Facts About the Recorder Instrument

Updated February 21, 2017

The recorder is an end-blown tubular flute that belongs to the woodwind family, according to These instruments typically are made of plastic, wood or even ivory. The recorder dates back to medieval times, according to However, this instrument remains popular today because of its many outstanding attributes.


The recorder dates back to the 13th century, according to In England, King Henry VIII actually owned 76 of these instruments at the time of this death in 1547. Popular Baroque-era composers such as Johann Sebastian Bach also used the recorder in their work. Early recorders became popular as an accompaniment to other recorders and soft-sounding instruments and eventually began mostly being used as solo instruments in the 1600s. The popularity of this instrument, however, waned during the 19th century when large concert halls arose and the generally quiet recorder became unsuitable for these great spaces. The more expensive transverse flutes, which were louder and had a wider range of pitches, replaced recorders in orchestras after about 1750. In the early 20th century, however, a British musician by the name of Arnold Dolmetsch revived the recorder.


The recorder usually has about seven finger holes and one thumb hole. An individual can play the recorder by blowing into the mouthpiece and moving his or her fingers over the finger holes to create various pitches. The two lower holes typically are smaller than the rest and sit beside each other so the instrument player can cover them with a small finger, according to By blowing into the slot at the mouthpiece, the player can produce a note because he or she has forced air against the hard edge called the labium.


The recorder family has six members, which include the sopranino, soprano, alto, tenor, bass and contrabass. The smallest size results in the highest pitch, while the larger instrument produces the lowest pitch. Terms such as the "descant recorder"--which refers to the soprano recorder--and the "treble recorder"--which refers to the alto recorder--also are known in Great Britain.


A recorder instrument player should keep this instrument out of extreme temperatures, according to Recorders also should not remain in direct sunlight or airtight containers. Otherwise, these conditions will warp a plastic recorder or leach the wax out of a wooden instrument. It's also wise to treat the recorder's joints with cork grease to avoid sticking. When playing the instrument, individuals additionally should avoid blowing too hard to avoid ruining the high register, and they should dry the mouthpiece after playing.


The recorder remains popular because it is generally inexpensive, very portable and easy to learn. Many schools use this instrument for teaching students about general music. The recorder also has closely spaced finger holes, which are appropriate for young children's smaller fingers. Classroom instructors most commonly use the soprano recorder, according to Common beginner recorder songs include, "Mary Had a Little Lamb" and "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star."

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About the Author

YaShekia King, of Indianapolis, began writing professionally in 2003. Her work has appeared in several publications including the "South Bend Tribune" and "Clouds Across the Stars," an international book. She also is a licensed Realtor and clinical certified dental assistant. King holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from Ball State University.