside the recorder. This is one of the reasons why is is good practice to warm your recorder before playing. A cold recorder plays flatter than a warm one and it is also more likely to clog. (See below.)

  • How hard it is blown. The harder you blow the higher the pitch. (There are limits!) It is important that you find the 'sweet spot' where the recorder responds with a clear, well focused sound. This is the level at which you should play and is, in a good recorder, the level at which the pitch is correct.

    While the international standard is supposed to be A=440Hz many makers produce recorders to A=442Hz, a shade higher. The difference is barely perceptible. If it bothers you pull the head out a little.

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.

Many players try to warm their recorders by blowing into them, with a thumb over the window to prevent it sounding. I do not think this is a good practice as the expansion of the air leaving the windway actually cools it and there is also a good chance of damaging to the labium edge. A far better alternative is to breathe into the recorder through the window. I've never seen any body do this... but breathing into the finger holes or blowing gently through the bell fills the instrument with warm air and instantly raises the pitch. In cold weather it helps a lot.

It is important that you dry your recorder with something before you put it away. Recorders are supplied with mops or rods. I regularly get asked for new mops but hardly ever for rods. Mops are all very well but they have two drawbacks, first, they often have a sharp end that will damage the block of the recorder and second, they tend to shed fluff into the bore. I am beginning to think that the near invisible haze of fluff that sticks to the bore of wooden recorders (especially if they are oiled) is a significant factor in lowering their pitch and detrimentally altering their playing characteristics. As a flute player I always use a rod and silk cloth to dry my (originally wooden) flutes and I prefer to treat my recorders the same way. The cloth needs to be fairly small, and silky. (I have raised eyebrows by suggesting a scrap of cast off lingerie, but its ideal.)

Pulling out the head of a recorder (or old style flute) to lower the pitch is a much more acceptable practice than pulling out the head of a modern flute or the barrel of a clarinet. The bore of a recorder is partly cylindrical and partly tapered. Because of this the fractional change at one end does not affect the internal tuning in the same way that it would if the bore were uniform. In effect, one can regard the scale as being in the body, and the overall pitch as being in the head. (This is, of course, a gross simplification, but it serves well as a 'rule of thumb' in practice.)

For those of you who do not have a tuning meter to settle arguments I have prepared a set of notes to help you check your pitch. You will have to use your ears! Click here. (You can turn your Android mobile phone into a nice tuning meter with this app:- gstringsfree-sign.apk .) The most variable component of the factors governing pitch is the player. In the first instance you should trust the maker of the recorder and your meter (having made sure that it is indeed set to A=440Hz, or, perhaps, A-442Hz). If your results are not spot on (a 10 cent difference is nothing to worry about) and you can't hold the meter needle steady, the remedy should first be sought in addressing your own technique. Playing any instrument (other than a keyboard) in tune is an art and part of the skill of the player. Attitudes to tuning changed during the baroque period and we have become accustomed to 'equal temperament' in which very few intervals are actually perfectly 'in tune', but none of the intervals are badly 'out of tune', as they were previously. The beauty of the music should be in the ears of the player and listener. It is not in the nit picking flicker of a meter needle. If it sounds good, it is good.

LOUDNESS.

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.

LOW NOTES.

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!

TOP NOTES.

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!

CLOGGING

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).

CLEANING RECORDERS

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.

  • New wooden recorders should be acclimatized slowly, play only for short periods, about ten minutes a session, two separated sessions a day for the first week. I think that there should be a minimum session length too. Play at least until the windway exit is wet all the way across. The session length may be increased gradually and regularly over three or four weeks up to an hour or so. It is not advisable to play any wooden recorder continuously for more than an hour at a time. If you alter your pattern of practice, try to spread the load onto a plastic instrument. Exams and summer schools wreck recorders! An old instrument acquired at a recorder event should be treated even more carefully than a new one.

  • After playing, dry the instrument, especially the sockets, suck the windway clear, and leave the recorder apart for a little while. Click here for a warning picture. Cleaning rods should be used with a small piece of lint free fabric. Make a knob of fabric over the top end so that the moisture is removed from against the block. Silk, real or artificial, is best. Do not listen to those who say that silk does not absorb water and is therefore no good. The water is drawn by capillary action into the weave of the fabric. If you use one of the popular recorder mops please be aware that the end is often very sharp and it will damage your recorder if the plastic end cap gets lost.

  • Put the recorder back into its case and shut the case after half an hour or so. Extremes are harmful, it is not good to keep a recorder very wet or very dry, but I believe that it is the change from one state to the other which most damaging, particularly for the untreated woods. Most players believe that 'hot and wet' is bad, but I have come to the opinion that 'cold and dry' is worse. Keeping the recorder in a closed case prevents rapid changes from one state to the other and will help to prevent splitting. I am coming round to thinking that it may be better to let soft wood and in particular, bass and bigger recorders 'dry out' after use. Achieve this by leaving the case lid open overnight. Two factors are involved in this decision, the wood and the size. Softwood reacts to humidity more drastically and degrades more quickly. (Splits are rare, but rot and warping are common place.) It is very rare to find new big recorders made of hardwood these days. Tight joints are a bigger problem with big recorders than small recorders. The stiffness of the parts relates to the diameter and area of the joint and the pressure resulting from the 'fit' or relative size of the two parts. Modern recorders with two narrow bands of cork on a joint rather than one very wide one are increasingly common. It is a welcome step.

  • Damage to the labium edge is not repairable. Do not poke anything into this part of the recorder.

  • Do not put the top of your recorder into your mouth. It should go between your lips, well away from your teeth and saliva. When you play, be careful to keep the beak of the recorder in front of your teeth. It hardly needs to pass between your lips at all and should never be given 'lollipop' treatment. Click here for a warning picture.

  • When the recorder clogs, suck the moisture away. Covering the slot, or putting your finger along the cut of the labium and blowing hard, is harmful and ineffective. Blowing sharply into the window slot will move excess moisture to the windway entrance where it may be wiped away. Click here for more, and a warning picture.

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.

GLOSSARY
This may help clear up sources of confusion!
The site has a collection of sound files, click here.
Alternative Fingering
A second (or third or fourth... ) choice fingering for a note. Generally they are in many ways un-satisfactory from the point of view of tone but may have advantages in rapid passage work or where intonation is a problem. Although there are lists, it is best to be inventive and find your own. They tend to be instrument specific. You also gain a greater understanding of the way the recorder works by exploring them. When you find one, or a set that solves a problem, there is no shame in penciling them into the margin! There is nothing to be gained by developing a huge repertoire for the sake of it. The standard fingering should be your automatic choice, otherwise you will suffer from "options paralysis". If you cannot play a passage (after diligent practice) with the usual fingerings, work out an alternative set for the tricky section.

Alto
An "F" recorder, written in the treble clef, sounding at the written pitch. The international word for treble recorder.

Baroque Recorder
The style of recorder which is most common today. Even when made of plastic.

Baroque Fingering
The pattern of fingering which is used by all serious players, and is normal in this country (UK) and most of the world. (Also known as English.)

Baroque Pitch
This is generally taken to mean A=415 Hz as opposed to the normal modern pitch of A=440 Hz. Instruments made to this pitch play one semitone lower than modern ones. There are real benefits.

The lower pitch demands a bigger instrument. Because of this the balance of tone is different and the sound tends to have more 'body'. I never let a prospective purchaser anywhere near a baroque pitch instrument, if they want a standard one, until they have made their decision!

From time to time I get enquiries regarding recorders that play flat and have been identified by their owners as being at A=415. So far, this has never actually been the case. Recorders at this pitch are rare and unless you are a very expert player you are never likely to meet one 'in the flesh'. You will hear them in authentic recordings and see them listed in catalogues. They are not made in industrial quantities or (as a result) at low price. This immediately rules out anything with moulded plastic parts.

'Flat' recorders may be old and have changed pitch with age, they may not be played with the breath pressure intended, or they may be being compared to a sharp instrument. Age and use related pitch changes never amount to as much as a semitone. Many common low priced recorders are built very sharp, this helps keep the loudness down. There are many old instruments (mostly flutes, especially conical flutes) about that are built to the old 'high pitch' that was abandoned in the 1930's, in the UK, and many free reed instruments (ie. concertinas and accordions) are rather sharp. Other high pitched instruments may be small pipe organs and 'church hall' pianos, though they become increasingly rare with time.

Base
A common mis-spelling of the homophone, 'bass'.

Bass
An "F" recorder usually written in the bass clef, sounding one octave higher. Otherwise, a low or the lowest part, of a musical composition or performance.

Beak
The top end of the recorder, which is applied to the lips, not put into the mouth! Eye Icon, click for picture.

Block
The softwood (cedar) plug at the top end of the recorder. Eye Icon, click for picture.

Body
The middle part of a recorder or flute.

Bore
The interior of a wind instrument.

'Burble'
When a note on a recorder, usually a low note, A or G on the treble, does not produce a steady tone the effect is called a 'burble' in the UK. Technically, I believe you might call it 'mode hopping'. An electronics buff would call it 'squegging'. You can hear one by following this link.

Butterfly Key
A key for the lowest note of a large recorder that is made so that is accomodates both left and right handed players. Now that left handed playing is rare it is purely an ornamental feature in keeping with the overall design of an 'authentic' period instrument. Many modern designs spoil the utility completely by off setting hole VI ! In the tenor illustrated Hopf have done the job properly, though the mechanism under the fontanelle covering it is of modern design. Eye Icon, click for picture.

Buttress
As in "buttress finger". For very many notes which use a few of the left hand fingers only, it is possible to add the ring finger of the right hand without detriment to the tone or intonation. In doing so the hold on the recorder is greatly improved. This technique, known as "buttress finger technique" was common in the C18, but largely disregarded except by advanced players, today. It is a valuable tool, to be used alongside alternative fingerings to facilitate rapid passage work. Many players, particularly those familiar with the Boehm flute, where the right hand little finger key is depressed for most notes, will drop their right hand little finger onto the wood between the two lowest holes for support without conscious thought. Take great care if you do this! The little finger hole has a great and unpredictable affect on other notes. On the sopranino it is a very dangerous practice because there is so little room. (It is interesting to note that Boehm reversed the action of the G# key on his new design of flute, but retained the old D# action because of the support it gave. The new G# never caught on and is hardly ever seen today.)

Concert Pitch
This is the pitch of regular musical performance. It is dictated by the tuning of pianos and all other 'mechanical' instruments. Nowadays it is supposed to be set at A=440 Hz.

There is always upward pressure on the pitch standard and many recorder makers use A=442 Hz for their pitch standard. It is much less problematic to be have a sharp recorder than a flat one as lowering pitch is easily achieved by pulling out.

The note A in the treble stave has a vibration frequency of 440 times a second. The Hz unit for 'cycles per second' is a relatively recent accolade for Heinrich Hertz who did pioneering research into electromagnetic oscillations.

Most musicians will just say'A 440', or 'A 415' when specifying the pitch. It is only an issue with 'early' or 'authentic' instruments. Symphony orchestras and the like always perform at 'concert pitch', nominally A=440 Hz'.

A hundred years ago, the situation was very different. The fixers for ad hoc groups of instrumentalists specified the pitch and the players had to have two instruments to cope with the old 'high pitch' and the incoming 'New Philharmonic Pitch' of A=439Hz. My old (Boehm) flutes were made to this and, as the pitch edged ever upwards towards the A=444Hz that was becoming popular a new flute made life easier. Today Europe is perceived as being a 'sharp' market for woodwind and flutes made for the USA are a little longer. If you have wondered why you have to pull out the head of your Yamaha flute this could be the answer!

Electronic tuning meters should have put a stop to the creep sharper but they haven't. In fact, the advanced onces can be pushed up or down to suit local tastes. Goodness knows why.

Contra Bass
A confusing term, check which key is meant. A low instrument.

Cracked
Equivalent to "pinched" qv.

Descant
A "C" recorder, written in the treble clef, sounding one octave higher. The English word for it.

Direct Blow
A style of head adopted for large recorders that might be expected to be blown through a pipe. Usually its a feature of bass recorders but it is sometimes found renaissance style tenors. Eye Icon, click for picture. The lips are applied directly to the instrument. If the recorder has a 'knicked' head it is made with the usual 'beak'. If it is straight, it is blown through a slot (usually the windway entry). The head of a tenor, or bass without a cap, has to be turned so that the window is towards the player's chest. This has very little effect on the sound projection. Many basses with a cap for a pipe can be played this way with the cap removed. (It depends on whether the windway is plain or has been opened out under the cap.) Some wooden basses were available with direct blow caps as well as with caps fitted with pipes. Eye Icon - Link to Picture

Double holes
These enable you to play the low C# and D# with more security. Two adjacent small holes are provided for the lowest two fingers. It is a feature which came into recorders relatively late, having been invented for G/G# on the oboe, (hole III) where it has not survived.

Most players in the UK expect double holes for historical reasons. The revival production of recorders in this country was almost always of the double hole variety. In Germany there has always been a following for single holes, particularly for the low cost educational market.

Until roughly 1980 it was usual for big recorders to have a single key to cover what would normally be a double hole on sopraninos, descants and trebles. As a result the lowest semi-tone note could not be played. More recently 'double keys' of various styles have been fitted to overcome this deficiency. They are now more or less standard issue. There is more on this topic here.

Some makers believe that double holes are a contributory factor for burbles on low G and A (on the treble).

English Fingering
The usual way of fingering a recorder. (Also known as Baroque.)

Figures or Figuring
A system of indicating the harmony in baroque continuo parts. Small digits are placed below the bass notes. They indicate the intervals to the other notes in the chord. Experienced keyboard players recognize the chord progressions from the numbers and fill in the parts as they go. The skill is now known as 'keyboard harmony". Modern editions are 'realized' by the editor, who provides his own suggestion, generally leaving the figures in so that the player may see the composer's intentions.

Fipple
Either the block or the labium !

Flauto
Usually taken to mean treble recorder.

Flauti d'echo
I have found three reference book entries concerning this pair of mystery instruments. They all point to a single source, the instrumentation of Brandenburg Concerto No.4 by J. S. Bach The consensus now is that the alto recorder in F is intended, earlier interpretation favoured the alto in G. When it was proved that the work could be effectively played on the F instrument the G interpretation was abandoned. Thurston Dart had the idea that a flageolet might be a good candidate, sounding an octave higher than the alto recorder. Performances (and perhaps a recording too) were made using sopranino recorders (in F) in the 1960's. I have played Brandenburg 4 (the first movement) this way in schools concerts, and it does work rather well. Certainly, there is no balance problem with modern strings!

Flautino
Usually taken to mean sopranino recorder.

Fontanelle
A perforated wooden cover for the foot key of an early model recorder. Its purpose is to provide protection for the valuable metal work behind it, without affecting the sound. The pattern of holes is repeated round the barrel shaped cover. Nowadays metalwork is inexpensive and the highly ornamental wooden fontanelle adds a huge premium to the cost of the recorder. If you have ever tried to make anything like it, even on a flat surface, you will understand why. (New image.) Eye Icon, click for picture.

Foot
The bottom part of a recorder or flute.

Fork
As in "forked fingering" or "forked note". When a note is fingered so that there is an open hole with closed holes below, and the note is not a harmonic, it is described as "forked". On the treble, the Bb's are "forked" but, although the fingering has similar features, while low Eb is "forked", high Eb is not (according to my way of thinking!). You need to play them to appreciate the different tone qualities (mode of vibration) associated with the fingerings.

Garklein Flötlein
A "C" recorder written in the treble clef, sounding two octaves higher. The fingering, though very like that of a standard "C" recorder is not the same. You should consult the chart provided by the maker or experiment. Eye Icon - Link to more information.

German Fingering
A modern system in which four fingers down gives F on a descant. Still used, principally in Germany and Holland, often coupled with single holes. Avoid it like the plague. If you are playing the eBay market do not fall into the trap of buying any recorder with this fingering, you will regret it. Only 'baroque' or 'English' will do. Click this link for a pdf format fingering chart. (35KB)

You can recognize a German fingered recorder by the looking at the 4th. and 5th. holes down the front of the recorder. On the 'German' model it is the 5th. hole that is small. Eye Icon, click for picture.

Great Bass
A "C" recorder written in the bass clef but sounding an octave higher.

Head
The top part of a recorder or flute.

Historic Baroque Fingering
A variant of the usual fingering.

The most significant difference is (on the alto) the fingering for Bb. The little finger (pinky) is not used in the lower octave but used instead of the ring finger in the upper octave. It is usually associated with single holes for E and F and A=415 instruments.

It was in fashion in the 1980's but has fallen out of favour. This is something of a pity, I think, because it made the trills involving A less wayward of intonation.

Key
The device used to cover a hole which is out of the reach of a finger. The finger controls the "touch piece" which is linked by a "rod" or "sleeve" running over an "axle" or "steel" (USA) to the "cup" which holds the airtight "pad" which stops the tone hole.

Knick
German for bend, some basses and tenors are angled below the head. Now a popular feature, particularly for models aimed at school use. Knick recorders also find favour with those of advanced years. Eye Icon - Link to Picture

Labium
The cutting edge part of the sound generator.

Mute
A device for reducing the loudness of a musical instrument. Some are also specially designed to alter the tone. A recorder mute devised by Carl Dolmetsch is described in the now out of print 'School Recorder Book 3'. Click here to go my notes on loudness and a link to view the page. There are over complicated and ugly commercial versions that work on the same principle.

'N'
This abbreviation is often used to denote the sopranino recorder.

Pinched
A not very helpful term for the partial opening of the thumb hole for high notes.

Renaissance Recorders
These are based on early originals, usually fingered as modern instruments, but models with authentic fingering are available from some makers. The bore is much wider than that of a baroque instrument and tapers less. The compass is usually a twelfth. Double holes are never present.

Single Holes
The first recorders were made this way, with one hole for each finger. Eye Icon, click for picture.
(See also, "Double Holes".)

Sixth Flute
A small recorder, notated as a treble (alto) in old editions but sounding a sixth higher. It is thus a transposing instrument (qv). (The descant is by way of comparison, a fifth flute, but it is nowadays notated at concert pitch.) Modern editions of works for the sixth flute produced for the descant (soprano) recorder tend to keep the original recorder fingering so the keyboard reduction (and performance pitch) may not be in the same key as the original.

Soprano
A "C" recorder written in the treble clef, sounding one octave higher. The international word for descant recorder.

Sopranino
An "F" recorder written in the treble clef, sounding one octave higher. ('N' in my music lists.)

Sub-Bass also "Sub-Contra-Bass"
An "F" recorder written in the bass clef, sounding at the written pitch.

Tenor
A "C" recorder written in the treble clef, sounding at the written pitch.

Transposing Instrument
An instrument which produces notes whose pitches are not the same as those notated. Click here for a (long) explanation.

Traverso
The Baroque flute, or, transverse flute.

Treble (Recorder)
An "F" recorder written in the treble clef, sounding at the written pitch. The UK English word for it, otherwise 'alto'.

Voice Flute
A tenor sized recorder whose lowest note is D. It is often used (as a transposing instrument) to play music composed for the baroque flute.

Windway
The narrow slot through which the air passes.
GERMAN WORDS
FOR
RECORDER PLAYERS

In German, nouns start with a capital letter.
My thanks go to Brian Edwards for this list.

 
German words   English words
ab   from
aber   but
Achtel   (eighth) quaver
Akkord, Akkordklang   chord
akzentuiert   accented
allmählich   gradually
Altblockflöte   alto/treble recorder
Anfang   beginning
Anzahl   number
Anspielung   reference, allusion
Atem   breath
atmen   breathe
Atmung   breathing
aufhaltend   holding back
Ausdruck, ausdrucksvoll   expression, with expression
äusserst, äußerst   extremely
Ausziechnung   decoration
B   B flat
Baß   bass
Beginn (wie zu Beginn)   beginning (as the beginning,  come prima)
Begleitfiguren   accompanying figures
beliebig   as you wish
belebter   crowded
breit, breiter   broad, broader
beschleunigt   speeding up
Beschleunigung   acceleration
beschwingt   cheery, in high spirits
betont   emphatic, marcato
bewegt   with movement, agitated
bis   to
Blockflöte   recorder
Cembalo   harpsichord
Chor   choir, chorus
deutlich   clear, distinct
Doppelzunge   double tonguing
drängend   pressing
dur   major (key)
durch   through
ein   a, one
einfach   simple, single
Einfachzunge   single tonguing
einleiten   start
Einleitung   introduction
Ende   end
energische   energetic
etwas   a bit, somewhat
Fluss, Fluß   the flow
Flzg. = Flatterzunge   fluttertonguing
frei   free, freely
freundlich   friendly
frisch   fresh
fröhlich   cheerful, joyful
für   for
Gang, in breiten Gang   in a broad fashion
ganz; ganz zurück   whole, quite, go or keep back
gebunden   tied
gegen   against
gehen   go
gemütlich   comfortable
genau   exactly
gesanglich   songlike, cantabile
geschwind   quick
gestossen, gestoßen   pushed
gestrafft   tightened
getragen   carried, portato, very legato
getrennt   detached
Griffloch   fingerhole, fingering
H   B natural
Halbe   (half) minim
heiter   cheerful
hervor   brought out, standing out
Hilfsgriffe   alternative fingering
im, in   in, in the
immer   always
im Zeitmas   in tempo
Kammermusik   chamber music
kein   no, not a
Klang   sound
Klavier   a piano
klein   small
knapp   tight, precise
langsam, langsamer   slow, slower
lebhaft   lively
leicht   light, easy
locker   lightly
lustig   cheerful, merry
Märchen   fairy tale
mässig, mäßig   at moderate speed
mit   with
moll   minor (key)
munter   lively
nicht   no, not
noch   still, more, yet again
oder   or
ohne   without
Partita   suite (from the Italian)
Partitur   musical score
punktierte   dotted note/rhythm
Querflöte   transverse flute
Reihe   row, series
ruhig, ruhiger   calm, peaceful
Satz   movement, section
Schallplatte   (gramophone) record
scharf   sharp, sharply
Schluss, Schluß   end
schnell, schneller   quick, quicker
schreitend   striding
schwebend   floating, soaring
schwungvoll   jazzy
Sechzehntel   (sixteenth) semiquaver
sehr   very
Sopranblockflöte   soprano/descant recorder
ständig   constant, continuous
Steigerung   rising
Stimmen   voices, parts
straff   tight, strict
Stuck   piece
Spieler   player
Synkope   syncopation
Takt   bar, beat
Tanz, tänzerlich   dance, dancelike
Ton   musical note
Tonart   key
Tonleiter   scale
Triole   triplet
trocken   dry
Übung   exercise, practice
unbegleitete   unaccompanied
und   and
v.A.b.E. = von Anfang bis Ende   from beginning to end,  da capo al fine
verlangsamen   slow down
Verzierungen   ornaments
verzögern   delay
Viertel   (quarter) crochet
voran   before, ahead
vorwärts   forwards
Vorzeichnung   accidental
werden   become
wie   as, like
wieder   again, more
zart   delicate, tender
im Zeitmaß   in time
zierlich   dainty
zögernd   rallentando
zu, zum, zur   to, to the
zurück   back
A, H, C, D, E, F, G   A, B, C, D, E, F, G
Ais, His, Cis, Dis, Eis, Fis, Gis   A#, B#, C#, D#, E#, F#, G#
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 transposing instruments, which 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). Early terminology used names that related to the interval difference from the treble recorder. The C18 name for our descant was 'fifth flute'.

Garklein Flötlein 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. Eye Icon - Link to more information.

Sopranino 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) Lowest note C written as middle C but sounding one octave higher. The sound can be rather hard. Sopraninos are usually prettier.

Treble (Alto) 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 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 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.

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 sounding an octave below middle C.

Sub-Bass (Sub-Contra-Bass) 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.

Music Stands

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.

  1. Push both diagonal members downwards. The shelf parts then rise and the top and sides of the desk come together at the top.

  2. Push the shelf parts together, and fold the top and sides back down the outside of the shelves.

  3. Loosen the wing-nut before trying to pull back the desk. It will be difficult to move if you do not, because there are ridges formed into the metal round the wing-nut and bolt. They remove the need for great force in tightening the wing-nut.

  4. Loosen the wing-bolts one by one before telescoping the pillar, and tighten them afterwards, so as to prevent their loss.

  5. Loosen the lowest wing-bolt before closing the tripod, and tighten it after sliding the pillar down.

Unfolding is a reversal of the above.

  1. Loosen the wing-nut and lift the (closed) desk into position. Tighten it moderately.

  2. Loosen lowest wing-bolt and pull legs apart, working round in twos if they are stiff. Then tighten (moderately).

  3. Loosen the next wing-bolt(s) lift the pillar and tighten. It is best that each section should not be pulled right out. Pulling to the limit tends to lead insecurity and a drunken appearance.

  4. Pull the side pieces out from behind the shelf parts. Separate the long and short on each side. The longs go up and the shorts stay down. All is well if you can achieve this. If you cannot, the stand has been folded haphazardly. When a long takes a short up with it and they cannot be separated, that is the way it has to be, both must be up. Observe carefully, the two sides may not be the same.

  5. Finally, carefully fold down the shelf parts. Watch what happens. If the thin parts are being twisted something is wrong. You have the stand in a "Half Nelson". Check the longs and shorts put them right as above and start again.

Correcting troubles.

Screw threads are usually metric (5mm.), and it is not too difficult to get ordinary bolts in the UK now. These can be bent into an 'L' shape with a hammer and solid vice. Avoid damaging the screw thread by threading some spare nuts onto the section you put into the vice jaws. I stock wing-bolts for the best German stands, and these will often put new life into inferior stands from the Far East. Like all machinery, stands do benefit from a little oil occasionally. Put just a drop on the screws and pivots. Sewing machine oil is suitable. The bolt and wing-nut at the pivot for the desk can be badly damaged by forcing, and are never quite the same again. However, if they are taken completely apart, brushed with something like a suede brush to remove the torn metal, and then put back together again with a little oil they can continue to give service. Two or three plain washers slipped onto the screw before the wing-nut may make it engage with the undamaged part of the screw thread and hold better.

LOCATION

John Everingham F.T.C.L.
SAUNDERS RECORDERS
BRISTOL

   


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