If you wish to start your musical journey, but you don’t know how to play any instrument, one of the best options you have is a recorder. This instrument is beginner-friendly, and everyone of all ages can quickly learn it.
If you haven’t heard about this instrument before, you’re in the right place. This article will teach you the basic things you need to know about the recorder instrument.
What is a Recorder Instrument?
Despite some people calling the instrument flute, a recorder is actually quite different. Basically, a recorder is a woodwind musical instrument and is actually a type of flute. This instrument has a whistle mouthpiece and a body with multiple holes that block or free the air that you blow into it, creating the sound.
One major difference you will notice between the flute and a recorder is how they’re held. Flutes are almost always played sideways from the mouth. On the other hand, recorders are played with the instrument facing forward.
Parts of a Recorder Instrument
Generally, a recorder has three major parts. These parts can still be further divided into various components. You’ll find what we mean by that on the list below.
The head is the topmost portion of the recorder, and it’s where you blow air into the instrument. The head is also where you’ll find the following subparts.
The windway, as the name suggests, is where the wind from your mouth enters the recorder. It’s the small hole you’ll find at the topmost section of the instrument. This hole can either be arched or straight.
Arched windways offer a bit of air resistance, which is what some players prefer. However, it causes you to lose some control over the timbre and the tone’s richness.
On the other hand, straight windways have little to no resistance. This means that you have to be the one to modulate the pressure of the air that gets inside the instrument. Nonetheless, straight windways offer a richer and fuller sound.
The mouthpiece is found right below the windway. This is the part of the recorder where you put your lips around whenever you play the instrument.
The window is the smallest part of the head joint, but it plays a very important role. Basically, it serves as the exit point for the split air, and it’s also where the vibrations occur, which means that’s where you produce the instrument’s sounds.
Ergo, blocking the window will prevent the recorder from playing a tune. While you may still hear a high-pitched tone, without the windway, your recorder is just a small piece of wood or plastic.
Another very important part of the recorder is the labium, otherwise known as the edge. This part is where you’ll find the windway. Upon blowing air into the instrument, it travels through the windway and hits the labium.
The labium then splits the air, resulting in vibrations. When this happens, the recorder starts producing sounds. As some of the split air travels through the instrument, you get to change the sound’s pitch by blocking the tone holes and manipulating the recorder’s vibrations.
The body, also known as the middle joint, is the largest part of the recorder. This is where you’ll find the holes in the instrument. By covering these holes, you prevent the wind from escaping, allowing you to alter the pitch of the sound it produces.
More often than not, the body of a recorder would have six tone holes and one thumbhole. If you take a closer look at these holes, you will notice that they are not perfectly aligned. Don’t worry. There’s nothing wrong with your recorder.
Recorders are simply designed that way to account for your fingers’ lengths. Since some of your fingers are longer than others, some holes should be closer to the sides so that you can reach them easily.
The foot joint is found opposite the head joint, which is at the bottom or lowest part of the recorder. This is also the smallest and shortest part of your recorder.
The foot joint is often detachable, allowing you to adjust and align it properly with your pinky finger. While removing the foot joint will not affect higher notes, it will otherwise affect lower notes and cause them to go off-key.
The Five Main Types of Recorders
While you may find all sorts of recorders out there, all of them can be classified into five major categories. You can find how they differ in the list below.
The sopranino is the smallest recorder on this list, and it’s also the smallest. Because of its size, often just around seven to eight inches long, the sopranino tends to have a higher pitch than other recorders.
Additionally, a sopranino recorder isn’t usually played as an individual instrument. What that means is you’d often only find the sopranino played in ensembles or along with other recorders to play soprano’s counter-melody.
Among the five types of recorders, the sopranino is perhaps the most difficult to play because the player should be able to produce full sounds despite the high pitch.
The soprano is the most common recorder out there. It’s often just about a foot long and is perfect for little children. The entire range of a soprano recorder is from C5 to C7, and it’s usually the one that plays the melody in ensembles.
In acapella renditions of certain songs, the soprano recorder is the one that replaces the voice.
Coming in with a slightly lower pitch than the soprano is the alto. It almost looks identical to the soprano recorder, but it’s a bit longer at 17 inches. The functional range of an alto recorder is between F4 to F6, but 300 years ago, it was actually at the G note.
Some alto recorders play at the written pitch, but in most cases, they play one octave lower. If an ensemble includes a soprano, tenor, and bass, alto recorders would sometimes be given parts of the melody.
Even lower than the alto recorder is the tenor. If you know how to play a soprano recorder, then you most likely can play the tenor recorder. That’s because both of them use the same finger techniques and sometimes have the same melody, except that the tenor is an octave lower.
Having said that, the functional range of a tenor recorder is at C4 to C6. However, tenor recorders are twice as long as a soprano recorder at 25 to 26 inches in length. This is also what gives the tenor recorder a lower pitch.
Lastly, we have the bass recorders. This has the lowest pitch among the five types of recorders on this list. Bass recorders are one octave lower than alto recorders with a functional range of F3 to F5.
The bass recorder is also the largest recorder you might ever find. They can reach a length of three feet. Don’t worry. Bass recorders often only have a few holes, allowing you to reach them with your fingers. In some cases, they would also have a bent neck to make them easier to play.
The recorder is perhaps one of the easiest instruments you could play, which is also probably why they’re rather popular for beginners. Understanding the basic things about this instrument is just the first step. Be sure to further expand your knowledge by learning how it’s played.
Eduardo Perez is a multi-instrumentalist with over 20 years of experience playing instruments such as piano, guitar, ukulele, and bass. Having arranged songs and produced music in a recording studio, he has a wealth of knowledge to share about analyzing songs, composing, and producing. Currently pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in Interdisciplinary Musical Studies at Berklee College School of Music. Featured on Entrepreneur.com. Subscribe to his YouTube channel, or follow him on Instagram.