This section gives advice on the following topics:
We hope you have spent a little time reading about how to hold the recorder and how to feel comfortable handling and blowing into it. If you have missed that section go to First Things First.
The note we are starting with, B natural on the descant (soprano) recorder, lies on the middle line of the treble clef. We have added the description natural, although in common usage one could call it just B, except in Germany where B is B flat and H is B natural. This is why Bach could express his name musically - B flat (B), A, C, B natural (H).
If your computer has 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 B natural is written 0 1. The alternative fingering for B 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 (for more information look up 'Kármán trail' in the Dolmetsch dictionary). 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' (to rhyme with 'cup'), the tongue draws back from the teeth and air escapes 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;
When you first play an exercise you cannot know what is going to happen. Notes may not sound or might squeak, 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.