The Recorder

The Recorder is most children's starter instrument.
As a first instrument, it's perfect as it is simple mechanically and easy to carry and maintain. It is very popular in schools because it is easy to blow. Many adults take up the recorder because of its ease, economy and the large family of recorders to choose from. There are four regular sizes, including Descant, Alto, Tenor and Bass.

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More information about the Recorder

The Recorder was known as the English Flute in the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries when it enjoyed tremendous popularity. It is a woodwind instrument of the fipple flutes or internal duct flutes family, it is end-blown and the mouth of the instrument is constricted by a wooden plug, known as a block or fipple and produces a high-pitched, breathy sound. It is not a very loud instrument as a result; it is not used in orchestras or bands, but is well suited to small groups and chamber music. The Recorder was used by the major composers of the day (such as Bach, Telemann, and Handel), and featured in the plays of Shakespeare. It is distinguished from other members of the woodwind family by having holes for seven fingers (the lower one or two often doubled to facilitate the production of semitones) and one for the thumb of the uppermost hand. The bore of the Recorder is narrowed slightly, being widest at the mouthpiece end and narrowest at the top on Baroque Recorders, or flared almost like a trumpet at the bottom on Renaissance instruments.
The oldest surviving Recorder dates from about 1400 A.D. In the 19th and early 20th century, the Recorder was all but forgotten as the modern flute grew in importance.
The mid 20th century saw the Recorder's revival partly as a result of the pursuit of historically informed performance of early music, but also because of its suitability as a simple instrument for teaching music and its appeal to amateur players. Today, it is mainly thought of as a child's instrument, but there are many professional players who demonstrate the instrument's full solo range.
Recorders come in a range of different sizes, the most common versions of the Recorder are the descant, or soprano (about 30cm long) and the treble, or alto (about 45cm long).

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The Recorder has a very long history. Its popularity goes as far back as the 14th Century. The earliest existing Recorder dated to the early 14th Century is one found in the moat of a castle in Dordrecht, Holland. The true Recorders are distinguished from other internal duct flutes by having eight finger holes, seven on the front of the instrument and one, for the upper hand thumb, on the back, and having a slightly narrowed bore, with its widest end at the mouthpiece.
The earliest Recorders were designed to be played either right-handed (with the right hand lowermost) or left-handed (with the left hand lowermost). The holes were all in a line except for the lowest hole, for the lower hand little finger. This last hole was offset from the centre line, and drilled twice, once on each side, the player would fill in the hole they didn't want to use with wax.
In the 15th and 16th Centuries, it was common to have groups of Recorders of different sizes to play together. These groups were known as consorts. The Recorders had a limited range, of about 1 1/2 octaves, but produced a loud sound and blended with each other well. This type of Recorder is now called a Renaissance Recorder.

The Renaissance

The Recorder achieved great popularity in the 16th and 17th centuries. This development was linked to the fact that art music (as opposed to folk music) was no longer the exclusive domain of nobility and clergy. The advent of the printing press made it available to the more affluent commoners as well. During the Renaissance musical instruments were principally used in dance music and as accompaniment for voices.
Composers produced more and more works exclusively for instruments, often based on dance music. Though they did not specify the instruments to use, some indicated their music being suitable for the Recorder. However, even when the composer specified the instrument to be used, the music could successfully be played on Recorders.

Baroque Recorder

Several changes in the construction of Recorder took place in the seventeenth century, resulting in the type of instrument generally referred to as Baroque Recorder. The innovations allowed Baroque Recorders to possess a tone which was regarded as "sweeter" than that of the earlier Renaissance instruments. This was achieved at the expense of a reduction in volume, particularly in the lowest notes, and a slightly reduced range.

The Decline of the Recorder

The Recorder went into decline after the 18th century. Some of the possible reasons stated for this decline are as follows: -
  1. The main flute innovators of the time extended the transverse flute's range and evened out its tonal consistency, making it more appealing than the Recorder. Also, the fixed relationship of the windway to the mouthpart limits the range of dynamics and expression of the Recorder, when compared with the transverse flute
  2. The fact that music as an amateur pastime was declining in favour of the professional musician combined with the fact that composers began writing exclusively for professional ensembles.
  3. An apparent lack of sufficient professional players; a change in musical tastes;
  4. A lack of appreciation of the true nature of the Recorder by composers; the high pitch of the instrument;
  5. The problems of utilising the full chromatic range; and a perceived "bad reputation" of the instrument based on all these factors.

Modern Revival

The Recorder was revived during the turn of the 20th century by the music of long ago, along with the instruments used to play it enthusiasts. This happened mainly in the UK and Germany. Instrument makers started to make Recorders again and the techniques for playing them were rediscovered. In Germany, the adoption of the Recorder by the Youth Movement as an instrument for playing folk tunes led to millions of Recorders being produced in the 1930s. Since then, there has been a steady increase in the number of quality Recorders available and of people able to play them.
During the 1900s, the Recorder began to regain some popularity among classical composers, pop and rock musicians. Artists including The Beatles, Jimmy Hendrix, the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin all featured the sounds of the Recorder in live performances and on albums. New techniques were developed to allow additional sonic possibilities from the Recorder, making the instrument more popular among experimental composers.

Use in schools

The Recorder gained popularity as a school music instrument during the 1950's. This was fundamentally due to the easy-to-learn nature of the instrument, as well as the ability for manufacturers to cheaply mass produce quantities of plastic Recorders. Recorders are still used in schools today, most commonly by elementary school pupils.
This success has partly led to its poor reputation as a "child's instrument". Although the Recorder is ready-tuned, it is very easy to warp the pitch by over or under blowing, which often results in an unpleasant sound from beginners.
Although the Recorder is usually associated with younger school children, some middle and high schools use them during music courses too.

How it is Played

The Recorder is played when you blow into a slot in the mouthpiece called the 'windway'. The air is directed against a hard edge called the 'labium' to produce a note. The note is then varied by covering or uncovering holes along the length of the pipe.
Recorders have eight holes along the pipe, including one thumbhole on the back and seven finger holes on the front. The lowest two holes are usually 'doubled'; that is; each hole actually consists of two smaller holes side by side, which are both covered by the one finger.

Types of Recorder

There are eight different sizes and types of Recorder, the smallest being the Sopranino about nine inches in length, the largest the contra-bass about eight feet in length. The tiny garklein Recorder, higher in pitch than the Sopranino, is seldom heard. Most popular are the soprano and alto Recorders. The different types and sizes of the Recorder are as follows: -

The Garklein

The Garklein-Flötlein is the smallest Recorder in the family and is rarely used by the Recorder orchestra. Being only 6 inches (16cm) long with only 3 inches covering all 7 holes, small fingers are essential. The Garklein is classed as a very rare instrument.

The Sopranino

The Sopranino produces a sweet, clear tone which carries over all the other instruments. It is the highest pitched instrument included in the Recorder orchestra which adds splendour to the overall sound produced by the ensemble. The Sopranino is 10inches (25cm) long and is classed as a rare instrument.

The Descant/Soprano

The Descant or Soprano Recorder is an ideal first musical instrument for children but has the worst reputation of all the Recorder family due to its association with massed ranks of primary school pupils playing some of the right notes not necessarily at the right time. The Descant is 13 inches (32cm) long and is seen as the normal Recorder for children.

The Treble/Alto

The Treble or Alto Recorder is widely regarded as the standard Recorder size; it has by far the most music written for it of all the Recorder family. It is the most ideal member of the Recorder family for solo playing having a soft, slightly mellow tone. It is the most willing Recorder when playing high notes and is the deepest Recorder not to commonly require keys. It is still short enough to speak quickly and hence is able to play very fast passages of music accurately.
The Treble or Alto Recorder is 19inches (48cm) long and is seen as the normal Recorder for adults

The Tenor

The Tenor Recorder is known for its rich soft tones that play out in any solo work. It is an instrument which is equally good at playing solos as it is playing with other instruments within an ensemble. The Tenor typically has a key for the bottom hole, most often split to allow both C and C# to be played. Although the Tenor is not as quick as the smaller instruments, it is an essential part of the Recorder orchestra. The Tenor Recorder is 25inches (65cm) long and usually uses metal keys to reach lowest hole.

The Bass

The Bass Recorder also known as the F-Bass is the largest of the Recorder family and the highest pitched Recorder which plays from the bass clef. Due to its length various methods are used to allow players to play the instrument more comfortably
  1. The Bass Recorder can have a crook in its body
  2. A S-shaped pipe can be used to blow through,
  3. A "knick" can be added between the window and top hole bending the lower Recorder towards the player,
  4. The Recorder can be folded through a 180 degree turn between the window and top holes
  5. A slotted cap is used to enable the bass to be played straight with the Recorder being held nearly vertical.
The tones of the Bass Recorder are lower than any of the other Recorders. You can learn to play the it by understanding the techniques involved as well as where notes are located on the instrument. The Bass Recorder is 3 feet long and is a Rare Recorder

The Great Bass

The Great Bass either comes with a pipe or it is of the folded box section variety and often has 5 or 6 keys. Due to its size, there is a noticeable delay between blowing and the Recorder sounding. Though not as distinct as on the Contrabass, players still have to allow for this by playing slightly ahead of the beat.
The Bass Recorder is 4 feet long and is a Very Rare Recorder

The Contrabass

The Contrabass is the largest Recorder normally played in a Recorder orchestra. Due to its size, players usually stand to play the contrabass and just like the Great Bass, the Contrabass has a noticeable delay between blowing and the Recorder sounding and players need to allow for this by playing slightly ahead of the beat, along with a definite requirement for more air. As with the Sopranino, the Contrabass part always stands out in the ensemble. The Contra Bass Recorder is 6 feet long and is an Extremely Rare Recorder.

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