It is very relaxing playing a musical instrument,like the recorder, on your own, with one other person or in a group. The recorder is a simple instrument which is easy to learn and play a tune. And it has been around for centuries. So it is very interesting to know a little background on the recorder to get the most of your musical experience on it.
You will discover what the recorder is with its varying sizes, how to play the recorder with examples of fingerings and sound and the history of the recorder with recorder connections to four great historical figures.
1. What is the Recorder:
The recorder is a woodwind instrument from ancient times made of plastic or wood. It consists of a straight pipe, 7 finger holes in the front, 1 thumb hole in the back and a detachable beak shaped mouthpiece.
The recorder was formerly known as ‘English Flute’ or ‘Fipple Flute’ because it was derived from the old English verb ‘to record’ which meant ‘sing like a bird’ and it has a fipple, which is the block of wood inserted in the end of the mouthpiece to create the wind pipe.
2. Recorders of Different Sizes:
There is a range of different sized recorders.
Here are five of them in order of size from smallest to biggest:
– Sopranino in the key of F
– Descant (soprano) in the key of C
– Treble (alto) in the key of F
– Tenor in the key of C
– Bass in the key of F
They all use the same fingering but are set in two different keys as mentioned above.
The lowest note of the descant and tenor recorders is C and hence they are in the key of C. This same fingered lowest note in the sopranino, descant and bass recorders is an F and hence they are in the key of F.
The sopranino, descant and bass recorders sound one octave higher than the written music to avoid too many ledger lines. Music is written at the same pitch for the tenor and treble recorders.
Music is written in the bass clef for the bass recorder and treble clef for the other four recorders.
The range of notes played covers two octaves except for the bass recorder which is slightly less.
The descant, treble and tenor recorders are the most common
3. How Do You Play the Recorder?
The recorder is played by placing the lips over the beak shaped mouthpiece and directing air through the small hole such that it passes over a sharp edge and vibrates in the main tube of the instrument.
Different sounds are created by placing the fingers over the holes in different orders. Each sound or note name has a particular finger pattern called fingering. eg you can start of by saying “the fingering of A is… “
4. What is the History of the Recorder?
The recorder was first established as being in existence in the 12th century.
The word ‘recorder’ first appeared in a document in 1388.
A recorder tutor was published in Venice in1535.
In the 15th and 16th century there were several sizes of recorder available which covered a wide range of notes. People played these in groups which is known as a ‘consort’ of recorders. Hence the 200 years from 1500 – 1700 was a popular period for the recorder with lots of ‘consort’ playing.
In the 18th century and after Handel died in 1759 the recorder started to decline in popularity and almost died due to the growth of the orchestra. It was found that the fuller tone of the modern flute combined better with the other instruments than the quieter tone of the recorder.
From 1919 Arnold Dolmetsch revived the recorder and is a favourable instrument with amateurs.
And today the recorder is a popular instrument for primary school children to learn as part of their music program.
5. Recorder Connections with Four Great Historical Figures:
a. King Henry VIII (1491 – 1547 and King from 21 April 1509) was an accomplished musician and noted recorder player. He had seventy six recorders plus other instruments including ten trombones, fourteen trumpets and five bagpipes.
b. William Shakespeare (1564 – 1616) was a famous poet and playwright. He had recorders either in his plays on stage (Hamlet), as a mention (Midsummer Nights Dream) or used to provide incidental music especially when a scene was quiet, religious or mournful.
c. Samuel Pepys (1633 – 1703) lived in London during the Great Plague and Great Fire of London in 1665 and 1666 and was an English Naval Administrator and Member of Parliament. He was most famous for his diary which recorded nearly ten years of his life between 1660 – 1669. The diary included accounts of the Great Plague and Fire and Second Dutch war and was first published in the 19th century. He loved music including the sound of the recorder at the theatre and decided to learn it. He also played other instruments and was a keen singer.
d. George Frederick Handel ( 1685 – 1759 ): He was a famous musician and composer and was one of many great composers who wrote music for the recorder.
Knowing what a recorder is with its varying sizes, historical connections and an introduction to sound production and method of play is provides five interesting background recorders facts that could influence a decision to play the recorder.