1 Introducing the Recorder

First, some music.

This is from an 18th century sonata by Jean Baptiste Loeillet de Gant. You'll meet him again near the end of the course. A world of exquisite music like this is at your fingertips. Quite literally. These lessons will bring it to you.

Now we begin. These lessons are for the alto, or treble recorder. The reason: most recorder music is for the alto. If you play the soprano (or decant) recorder, your lessons are here.

The recorder has three parts, or joints, shown below.


When assembled, the window on the head joint should line up with the holes in the middle joint. The foot joint has a single pair of closely spaced holes, covered by the little finger on the right hand. When assembling the recorder, turn the foot joint slightly to the right, so that your little finger reaches these holes. The "tenons" at either end of the middle joint fit snugly into the head and foot joints. Your recorder case may have a small of container of grease to lubricate the tenons. Apply this sparingly with your little finger, be sure to wipe your finger clean before playing.

If you don't yet have a recorder, advice on which one to get is here.

The recorder is a wind instrument, so we start with your breath. Assemble your instrument, grasp the head joint with your left hand. Be sure not to touch the window at the top. We won't cover any holes for now, our focus is just the breathing. First, we do it the wrong way. Place the head joint into your mouth. It shouldn't go past your teeth, neither should they touch it. Now imagine you've run up a flight of stairs, you are puffing loudly. Direct a similar puff into the recorder. Sounding like this

Not pleasant. Groups of unsupervised children with recorders make similar noises. This puff is too much. Now we try another way, again wrong. Breathe very gently into the recorder, so there is no sound. Then slowly increase your breath until a sound appears. Like this

Again, not pleasant. The breath we seek lies between these extremes. Now to get it right. Put the recorder down, stand in front of a mirror with your back straight, your shoulders relaxed and your arms loose. Take a moderately deep breath, then exhale slowly. Now take another, this time resting your hands gently on your stomach. You should feel it expanding as you inhale. Take another breath, this time watch your shoulders. They should remain still, and not rise.

Your breath is controlled by the diaphram, a large muscle which lies between the lungs and the stomach. It is the diaphram which does the breathing, not the shoulders or the chest. Practise several breaths, concentrate on keeping your shoulders relaxed and still.

Now take a further breath, this time exhale steadily while counting slowly to five. Do this several times. Feel your diaphram doing the work, try to keep the airstream completely steady. This is the breath you will use to play.

Now take the head joint of the recorder in your left hand again. Blow into the recorder, using the same breath as before, while counting slowly to five. Like this

Do the same again, then blow a little harder. The pitch of the note should become higher, like this

You've just learnt an important recorder fact. Playing in tune, or with the right pitch, needs a precisely correct breath pressure. You will develop this. Now to play separate notes. Say the word "Doo" four times. Concentrate on the tip of your tongue, notice how it touches the top of your mouth for each "Doo".

Now try another four "Doo"s, this time just breathing them, with no voice. Again, pay attention to your tongue. For each "Doo", your tongue is released from the top of your mouth, like a switch. This switch, operated by your tongue, separates the notes on your recorder. Blow again into your instrument. When you have a clear sound, make four "Doo"s, sounding like this

Make sure the notes are clearly separated. Of course, you do not pronounce the "Doo", just use the tongue action. Avoid an extra rush of air with each "Doo", which makes this sound

Notice how each note rises in pitch after the "Doo". We don't want this. Your tongue is like a switch, turning the breath (and the notes) on and off, without varying the air pressure. Finally, play four separate notes, each starting with a "Doo". Each note ends when your tongue returns to the roof of your mouth. Sounding like this.

This first lesson, while not overly musical, has introduced the most important recorder skill. Your breath. This makes the music. It may take a while to get your breath happening, much longer to get it just right. When your breath is making a decent sound, and your tongue is separating it cleanly, then start the next lesson.

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