The Simple Pleasures of Playing the Recorder

A beginner's guide to playing the recorder, including instrument selection and fingering technique.

| January/February 1983

  • playing the recorder - soprano, alto, tenor, and bass
    Four members of the recorder family in order of increasing size: Soprano, alto, tenor, and bass.
    Jim Morris
  • playing the recorder - recorder quintet
    Once you've got the hang of playing the recorder solo, you'll probably enjoy making harmony with other musicians. Here, the author (left) performs with the Kansas State University Collegium Musicum Ensemble.
    Photo by Jim Morris
  • playing the recorder - diagram
    The parts of a recorder, and fingering diagram.

  • playing the recorder - soprano, alto, tenor, and bass
  • playing the recorder - recorder quintet
  • playing the recorder - diagram

"Music alone with sudden charms can bend the wand'ring sense, and calm the troubled mind."
(William Congreve)

I well remember sitting through seemingly endless little-girl afternoons with a violin wedged under my chin and a bow clutched in my hand, while my well-intentioned music teacher hovered over me and told me what a fine musician I'd be someday. Unfortunately, my clumsy fingers didn't ever quite justify her faith. In my frustration I vowed to give up music entirely as soon as I reached the age of consent!

I would've done it, too, except that — to my surprise — my love of rhythm and melody increased over the years. Furthermore, in time I realized that I hadn't been defeated by the music. I'd merely been beaten by a single demonic instrument. Therefore (I assured myself), I could satisfy my yearning to perform by simply finding one that was a little easier. And after a few more disappointments, I finally discovered such a treasure playing the recorder!

Said to be the ancestor of the flute, the recorder (which reached its modern form in the fifteenth century) not only has one of the loveliest "voices" among all the folk woodwinds, but is relatively easy to learn.

The instrument's body will generally consist of three parts: the head (which contains the mouthpiece); the middle joint (it has six finger holes in front and a thumb hole in back); and the foot (with the seventh finger hole, or a pair of holes, used for playing the lower semitones).

Careful Selection

The first step toward making beautiful music, of course, will be acquiring a good instrument. You'll find, when you begin to shop around, that recorders vary widely in size, material, and quality. Each will have a different tone, and some are likely to sound more pleasing to you than others. Inspect as many instruments as you can before you purchase one. After all, if you buy an inferior recorder, you'll risk the same sort of loss of enthusiasm and general discouragement that I encountered when wrestling with the violin.

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