How to Play Songs on the Recorder

Written by kelly schaub
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How to Play Songs on the Recorder
Plastic Recorder (Photo by Susan Trigg)

The recorder is an old instrument in the woodwinds family. The sound comes from the flow of your breath through the instrument. Finger placement on the holes varies the pitch of the sound through the pipe by changing the distance the sound has to travel. This article will give you the basic steps for proper finger placement, proper breath flow through the instrument and finger patterns for one octave of notes. These eight notes can be played in infinite combinations to produce songs. This article provides one practice song.

Skill level:
Moderately Challenging

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    Hand Position

  1. 1

    Hold the recorder with your left hand on top and your right hand at the bottom. Hold it with both hands. Rest the recorder on your right thumb, placed behind your second finger (fifth hole). Hold the instrument gently and think of balancing and supporting, not grabbing.

    How to Play Songs on the Recorder
    Correct position of hands (unknown photographer)
  2. 2

    Cover the thumb hole, the one in the back, with your left thumb at a 45-degree angle to the recorder. Cover the other recorder holes, on the front, with the pads of your fingers. Your fingers should be slightly curved and always relaxed.

    How to Play Songs on the Recorder
    Correct position of hands in back (unknown photographer)
  3. 3

    Keep any fingers not actively blocking a hole slightly above, but not touching, their holes. Don't stick unused fingers way up in the air, or they'll be too far away to make the next note. Raise and lower your fingers in small movements.

  4. 4

    Don't move your hands and wrists, only your fingertips. Your arms and elbows should be relaxed and raised slightly away from your body. Keep your shoulders relaxed and down.

    Breath Control and Tone

  1. 1

    Place the recorder mouthpiece between your lips and in front of your teeth. Gently bring the corners of your mouth forward to touch the mouthpiece. Don't grip the mouthpiece or your lips will get tired. Relax your lips, face, jaw and throat.

  2. 2

    Use your diaphragm (your belly) to inhale, without raising your shoulders. Then exhale into the mouthpiece. Gentle is the word with a recorder. Play softly. Touch the mouthpiece with your tongue at the beginning of each note, as though saying "daaa."

  3. 3

    Let your breath flow in a gentle and steady stream. When you run low on breath, take another. Don't forget, you need to breathe!

  4. 4

    Avoid squeaking. This happens when you overblow, causing the pitch to sharpen and the tone to become coarse. Underblowing is also a problem. This causes your pitch to go flat and the tone to become weak. The correct amount of breath pressure necessary to produce good tone requires practice, experimentation and time. Be patient--no one learns a new instrument overnight!

    Play a Song

  1. 1

    Place your fingers as shown on the chart. Dark circles show covered holes, empty circles show uncovered holes. The finger placements shown represent one octave in the key of C. The notes are shown lowest key to highest: Middle C, D, E, F, G, A, B, alternate B fingering, upper C

    How to Play Songs on the Recorder
    Finger placement chart (from Aulos Recorders instruction guide)
  2. 2

    Play a simple one-octave tune, "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star." Each word has a note, and each syllable is played. For example, you play the lower C twice for the first word "Twinkle." Play the notes in this order: C C G G A A G Twinkle, twinkle little star F F E E D D C How I wonder what you are G G F F E E D Up above the world so high G G F F E E D Like a diamond in the sky C C G G A A G Twinkle, twinkle little star FF EE DD C How I wonder what you are

  3. 3

    After playing, dry the interior of the instrument with a swab. Wipe down the outside with a lint-free cloth. The recorder should be taken apart and washed occasionally with mild soap in warm water, rinsed and dried.

Tips and warnings

  • You can purchase a thumb rest for your recorder to correctly place and relax your right hand, and to help support the recorder.
  • You can minimise the accumulation of moisture inside the instrument--from condensation of your breath--by warming the instrument before playing and by keeping your mouth as dry as possible.
  • Play the instrument only at room temperature. Warm the instrument against your body first if necessary.
  • Your recorder may sound "clogged" after playing for while because of condensation accumulated in the windway. The clogged sound can be remedied by rapidly sucking in your breath while playing, or by removing the head joint, closing off its lower end with the palm of your hand, and blowing out the moisture.

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