The History of the Recorder Musical Instrument

The recorder is a woodwind instrument, and more specifically, and internal duct flute. The recorder includes seven finger holes, as well as a thumb hole to be manipulated by the thumb of whichever hand is placed higher on the instrument. The recorder has seen a resurgence of popularity in recent decades due to its ease of play; many schools use recorders to teach music to students.

Early Years

The recorder dates back to at least the 1300s, with some scholars maintaining that whistles and flutes depicted in even older medieval paintings might represent recorders. The oldest surviving recorders were found in the moat of a castle in the Netherlands and a latrine in Germany. Both of these recorders date back to the 14th century. Recorders from approximately this time period have also been found in Poland, Greece and Estonia, indicating its widespread popularity throughout Europe.

Renaissance Recorders

Originally, recorders (and music in general) were only really available to royal courts. This changed drastically around the 1500s, when sheet music became available to wealthier commoners, and instrument makers began to produce recorders for the public. Many Renaissance composers, such as John Dowland and Ludwig Senfl, wrote music for the recorder. This music was played both in common homes and royal castles.

Losing Popularity

By the 1700s, many composers and instrumentalists began to favor the flute over the recorder, due to the limited range of musical expression possible with the recorder. Many music listeners began to find the sound of the recorder annoying, and if you’ve heard a recorder yourself, you can probably understand why. The recorder has a rather high-pitched, one-dimensional sound that can be especially aggravating in the hands of an unskilled player.

Regaining Former Glory

By the 1900s, the recorder began to regain some popularity among classical composers and pop and rock musicians. Adventurous musicians achieved virtuosic levels of play with the recorder. Famous artists such as Led Zeppelin, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones featured the sounds of the recorder in live performances and on albums. New techniques were developed to allow additional sonic possibilities from the recorder, making the instrument more popular among experimental composers.

A Student Instrument

By the 1950s, recorders gained popularity in school music programs. This was primarily due to the easy-to-learn nature of the instrument, as well as the ability for manufacturers to cheaply produce mass quantities of plastic recorders. Recorders are still used in schools today, most commonly by elementary school students.