This section gives advice on the following topics:
Bass recorders present a different set of problems to those experienced when playing the smaller instruments. For a start, your bass may have a crook, a double curved metal tube that directs air from the player's mouth into the head of the instrument. Alternatively, you may wish to play the instrument without the crook, with the cap removed, blowing straight down the windway, usually having reversed the head so that the window faces you rather than facing away from you. A third possibility is that you have purchased a bass with a knick or bent head, with the mouthpiece designed to be blown directly like any smaller size of recorder. The knick system is also available on tenor recorders making it much easier to play when the player has shorter arms, a smaller hand or has difficulty bending the wrist out of normal alignment. Whichever system you have on your bass, you will find that you will probably need some way of supporting the weight of the instrument apart from the thumbrest. Some players use a neck strap, something like that used on the larger saxophones or the bassoon. The main problem with using a strap is that you may feel chained to your instrument and after some time, the strap may bite into your neck causing a certain amount of pain. It can also lead the player to slouch forward so restricting his or her air capacity. An alternative method for supporting the instrument which takes all the weight off the player's arms, and which I have used myself for several decades, is to cross the legs at the lower calf and rest the end of the instrument in the crook formed by the crossed legs. You will have to adjust the amount of crossing depending on the height of the chair you are sitting on and on your own body dimensions. Once you have found the best position, you should find you do not carry any weight on the hands or arms and your fingers are free to move as they need to move and as the music requires.
Whatever your final position, you should make sure that you are sitting reasonably upright, with the music stand at a suitable height and set to one side of the player so that you don't have to look through the instrument to see the notes. The back should be straight and the shoulders thrown back just as you would sit when playing any smaller recorder. You should now find it easier to fill the lungs when you breathe for, as with any recorder, good breath control and an adequate volume are essential to being able to play musically.
The note we are starting with, E on the bass recorder, lies on the second space from the top of the bass clef. Like the descant/soprano recorder the bass recorder sounds one octave higher than the note you read. For this reason, the clef sign should have a small superscript 8 above it. We have shown this on the stave below. You should be aware, however, that some do not follow this convention and omit the small superscript 8. For the player this does not matter. This E will always lie in the same position on the stave. If your computer has the Sibelius Scorch Viewer and sound capabilities, you can click on the play button to hear it. Below that we give the standard fingering for this note, the fingering you would use under normal circumstances, and a popular alternative fingering, one that is useful when moving to or from particular notes. You do not need to learn the alternative fingering just now, but it is convenient if we put it on this page for easy reference later on.
Using the standard nomenclature, the fingering for first octave E natural is written 0 1. The alternative fingering for E is written 0 2 3.
Tonguing is what starts your recorder into life. Energy must be transmitted as a pressure wave from your mouth, through the windway, to the region between the windway and the thin edge, called the labium. Here in the region we call 'the window', eddies, swirling above and below the edge, generate an 'edge' tone. In turn, the edge tone provides energy to set up pressure waves in the air column in the recorder's bore that produce the many frequencies that together make up the rich sound we call a 'note'. There is a highly specific relationship between the pressure needed to generate an edge tone and that needed to excite the bore into producing any particular note. This relationship, which changes from note to note, is established by the recorder's designer and in a handmade recorder a voicer/tuner will have optimised the speaking and tuning of every note in the range. When you realise what is involved in getting an instrument to play a note, you begin to understand why the recorder is a lot more difficult than the piano!
To tongue correctly, you draw the lips tightly across the upper and low teeth by drawing the corners of the mouth up into a slight smile. The amount of tightening of the skin round the lips is enough to provide a seal round the beak of the recorder which should rest lightly between the lips. The upper and lower jaws should be held in a relaxed position with a gap between them of approximately 2mm. The tongue,when pressed between the gap in the teeth, prevents air escaping into the recorder. Now, if you whisper the sound 'tu', as at the beginning of the word 'tup', the tongue draws back from the teeth and air escaping into the recorder producing a sound from it. We have described a tonguing method that works. Later we will introduce you to the use of tonguing strokes based on the beginning of different words as well as to double, triple and flutter tonguing.
To pitch the note you have to quickly raise the air pressure in the oral cavity to that sufficient to pitch correctly the resultant note issuing from your recorder. The coordination of the tonguing stroke with the raising and control of the oral pressure at the moment of tonguing and throughout the life of the note as air flows from the lungs, through the oral cavity, into the recorder, is very important to making the correct sound on your instrument right from the start of each note. If you tongue too strongly, either by using too hard a tonguing sound, or by raising the pressure of the air in your mouth too high, the sound will explode into your recorder and the tone will be coarse and hard. Remember, the recorder is not called the 'flute douce' (sweet or soft flute) for nothing. The trick you have to master is the delivery of air into the instrument at a controlled rate so that except during the initial tonguing stroke the pitch does not waver. To end a note the tongue is placed back into the gap between the jaws. The movement away from and later back to the inside of the teeth must be rapid and cause no loss of pitch of the note.
There are many descriptions from historical literature exhorting the recorder player to mimic the sound of a good singer. We believe this means that the tone should be animated rather than hard and unyielding. We favour the use of a small amount of controlled vibrato to warm the recorder's tone, and how this can be learned will be discussed in a later lesson.
I would like to introduce three important rules for playing exercises: i. play and listen; ii. listen and think; iii. think and play. When you first play an exercise you cannot know what is going to happen. Notes may not sound or might squeek, you might forget a fingering or two, you might tongue too hard or not hard enough. You will know which of these errors afflicts your playing only if you listen and try to understand what is happening. When something is wrong, think - why is it wrong. Examine that particular point and try to find a strategy that overcomes the problem. The problem may be in the way you hold the recorder - which fingers are 'holding' the instrument and which are free to move; it may be in how high you lift your fingers from the recorder when you uncover tone holes or in whether they stay above their holes or not; it may be in how you think about what you are doing - it is quite revealing that the way one thinks about a problem can directly influence its scale. When you return to play the exercise another time, think about what you have learned, and use this knowledge to guide you.
For the moment you might like to try piece no. 1, an exercise in tonguing, before going to the next lesson.