Most people know the recorder as a shrill instrument children often play in school orchestras, yet it is more than just a toy or an educational tool. The recorder has a rich history that goes back hundreds of years. Today, the recorder still maintains an enormous following. People continue to play this simple instrument, perhaps not knowing they hold a little piece of history.
Recorders of the past were mainly constructed from wood, yet many today are made of plastic. In fact, manufacturers produce approximately 3.5 million plastic recorders per year, according to Nicholas Lander's Recorder Home Page. The recorder belongs to a category of instruments known as internal duct flutes. Its mouthpiece is a plug that creates a shaped windway. However, what distinguishes the recorder from other internal duct flutes are its seven finger holes and single thumb hole, which is known as an octave vent.
Although it has been traced back through artist renderings to as early as the 1300s, the recorder reached a height in popularity during the 16th through 18th centuries, according to Jim Phypers' website, The Amazing Recorder. At this time, people of all social classes, commonfolk and royalty alike, played the recorder. The instrument was also used in Shakespeare plays and played by famous composers Telemann, Bach and Handel. Lander claims the earliest documented presence of the recorder in North America was in 1633.
Maintenance and Care
The most delicate part of the recorder is the labium, a sharp wedge inside the body that produces sound. The BBC's h2g2 website warns users to avoid touching the labium at all times. Once it is broken, the recorder is unrepairable. After playing the recorder, it is important to dry it so moisture does not accumulate over time inside its body and damage it. Apply linseed oil to the inside of wooden recorders and cork grease to the joints if they are made of cork.
Tips for Playing
There are many resources for those who would like to learn how to play the recorder, including Gerald Burakoff's paperback "How To Play The Recorder." To get started, familiarize yourself with a technique called tonguing. Hold the recorder up to your lips without worrying about where your fingers lay. Gently place the mouthpiece between your lips without touching it to your teeth. Whispering "too" into the recorder will produce a clean start to the note.
There are currently hundreds of recorder societies in the United States alone, according to Recorder Homepage. Founded in 1939, the American Recorder Society has chapters nationwide as well as in Canada and 30 other countries throughout the world. At these chapters, recorder musicians can meet, swap sheet music and polish their recorder skills. Part of the American Recorder Society's mission is to drive an increase in career opportunities for recorder musicians and teachers.