This section gives advice on the following topics:
The seventeenth note we learn, A in the second octave on the bass recorder, lies on the top line of the bass clef. Click on the play button in the Sibelius score to hear it. Below that we give the standard fingering for this note, the fingering you would use under normal circumstances.
Using the standard nomenclature, the fingering for second octave A is written X 1 2 3 4 5, where X indicates a pinched thumb or vented thumbhole. An alternative fingering for second octave A, where the thumbhole is left uncovered, is written 1 2 3 4 5 7a 7b.
If you finger the low A and just tongue again with a harder tonguing sound you will find it easy to push the recorder to produce the first harmonic to the bottom A which for this fingering is one octave higher, i.e. A in the second octave, also called middle A. On a duct pipe with no thumbhole, 'overblowing' is the means by which all higher notes have to be produced. Because the recorder has a thumbhole, the player can produce a second octave A by bending the thumb to make a very small opening in the thumbhole and by using a slightly stronger tonguing stroke. The result is a clear A in the second octave free of any undertone from the bottom A. You will notice that the recorder requires somewhat more air to sustain the A in the second octave than that in the first octave. This is a property of all the notes produced by opening the thumbhole in this way. We call this thumbing technique 'pinching'.
The use of the thumb in the production of high notes is a technique you will need to understand if you are going to continue successfully up the scale towards the third octave. Most recorder players find the very highest notes difficult to play but, except where the instrument itself is defective, or the windway has become filled with saliva, the production of high notes on the recorder is really just a matter of confidence, somewhat like learning to ride a bike or to ski.
High notes demand two things - firstly, sufficient energy from the tonguing stroke to overblow the recorder (this is necessary to excite the upper harmonic), and secondly, a sufficient flow of air to maintain the pressure required to 'feed' or support the note and to prevent it dropping back down to a lower harmonic. You will need to learn to vary one of these parameters without varying the other if you are to cope with the specific demands of your particular recorder or of other instruments you may try out. The relationship is not constant from make to make or from model to model. Indeed, in some cases, it may vary even between two apparently identical instruments made by the same maker to the same model. One important rule here is 'try to keep the thumbhole opening as small as possible without closing it'. High notes are much easier to play if the thumbhole opening is small. Most players find it difficult to judge how large their thumbhole opening is because it is hidden by the recorder. Invariably, you can tell the size of the opening just by listening to the tuning and tone quality of the note you are producing. There are rare occasions, particularly on the larger sizes of recorder, where a small thumbhole opening produces an impurity in the tone, a 'grating' sound. Here, a slight increase in the thumbhole opening should clarify the tone. If it does not then either the fingering needs adjustment or the recorder needs revoicing. There are also occasions where, once the note has 'spoken', you may need to increase the thumbhole opening a little to sharpen the pitch of the note. In this situation, the smaller opening is essential to 'get the note to speak' but the larger opening is necessary 'to play in tune'. So long as the thumb adjustment is made immediately after the note has 'spoken', the listener is completely unaware of it.
We recommend that once you have found the correct size for the thumbhole opening, you should now try to find the smallest adjustment that is necessary to close the thumbhole. Try playing successive low and middle As 'pinching' the thumb and varying the tonguing pressure as you move between the notes. You will find a 'flat' thumb position for the low A means considerable movement between the closed and the 'pinched' position. Try to keep this motion to a minimum by using just the merest flex of the top joint of the left hand thumb and using the side of the thumb rather than the ball for the closed position. If you visualise the thumbnail as a clock face with the tip of the nail at 12 o'clock and the side of the nail at 9 o'clock, your thumb should touch the thumbhole between 10 and 11 o'clock. Make sure that the thumbnail is not too long, otherwise this will prevent you being able to seal the thumbhole with the thumb's fleshy pad. In some cases an overlong thumbnail leads to audible clicking as the thumbnail moves into and out of the thumbhole opening. It is important that you take care not to damage or to cut too short the left hand thumbnail. In the recorder player's armoury, a well maintained left hand thumbnail is considered vital (see picture below - supplied by John Everingham).
We have given the alternative fingering for middle A because if from this fingering you then lower the second finger of the right hand to produce the G below. This sequence of fingerings will become very useful when you are required to trill from A to G or to slur from G to A where otherwise, using the standard fingerings, there is a disconcerting extraneous sound as one moves from G to A. This is called 'crossing the break' and is the result of driving the recorder from a lower to a higher harmonic. This problem occurs again further up the scale and we will have more to say about it them.
Let us now play piece no. 17 to familiarize ourselves with A in the second octave.