The recorder is a woodwind musical instrument that was popular as early as the 14th century. At the time its name was coined, the word recorden was used, meaning to play or to practice music, thus the recorder. It is a member of a family of end-blown flutes, known as fipple flutes, which includes flageolets and tin whistles. The recorder is set apart from these other members of the family by eight holes along its pipe.
How does it Work?
The eight holes of the recorder are comprised of seven finger holes and an additional hole for the thumb of the upper hand. The lower two holes are normally smaller than the rest and positioned side by side so that the player can cover them with a single finger. The recorder itself is a pipe, traditionally made of wood but also from plastic in modern times. By blowing into the slot at the mouthpiece, a note is produced by air being forced against the hard edge called the labium. The musician varies the note by covering and uncovering the holes along the instrument’s pipe.
The Parts of a Recorder
A recorder is normally comprised of three separate parts, known as
joints. The top part is known as the head joint because it houses
the mouthpiece. The body joint is the main pipe of the recorder.
This part has most of the finger holes. The bottom section is called
the foot joint and it has the final finger hole, which must be
turned slightly so as not to line up perfectly with the other holes.
On some recorders, the body joint and the foot joint are a single
A Brief History
The oldest known recorder was discovered at the bottom of a moat in Holland during the 1940s and the instrument has since been dated to the 14th century. However, it was during the 16th and 17th centuries that the recorder experienced its heyday. It was during this period that music was becoming accessible to the masses and no longer the exclusive domain of the nobility. Consorts became common. These were groups of musicians using varying-sized recorders. These instruments had limited range individually but blended to produce full music. Today, we refer to them as Renaissance recorders.
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Unfortunately, as the orchestra grew in popularity, the recorder fell out of favor. This happened because the recorder was not loud enough to play alongside the other instruments. By the end of the 18th century, the flute had completely supplanted the recorder. The recorder and the techniques used to play them were fading. Fortunately, in the 20th century, there was a revival of interest in the music and instruments played in olden times. The recorder was at the center of this revival because it was no longer used and therefore intriguing. Instrument makes began to make recorders once again and the techniques for playing them were rediscovered. Today, there is no shortage of quality recorders and musicians able to play them.
Playing the Recorder: Step 1: Tonguing
Hold the recorder. Don’t worry about the holes or finger placement for the moment. Put the beak between your lips but make sure that your teeth are not touching it. Whisper the word “do”. Beginning each note by whispering “do” is called tonguing and it produces a clean start to the note. Practice stringing several “dos” together in rapid succession. You should be able to produce a steady note for thirty-seconds doing this. If you cannot, you may be blowing too hard. Be sure to breathe from your diaphragm and blow evenly.
Step 2: Play a Note
Once you feel comfortable tonguing, it is time to try a note. We will start with the note B. Place you left thumb over the hole on the back of the recorder and place the left index finger over the top hole. Now begin by whispering “do” and then blow gently. Congratulations. That note you just heard was a B. If you did not hear a note, try again making sure that you finger and thumb stay flat against the holes they are covering.
Step 3: Learn the Left Hand Notes
The fingering chart for that B note you just played is 0 1-- ----.
The zero represents your thumb and the one represents the first hole
because it is being covered. The remaining holes are indicated by
dashes because they remain uncovered to produce the B note.
Step 4: Learn the Right Hand Notes
Once you are comfortable using you left hand, you can try the right
hand holes. The fingers on your right hand are numbered 4, 5, 6 and
7, with 4 being the index finger. Here are some notes:
Step 5: Learn the Semitones
Semitones are the notes between notes. On a piano, this is what the
black keys are used for. The most commonly used semitone is F#,
which we learned earlier.
This might seem like great deal of instruction but in truth, we have only scratched the surface of playing the recorder. Practice playing Mary Had a Little Lamb, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, Auld Lang Syne, and Baa Baa Black Sheep. Once you have mastered these, you will be ready to move on to the more advanced aspects of playing the recorder.