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topics on this page :: defining a recorder :: historical fingerings :: high F# (alto/treble) / C# (soprano/descant) :: german fingering :: printable fingering charts



Recorder Fingerings
Brian Blood


  • If you want to print out fingering charts go to our:

  • If you just want to check a recorder fingering, use:

  • Dr. Daniel Wolf, a composer based in Hungary, has some interesting comments on whether 'a fingering system can define what a recorder is'.

    I suggest some hesitation in defining the instrument by a single set of fingerings. Boehm and Albert system clarinets are even more different from one another than are the so-called "baroque" and "german" recorder fingerings. Further, the historical evidence for recorders, in both surviving instruments and documents, shows a continuously evolving conception of the fingering (along with all other factors -- bore and fipple dimensions, range and intonation, etc.). At times, for example in surviving renaissance instruments, the pattern appears to be closer to that of "german" fingering; at other times, the "baroque" pattern is more prevalent. One should also certainly consider the extended-range "Ganassi" fingerings and note that the last finger hole on one of the surviving "medieval recorders" appears to be a semi- rather than wholetone. So while, the "baroque" pattern is indeed closer to that observed for most surviving instruments of the late baroque, the definition of the pattern as a standard for all recorders is itself as much a modern innovation as the attempt todefine the "german" fingering as a standard for German school music.

    From an organological viewpoint, the definition of a recorder is quite generous. A recorder would require, minimally, a fipple and -- to distinguish it from the whistle family -- seven principal fingerholes and a thumbhole as octave register opening. Defining this with any further restrictions would probably soon exclude instruments that are clearly recorders.

    As a player, one of my real joys has been discovering the optimal fingerings for each individual instrument and for the particular music to be played. While a huge number of mass-produced instruments may confirm rigidly to a"baroque" or "german" pattern, it's been my experience that the best instruments all have their individual quirks, and flexibility with regard to fingering is simply one of the basic skills of a serious recorder player.


    About Historical Recorders

    Before examining particular sets of recorder fingerings we should say something about recorder fingerings and, particularly, baroque recorder fingerings. You may have learned already that the modern 'English' fingering (sometimes called 'Dolmetsch' fingering because it was the system chosen by Arnold Dolmetsch in Haslemere, Surrey in 1919 when making his first modern reproduction treble/alto) differs from the fingerings used in the eighteenth century. This is true, but it is not the whole story. Eighteenth century recorder fingerings (and even more so, those a century before) were not standardized and there are several charts from these periods offering different fingerings for particular notes. Since the player has no choice on any particular instrument, we must conclude that different fingerings are being recommended for use on different recorders, and that the non-standardisation lies deeper, with the recorders themselves.

    David Lasocki's article: Lasocki, D. (1970). "17th and 18th century fingering charts for the recorder". American Recorder 11(4):128-137, provides adequate evidence that there is no SINGLE authentic baroque fingering chart.

    Concentrating for a moment on low and high Bb and B natural (for treble/alto recorders) as being the most characteristic indicators of what the fingering system is:

  • English (Dolmetsch) fingering gives 0 1234-67 as low Bb and X 1234-6- as high Bb
  • All but one 18th century fingering charts give 0 1234-6 as low Bb.
  • The exception: "The Complete Instructor for the Flute, The Second Book", published in 1700 by Young of London has the English (Dolmetsch) fingering, 0 1234-67
  • For high Bb the situation is reversed, with all but eight of the tutors giving X 1234-6- as the proper fingering. This is the same as our English (Dolmetsch) fingering.
  • Hotteterre and Freillon-Poncein give X 1234-H- (H for half-hole) as high Bb, what most people today would call Baroque fingering.
  • Six additional tutors actually give X 01234--- as high Bb, a fingering that would be far too sharp on most original baroque instruments
  • For low B natural, it is more evenly split between 0 123-567 (the majority) and 0 123-56--

    Charles Fischer, who commented on these matters in a note to recorder-listserv, characterizes the former as "baroque" fingering and the latter as "English" fingering, but suggests that this would more likely depend on your actual instrument, regardless of its nominal fingering system, and of course, some use 0 123-56H, which is nowhere to be found in this list, but often is the best fingering.

    For high B natural, the English (Dolmetsch) fingering predominates, namely X 123-5--. The actual fingering Charles Fischer finds he has to use on recorders he owns, those that are "baroque" fingered as opposed to English fingered, is X 123-5H- and this fingering is not listed anywhere!

    So it could easily be argued that English (Dolmetsch) fingering is just as valid as baroque (Hotteterre) fingering. I have found modern makers of reproductions producing four varieties of single/double baroque/English combinations:

  • (The most common) double holes on six and seven with English (Dolmetsch) fingerings.
  • single holes on six and seven with English (Dolmetsch) fingerings
  • single holes on six and seven with baroque (Hotteterre) fingerings
  • single hole on 6 and double hole on 7 with baroque (Hotteterre) fingerings

    Remember we have not touched on some of the other cross fingering variations that are possible, but this should suffice to get you started on this somewhat arcane (albeit important) topic.

    In addition one should point out that there are several original baroque recorders with double holes.

    Professor Peter van Heyghen, who researched the list below, is planning to publish an article on the subject with his observations, analysis, and conclusions.

  • P.J.Bressan (fl. London 1688 - 1730), Chester, Grosvenor Museum:
        2 altos and 2 voice-flutes with double holes for 6 & 7
  • P.J. Bressan, Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum:
        1 alto with double holes for 3, 6 & 7
        1 alto with double hole for 7
  • Castel (fl. Italy 1720 - 1750), Nice, Musée Instrumental du Conservatoire:
        1 alto with double holes for 6 & 7
  • I.C.Denner (fl. Nürnberg c1678 - c1750) Bayern, Bogenhaus collection (anonymous):
        1 alto with double holes for 6 & 7
  • ??Dupuis (fl. Paris around 1700) Paris, sold in 1996 at Antiquary Bissonet (Place des Vosges)
        1 alto with double holes for 6 & 7
  • Th.Stanesby Jr. (fl. London c1713 - c1754) Paris, Musée Instrumental:
        1 tenor with double hole for 7
  • J.Steenbergen (fl. Amsterdam c1700 - 1752) Vermillion, Shrine to Music Museum:
        1 alto with double holes for 6 & 7

    Nicholas Lander has advised me of another example:

  • J.Steenbergen; NL-Groningen: per Klemisch, per Bouterse:
        1 alto, ivory, in near perfect condition (Bouterse, 1998)
        double holes for fingers 6 & 7.
        ref: Bouterse, J. (1998). The alto recorders of Steenbergen. FoMRHI Quarterly 91: 19-27.

    Charles Fischer in a note dated 12 January 2003 tells me that this instrument is the same as that listed as belonging to the Vermillion, Shrine to Music Museum.

    Nicholas Lander has made a few further comments on the information above:

    He asks, "Do both voice flutes in the Grosvenor Museum, Chester, really have double holes for 6 and 7? There is a colour photo but it is of too poor resolution to tell. My understanding was that only one of the voice flutes has double holes."

    With respect to the following instrument:

    Collection ID: A-Vienna
    Accession: C166, E. 98/C. 390
    Maker ID: Bressan
    Lowest Note: f'
    Size: alto
    Pieces: 3
    Length: 470
    Material - body: box
    Notes: Stamped Pul/BRESSAN/rose. Double holes for vents 3, 6 & 7.

    Rob Turner (2002, pers. comm.) notes: "The exterior turnings are not Bressan's usual shapes but more closely resemble J.C. Denner". Von Huene (Ehlert & Haase-Moeck, 1999) has suggested that this instrument is in fact a fake.

    On the F-Paris website there is no reference to a Steenbergen tenor with or without double holes listed by van Heyghen. However, there is this instrument which he seems to have missed:

    Collection ID: F-Paris
    Accession: E.980.2.86
    Maker ID: Stanesby Jr
    Lowest Note: c'
    Size: tenor
    Year Made: 18C
    Pitch: 410
    Pieces: 4
    Material - body: box
    Notes: Double holes for finger 7. Flute-style ornamentation around joints copied by Stanesby's apprentices, Cahusac (Library of Congress, Washington) & Goulding (V&A, London). Ex Collection Genevičve Thibault de Chambure. Further details (including a colour photo which shows the double holes clearly) on the F-Paris website.

    Nicholas Lander suggests, "Why not remove my comment re the NL-Groningen Steenbergen alto? Bouterse (2001) considers that the two altos from Groningen mentioned by Young (1993) refer to an alto in boxwood which was part of a collection moved to Menkemabourg Castle. From Charles Fischer's comments to you, it seems that an ivory alto from this collection has now found its way to USA-SD-Vermillion: Shrine. Indeed such an instrument (purchased in 1998) is listed as item NMM 6172 in their online catalogue."

    Also at USA-SD-Vermillion: Shrine there is the following instrument:

    Collection ID: USA-SD-Vermillion: Shrine
    Accession: NMM 9826
    Maker ID: JC Denner
    Lowest Note: f'
    Size: alto
    Year Made: ca 1720
    Pieces: 3
    Length: 496.5 mm
    Material - body: ivory
    Notes: Stamped below the window, below the third tonehole, and on the foot, I. C. Denner (within a scroll) / D / I . Double holes for finger 7. Possibly by Johann David or Jacob Denner.
    See: Mary Oleskiewicz, M. (2000). Unknown Denner recorder surfaces. America's Shrine to Music Museum Newsletter 27 (4): 7-8.

    Because visitors may be aware of other listings of the instruments we have included on this page, some of which may be incorrect or out-of-date, we have retained all the information together with corrections, comments, etc. to give the clearest picture of what and where these instruments are.

    Details of over 1,000 recorders in public and private collections worldwide are accessible in a convenient interactive database on Nicholas Lander's site where one can also access related databases of collections and makers which needs a great deal more work. Nonetheless, this facility allows one to ask (and answer) many interesting and thought-provoking questions. And through it one can access relevant information available online from the museums themselves, from Adrian Brown's online database, etc.

    Christopher M. Laspa has advised me of yet another Bressan with double holes which was sold by William Petit, 45 Rue Desgranges, 93100 Montreuil Sous Bois, France. It is pictured on his website www.williampetit.com and we reproduce one of the pictures below.

    Historical recorder fingerings


    High F# (alto/treble) / C# (soprano/descant)

    Craig Carmichael, writing to the recorder-yahoogroups.com, has proposed an interesting fingering for the note that on many recorders has no standard fingering. Carl Dolmetsch invented the bell-key to produce a strong, secure note on instruments in F or in C where the player fingers as for the note a semitone higher (high G on recorders in F or high D on recorders in C) and closes the bell (i.e. the very bottom of the instrument). This can be done by placing the end of the recorder against the knee, thigh or, for shorter instruments, a supplementary cushion resting on the player's lap. With some care the same procedure can be used even when the player is standing up.

    Craig's suggestion, which does not involve closing the bell, and as set out by John Fulton, is as follows:

    / for half-holed
    x for covered hole
    o for open hole

    The third octave G on alto is generally:

    / xox xoxo

    Sometimes for tuning, John uses a half-hole for 2, like this:

    / x/x xoxo

    For a rough F# John would cover 7 and half-hole 5 as well:

    / x/x x/xx

    The problem, John reports, was that the note was still very sharp.

    Craig's suggestion solves that problem:

    x x/x xx/x

    John Fulton also notes: trilling 7, you can do a great F# to G trill!


    What is German Fingering?

    'German' fingering (doigte moderne in French), the fingering you use only on a German fingered recorder, is a 20th century creation. The recorder was introduced in Germany by Peter Harlan (1898-1966), as an instrument whose sound, to quote Harlan, "could not be enhanced, no matter how great the art; whose essence could not be altered by any virtuosity". Harlan attended one of the early Haslemere Festivals organised by Arnold Dolmetsch and came away with a set of Dolmetsch's new recorders. Its obvious simplicity led some to believe that the recorder is unsophisticated and that the standard baroque or 'English' system was unnecessarily complicated and would be difficult to teach. This patent absurdity has led, over the last sixty years or so, to the manufacture of countless millions of instruments based on what is an inferior system. On inspection one sees that while the diatonic scale is simpler than in the 'English' system, the fingerings for the chromatic notes are just as complicated but, what one is less minded to forgive, the non-diatonic notes are less well in tune than on instruments made to the English system which is much closer to the fingerings found on surviving original baroque instruments.

    In the Germany of the 1930s the recorder was seen as an unsophisticated, inexpensive tool in music education, particularly suitable for learning and performing the 'folk' tunes that underpinned 'German National Culture'. Much has been written about whether this 'National Culture' was a political 'invention' or a genuine attempt to revive something that had been lost or had been corrupted during the previous seven centuries.

    Despite the comment made, in 1956, by Theodor Adorno, "One has only to hear the sound of the recorder - at once insipid and childish - and then the sound of the real flute; the recorder is the most frightful death of the revived, continuously dying Pan", the recorder is an important musical instrument with a pedigree and repertoire to rival that of any other musical instrument and, in the hands of a professional, it is capable of dispensing sweet, eloquent music. Few serious makers produce recorders based on the German system - and certainly, for the last fifty years, all quality instruments, even those made in Germany, have been made to the original, baroque or English fingering system. The German fingering system has never been adopted in England. Edgar Hunt, aware of its deficiencies, persuaded German makers before 1939 to manufacture in wood cheap baroque fingered instruments for the UK market.


    German or English Fingering?

    The first point to make is that not all recorders made in Germany are German fingered nor are German fingered recorders made only in Germany!

    To tell the systems apart purely from the sizes of various finger holes, the major difference is in holes 4 and hole 5 . We count from the mouthpiece down to the foot section and only consider holes on the front of the instrument, calling the thumbhole hole on the back of the recorder hole 0.

    The left hand covers holes 1, 2 and 3. The right hand covers 4, 5, 6 and 7. Holes 6 and 7 can each be a pair of small holes set side by side or each a single hole.

    Keys may be found on both types of recorder and these can not provide any certain way for distinguishing one type from the other.

    With the German fingering system low B flat on the alto/treble (low F natural on the soprano/descant) is fingered:

    0 123 4

    With the Baroque/English system the fingering is:

    0 123 4 67

    On a German fingered instrument hole 5 is made smaller to compensate for the open 6 and 7 - in other words, a smaller hole 5 is acoustically equivalent to covering holes 6 and 7.

    So, hole 5 on a German fingered instrument is smaller than hole 5 on a baroque/English fingered recorder. Unfortunately, this alone is still not enough to distinguish between the two because holes sizes are not standardised between makers or their models.

    A second difference provides the key.

    On a German fingered recorder a small hole 5 flattens the low C on the alto/treble (low G on the soprano/descant). To compensate, hole 4 has to be made larger.

    The net result is that on a German fingered recorder hole 5 is smaller than hole 4 - on a baroque/English fingered recorder hole 4 is smaller than hole 5.

    This is the difference you should look out for.


    Modern Recorder Fingerings

    We have prepared a selection of printable fingering charts which will be found in our pdf file resource page. These charts include one for the more unusual sizes of recorder, soprano/descant in D (sixth flute), tenor in D (voice flute), alto/treble in G, alto/treble in E flat and bass in G.


    Recorder Fingerings for Particular Makes of Recorder

    We recommend you visit Winfried Bauer's Recorder Fingerings for a comprehensive list of various makers' recorder fingerings.

    Winfried's lists include many alternative fingerings and trill fingerings too!!


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