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Dr. Brian Blood

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Many of us might endorse the sentiment intimated by Stephan Gosson, a Puritan author, that recorder playing is the first step on the road to hell. In Gosson's view this road led "from Pyping to playing, from play to pleasure, from pleasure to slouth, from slouth to sleepe, from sleepe to sinne, from sinne to death, from death to the deuill." Obviously for him the recorder would have symbolised delight in earthly pleasure; for us today its shrieks and groans in the hands of children and enthusiastic amateurs sometimes seem to offer a foretaste of eternal torment.
Nick Lander Australian author of Recorder Home Page

This section gives advice on the following topics:

Naming The Parts
How To Choose An Instrument
How To Care For Your Recorder
Can You Read Music?
What Music Will I Be Able To Play?
Which Instrument To Start On
How To Hold Your Recorder
Positioning The Right Hand Thumb
How To Blow Into Your Recorder
Making a Mute for Your Recorder

Your recorder tutor

Your tutor: Dr. Brian Blood
photo by Tim Cranmore - thanks Tim!


How Your Recorder Works
Blank Manuscript Paper
Unravelling The Music Stand
Dictionary of Musical Terms
Music Theory and History
Musicians and Injuries
Hand Exercises for Recorder Players
British vs. American musical terms
Easy Music for Children
Mr. William Shakespeare - his site
Rosebay Bass Recorder Music Archive
Make Your Own Recorder Stand
Online Metronome, and it's free by Fabrizio Ferrari
Recorder ranges, clefs and other useful information by Ann Bies
Composing for the Recorder by Benjamin Thorn
Useful Online Recorder Resource Listing
(thanks to Anne Griffin for suggesting this)

to start learning the notes: first descant/soprano lesson :: first treble/alto lesson :: first bass in F lesson

Govern these ventages with your fingers and thumb,
give it breath with your mouth,
and it will discourse most eloquent music.
Look you, these are the stops.

Hamlet by William Shakespeare (1564-1616)

As the quotation above demonstrates, little of what we present here has not been written in a legion of recorder methods, intentional or unintentional, that have appeared since the time of William Shakespeare, or, more recently, since Arnold Dolmetsch produced one of the first and certainly the most influential modern recorder in 1919.

Musical instrument teaching is as old as music itself and some of the most interesting material from the sixteenth, seventeen and eighteen centuries lies in a wealth of tutor books, books on musical theory and musical exercises written primarily for amateur performers. Those hoping to follow a professional career would have studied with the leading players of the time, by rote and by example, every moment strictly scrutinised by the master. Fortunately, the amateur's desire to improve through the medium of print has provided modern researchers with the means to rediscover the techniques of performance from hundreds of years ago without the benefit of contemporaneous recordings. All 'historically-informed' early music performance comes to us through the recordings of a legion of 'modern' early music performers none of whom has ever heard one note played by any musician performing before the advent of recording. The training needed to perform early music in a convincing way, or at least in a way that will convince other early music practitioners, is beyond the task of this method.

Our concerns here are more basic - how to hold the instrument, how to tongue and blow into it and how to make sounds that will satisfy you, the player, and those who will hear you. This on-line method is a synthesis of the experience of countless hundreds of players and teachers combined with the latest technology - live sound from Sibelius Software.

A number of users of the recorder lessons online have asked whether they can save the method to their own machine for later offline use. All the text and graphics apart from the Scorch scores may be saved locally. The latest version of Scorch allows the user to print and save files locally. In the past, we have provided printable versions of every musical score as graphic images. These are now being upgraded to print from the Scorch plug-in or as pdf format files which can be read and printed out using Adobe Acrobat.

If you want to make further progress on the recorder but in the company of other enthusiasts then why not join the many thousands of recorder players who attend the weekend, Easter and Summer Recorder Courses held around the world. Dolmetsch runs a very popular summer course in England details of which you will find on this web site: click here.

If you have any comments to make, either on its content or its clarity, please contact us with your thoughts. If we think you have a good point we will make the necessary changes or amendments and add you to our list of credits when that page is up and running.

So, let us begin from the beginning.

to start learning the notes: first descant/soprano lesson :: first treble/alto lesson :: first bass in F lesson

Naming The Parts

cross-section of recorder head section


Recorder Terms from Lee Collins Web Site

We reproduce two diagrams, the first from the Recorder entry in Wikipedia and the second, with permission, from Lee Collins' excellent web site. They illustrate the terms used to name those parts of the recorder referred to on this and other recorder sites. You should be aware that some writers use other words corresponding to the parts listed on the left; in particular

recorder = blockflute = fipple flute = english flute = flauto dolce (It.) = flauto diritto (It.) = Blockflöte (Ger.) = flûte à bec (Fr.) = flûte douce (Fr.) = blokfluit (Dut.) = blockflöjt (Swe.) = flauta de pico (Sp.) = flauta dulce (Sp.)

[a number of modern writers wish to substitute the historically correct name 'recorder' with a modern word 'blockflute'. They argue that nowadays the word recorder is often understood to mean 'tape-recorder' and therefore, to avoid confusion, the older word should be shunned. Of course, language does not work like this. There are many words whose meaning depends on context and the word recorder has been widely used both historically and as a modern English word for what others might call the Blockflöte (Ger.), flûte à bec (Fr.), and so on]

bell section = end section = foot section = bottom section = Fußstück (Ger.) = Schallbecher (Ger.)

middle section = Mittelstück (Ger.)

tone hole = finger hole = ventage (c.f. Shakespeare "Hamlet") = Tonlöcher (Ger.) = Grifflöcher (Ger.)

labium (see C in the top picture) = lip = wind-cutter = fipple(?) = lengüeta (Sp.)

[there is some doubt whether the fipple should be the labium (C is the top picture) or the block (A in the top picture)]

edge = lip = windcutter = l'arête du biseau (Fr.) = Anblaskante (Ger.) = borde afilado (Sp.)

[the 'labium' is generally taken to be the whole of the flat or flattish area from the edge forming the lower part of the window and rising at an shallow angle to flow into the outer surface of the central part of the head section, while the 'edge' is the sharp top surface immediately facing the air stream entering the window from the windway. Some writers use these terms interchangeably]

head joint = top section = head section = Kopfstück (Ger.)

mouthpiece = beak = l'embouchure (Fr.) = Schnabel (Ger.) = embocadura (Sp.)

Other terms not shown on this diagram include:

thumbhole = Daumenloch (Ger.) : the single hole on the back of the recorder

windway = wind channel = Windkanal (Ger.) = le canal (Fr.) = canal de viento (Sp.) (B in the top picture) : the channel, rectangular in cross-section, that carries air from the mouth to the window

cut up = Aufschnitt (Ger.), or window = Fenster (Ger.) : cut up is a term well-known in organ pipe design circles. The window is the rectangular 'hole' cut through the wall of the recorder where the air-reed is formed by the air leaving the exit of the windway. It is this air-reed that 'energises' the natural vibrational mode of the air column in the bore of the instrument.

block (see A in the top picture) = plug = fipple(?) = bloque (Sp.) : the removable stopper at the top of the recorder.

[there is some doubt whether the fipple should be the labium (C is the top picture) or the block (A in the top picture)]

ramp = Labium (Lat., Ger.) : the upper surface of the labium

trousers, flame, labium undercut or Labium unterseite (Ger.) : the under-side of the labium

bore (of the recorder) = la perce (Fr.) = le tuyau (Fr.)

air column (with in the bore of the recorder) = la colonne d'air (Fr.) = columna de aire (Sp.)

tenon = Zapfen (Ger.) : the cork or thread lined part of the middle section that fits into the head and foot joint

socket = Zapfenherz (Ger.): the enlarged bore at the end of the head and bottom sections to take the middle-section tenons

shoulder : point where the middle section drops down to the tenon

lapping : the cork (Kork (Ger.) or thread that acts as a seal between tenon and socket

double holes = Doppellöcher (Ger.) : the two pairs of holes, one at the bottom of the middle, the other on the foot section

chamfer = Abschrägung (Ger.), Fase (Ger.), also Bahnfase (Ger.) (ceiling chamfer) = Blockfase (Ger.) (block chamfer) : one of two bevels each found on the window side of the windway ceiling and on the window end of the block platform, set approximately 45 degrees to the vertical and approximately 90 degrees to one another

naming the toneholes : the tone holes are numbered, from the mouthpiece to the bell, as follows
0 1 2 3 4 5 6a 6b 7a 7b where

0 means thumb of left hand;
1 means index finger of left hand;
2 means middle finger of left hand;
3 means ring finger of left hand;
4 means index finger of right hand;
5 means middle finger of right hand;
6 means ring finger of right hand;
7 means little finger of right hand.

When a hole is covered the number is given; when it is uncovered the number is omitted; when 'pinching' the thumbhole for the higher notes 0 is written X; when leaking from a hole the number is struck through, as 4. The numbering system assumes the player uses the left hand uppermost - i.e. left hand above the right hand - so that 7a is covered for bottom F# (C# on C instruments) and 6a in covered for G# (D# on C instruments).

Similar information may be found at the Moeck Musikinstrumente und Verlag website.

You may also like to refer to our Glossary of Recorder Terms

to start learning the notes: first descant/soprano lesson :: first treble/alto lesson :: first bass in F lesson

How To Choose An Instrument

If you have not yet acquired an instrument why not take a moment to read the independent advice offered by John Everingham, manager of Saunders Recorders, a specialist recorder shop based in Bristol, England. He is a professional player and teacher and has been involved in music for many decades. Saunders Recorders handles instruments in wood or plastic by almost every maker and John is known for his forthright opinion on every aspect of the recorder and of recorder playing.

Click here to read his article.

If you want to talk to him about choosing a recorder you will find his telephone number, fax number and postal address at the bottom of the article.

Of course, you can purchase recorders from us either by visiting us or even over the Internet.

Click here for full details of how to purchase our wooden and plastic recorders.

to start learning the notes: first descant/soprano lesson :: first treble/alto lesson :: first bass in F lesson

How To Care For Your Recorder

As important as chosing a suitable instrument is learning how to care for your recorder. The Dolmetsch Online site is full of good advice on how to best take care of your instrument. While we do not want you to become neurotic about every 'sneeze and sniffle' there are a few things it is best to know before you start asking things of your instrument it may be unwilling, or unable to give.

Go to our pdf file pages and read our monograph entitled Complete Recorder Care for more advice.

to start learning the notes: first descant/soprano lesson :: first treble/alto lesson :: first bass in F lesson

Which Instrument To Start On

Standard Convention for Naming & Notating Recorder Music
Recorder NameKeyClefBottom Note (written)Bottom Note (sounding)
Sopranino (Eng., U.S., Ger.)FTrebleF above middle Coctave higher than written
Descant (Eng.)/Sopran (U.S.)/Sopran (Ger.)
descant (playing above the alt) first mentioned in an unpublished treatise by Jerome Cardan (c. 1546)
CTreblemiddle Coctave higher than written
Treble (Eng.)/Alto (U.S.)/Alt (Ger.)
in the 16th century also called alt, discant(us) (German), canto (Italian), dessus (French)
FTreble(usual) F above middle C
(occasional) F below middle C
(usual) at written pitch
(occasional) octave higher than written
Tenor (Eng., U.S., Ger.)
in the 16th century also called tenor, tenor or tenor-altus (German), tenore (Italian), taille (French)
CTreblemiddle Cat written pitch
Bass (Eng., U.S., Ger.)
in the 16th century also called basset, bassus (German), basso (Italian), bas (French)
FBassF one octave and a fifth below middle Coctave higher than written
Great Bass (Eng., U.S.)/Großbass (Ger.)CBassC two octaves below middle Coctave higher than written
Contra Bass (Eng., U.S.)/Contra-Bass (Ger.)FBassF one octave and a fifth below middle Cat written pitch
Contra Great Bass (Eng., U.S.)/Contra-Großbass (Ger.)CBassC two octaves below middle Cat written pitch
Double Contra Bass (Eng., U.S.)/Doppel-Contra-Bass (Ger.)FBassF two octaves and a fifth below middle Coctave below written pitch

Note on recorder notation: Between the First and Second World Wars recorder music published particularly in Germany used to follow the convention that the treble/alto line should be written an octave below the sounding note. This matched the way alto parts in vocal scores were notated and allowed recorder players to play along with singers although sounding an octave above the singers. Recorder players could also play appropriate viol parts again following that same convention. One might say that this convention favoured the recorder as a renaissance instrument. In other parts of the world, treble/alto recorder music followed the same convention as the flute and oboe, i.e. the notes were read and sounded at written pitch. This let treble/alto players read and play music for oboes and flutes from written parts. This convention favours more the recorder as a baroque instrument. The convention that has survived today is that adopted outside Germany, although both conventions have their uses and good recorder players do learn to read from either convention.

You will have first to decide whether to learn the descant in C, also called the soprano, or the treble in F, also called the alto. The descant is 'in C' because when all the finger holes are covered the instrument produces a C - actually C one octave above middle C. With the same fingering, the treble produces an F, one fifth lower than the descant. Occasionally, adult players start on the tenor, also in C, whose bottom note is middle C, one octave below the descant. They find the warm tone of the tenor more pleasing to the ear, which it is, and use standard descant tutor books. We have included comments helpful to tenor players in the descant method. Like the treble, the bass recorder is in F but pitched one octave lower. You will need to read bass clef and we have provided a Bass Method for those wishing to learn this wonderful instrument.

Children start on the descant (soprano) because, with their smaller hands and small breathing capacity, this size is more comfortable to play. For adult players, the squeeky sound can be quite off-putting and the ease with which it plays out of tune with even the slightest involuntary change in breath pressure is one good reason for starting on the treble (alto) where these problems are much less daunting. The treble makes a mellower sound and has a more sophisticated repertoire. Be warned, however, that in the eyes of other recorder players, you will not have become 'one of us' until you can play both C and F instruments equally well.

We have produced two separate methods, one for instruments in C and the other for instruments in F. When you have finished reading this introductory material please click on the appropriate link at the bottom of the page to go to the method you want to use.

to start learning the notes: first descant/soprano lesson :: first treble/alto lesson :: first bass in F lesson

Can You Read Music?

In common with most other methods we introduce notes one at a time and provide a number of tunes that will help you learn them. We assume you can read music - if you do not then why not visit our Music Theory Online. Even if you consider yourself a good music reader these Theory Lessons will give you a clear, concise refresher course - and they are free!

You may want to take exams on your recorder or in music theory. Why not visit the Associated Board of The Royal Schools of Music Examinations Board Site. The Associated Board has a world wide reputation in this field and is well worth considering if you need to take grade or diploma exams. You may also wish to visit the Trinity College of Music Examinations Board Site.

to start learning the notes: first descant/soprano lesson :: first treble/alto lesson :: first bass in F lesson

What Music Will I Be Able To Play?

David Lasocki writing to the recorder-listserv e-group about the Cambridge Companion To The Recorder published by Cambridge University Press mentions that Howard Mayer Brown affirmed that "there is little reason to suppose that the recorder played any active role in the performance of written art music before the very late fourteenth or early fifteenth century." In the fifteenth century, the recorder turns up in pictures, often in combination with harp, lute, or fiddle, and played "by well-born ladies and gentlemen or else by the sorts of musicians who specialized in soft instruments and were hired either as household musicians to the nobility or as free-lance musicians." The sixteenth century brought recorder consorts, amazingly large inventories of recorders in courts, the first instructions for the instrument, and performers who "developed their virtuosity to a high degree, though on occasion at the expense of the composer." Finally, "the Renaissance can be said to close when recorders ceased to be played in consorts.

In the same book, Anthony Rowland-Jones identifies four different categories of repertory: designated (the composer specifies the recorder), probable (the composer, or more likely the publisher, allows the music to be played on any instrument), extended (sounds good on the recorder), and arranged (when "the recorder version, designed primarily for the delectation of recorder players, is manifestly less effective than the composer's conception of the original"). From the Middle Ages, the recorder has only extended and arranged repertory. From the Renaissance, there is a little designated repertory, some probable repertory (which may be deduced from iconographic and literary sources), and of course plenty of extended repertory. The Baroque recorder sonata was a predominantly north European phenomenon of the years 1690-1740, generally published for an amateur market, not technically demanding but presenting challenging interpretational difficulties. The most rewarding sonatas musically are by Handel and Telemann, followed by Loeillet, pseudo-Vivaldi (Chédeville's Il pastor fido, no. 6), Albinoni, Finger, Veracini, Benedetto Marcello, Barsanti, and Sammartini, then Daniel Purcell, Paisible, Bononcini, and possibly Pepusch, van Wassenaer, and Roman.

On the whole the recorder "did not merit a place in the orchestra on its own account, but was a useful extra which some players were able to offer." Most of the major composers of the late Baroque-Lully, Charpentier, Blow, Purcell, Telemann, Bach, Vivaldi, and Handel-all used the recorder to good effect, if in relatively isolated instances. Eighteenth-century recorder concerti can be classified into four types: for solo instrument and orchestra; for two or more dominating solo instruments; concerti grossi; and chamber concertos, written for a chamber ensemble without orchestra. Covers concertos by Albinoni, Babell, Bach, Baston, Dieupart, Graupner, Heinichen, Alessandro Marcello, Naudot, Alessandro Scarlatti, Schickhardt, Telemann, Vivaldi, and Woodcock. The baroque concerto is "a highly significant part of the repertoire, offering some of its greatest technical challenges and musical rewards."

During the twentieth century the repertoire was extended by the conservative English composers of the 1930s-50s; Gustav Scheck and his students; the Falling Leaves, Manfred Mann, and the Rolling Stones; Frans Brüggen, Michael Vetter, and the avant garde; the Japanese composers of the 60s and 70s; Hans-Martin Linde and Gerhard Braun; modern techniques; Michael Barker and electro-acoustic music; Loeki Stardust; Walter van Hauwe's Ladder of Escape; and beyond.

to start learning the notes: first descant/soprano lesson :: first treble/alto lesson :: first bass in F lesson

How To Hold Your Recorder

Before you start this section take a moment to read Hand Care for Musicians.
Preparing the hands before playing is as important as warming up before playing a game of tennis.

Before you are ready to blow a note, we need to say a little about how to hold the recorder. Look at the plate below


This twelve year old player is holding a treble (alto) recorder. Notice that she places her left hand uppermost. A few players, describing themselves as left-handed, place their right hand uppermost. Recorder players use both hands and 'handedness' is relevant only when one has one workable hand. Dolmetsch makes special Gold series recorders for one handed players.

Modern recorders are all designed to be played with the left hand uppermost and that is how they should be played.

This player's head, neck and back are in straight line and the recorder is held at an angle of about 45% to the horizontal. Her arms are held away from the body and her fingers lie normal to the instrument's axis of symmetry with the soft pads of the top joint lying flat on the holes. She places only the tip of the mouthpiece between her lips, ensures no air escapes from the sides of her mouth, and the supporting thumb lies behind (or just below) the first finger of her right hand. Nothing constricts her chest cavity, her throat is relaxed and she retains control of her instrument as she lifts and replaces her fingers on the instrument's body.

For those who are preparing to play the bass recorder we have provided advice on holding this larger instrument as part of the first bass in F lesson.

to start learning the notes: first descant/soprano lesson :: first treble/alto lesson :: first bass in F lesson

Positioning The Right Hand Thumb

The position of the supporting, right hand thumb can best be found by placing the recorder on the floor with the holes at the nine and three o' clock position and the six o'clock position towards the floor. Using the right hand alone and placing the right hand fingers on the holes they would cover during use and thumb on the back of the instrument, raise the recorder from the floor. If you manage not to drop it, you have found the best position for the right hand thumb that will balance the instrument when the left hand cannot be used to hold it. A recorder player must be able to remove the left hand thumb or any group of fingers from the instrument without unbalancing it. The correct position for the right hand thumb is very important and a properly fitted thumbrest that sets the thumb in that position, each time the recorder is used, is a boon to even the most experienced player. Some teachers question the aesthetics of applying thumbrests to recorders. Be pragmatic in these matters - if it helps, use it.

to start learning the notes: first descant/soprano lesson :: first treble/alto lesson :: first bass in F lesson

How To Blow Into Your Recorder

Singing teachers teach that correct posture is a vital part of good tone production. Brass players, who need comparatively large amounts of air, offer various exercises for improving the amount and strength of the air stream they can deliver.

Frank Blazich Jr., writing on the Das Euph website, suggests some good ways to improve breathing and lung capacity?

I have heard of, seen, and had teachers show me numerous methods of improving lung capacity and breathing. Here are the methods that I feel work the best:

  • 1. Paper Bag: try breathing into and out of a paper bag (make sure not to hyperventilate). Try to take smooth, yet solid, breaths into the bag.

  • 2. Paper and the Wall: find a nice smooth wall and obtain a piece of paper, standard 8.5" by 11". Hold the paper against the wall then blow as hard as you can, trying to hold the paper against the wall by the force of your air stream. This is challenging and fun after awhile. See how long you can hold the paper there. The key is focusing your air stream and developing stamina via regulating the flow of air.

  • 3. Exercise: go jogging several miles every day or every other day, do pushups, bike a few miles, or better yet, swim laps. All of these exercises work your lungs and also your chest muscles. Swimming in particular works almost all of your muscles and builds stronger lungs. Stronger lungs mean more air through the horn, giving you the power to play cleaner, stronger and faster. More importantly, being in shape is good for your health.

    Every note is produced with air from your lungs, forced upwards as your diaphragm relaxes, through your throat and mouth, into the instrument itself. If you cannot provide a controlled flow of air adequate to your needs, and to the needs of the musical point you are trying to make, then no amount of good intentions will make up for your respiratory shortcomings.

    Even before you play pieces of music, you might try holding long notes to see whether you can keep them steady and with a pitch that does not waver. A respected American recorder teacher, Frances Blaker, recommends using 'arches' to determine the correct blowing pressure for each note.

    "You make an arch by blowing one stream of air, beginning softly, growing louder, then dying away. Start the tone with air alone - don't use your tongue... Make the beginning and end as quiet as possible and the middle as loud as possible. Do not worry about pitch changes." - from The Recorder Player's Companion by Frances Blaker.

    This is best done facing into the corner of a room so that your sound is reflected back from the walls. You will find that recorders play sharp if you blow too hard and play flat if you blow too gently. You will need to find a reliable pitch source so that you know when you are blowing 'to pitch'. There are a number of good electronic tuning meters available - alternatively, use an in-tune piano or an electronic keyboard. You will find that the hardest notes to control are those with the fewest fingers on the recorder.

    Make it part of your daily routine to spend five to ten minutes playing long notes so that you develop your lung capacity and gain control over the air stream. With experience, you will begin to match the quantity of air you blow into the recorder to your musical needs. To play with a sweet but full tone, the descant (soprano) needs relatively little air while the treble (alto) needs only a little. Frequent shallow breathing, where you only partially fill the lungs, can lead to hyperventilation. The levels of carbon dioxide in the blood fall, causing a constricted flow of blood and insufficient oxygen reaching the brain. One symptom is a feeling of lightheadness. If you begin to feel dizzy when you are playing, stop playing, sit down and rest for a moment, breathing deeply and slowly in and out. The dizziness will pass.

    The position of the left hand thumb will be important when we tackle the fingerings for the second octave. For the present, you should make sure that your fingers lie relaxed with their pads, not their tips, on the holes. The finger pads tend to be larger than the holes and unless you are playing a large recorder, or one with awkward hole positions, you should not have any problems covering the holes. Most larger recorders are fitted with keys to make covering the holes easier. Many makers will add keys to treble (alto), tenor and bass recorders if you have a particular problem with your hand size or shape. If you have such a problem why not refer to our keys page.

    You may want to refer to our recorder fingering chart as you progress through this method. We have placed a link, recorder fingering chart, on each page to make it easy to find. In addition we have two interactive charts Quick C for recorders in C and Quick F for recorders in F which open in new windows and can be kept open as you move through the method.

    to start learning the notes: first descant/soprano lesson :: first treble/alto lesson :: first bass in F lesson

    Making a Mute for Your Recorder

    There will be moments when you want to play your recorder but you don't want to disturb your neighbours or, more importantly, other members of your family or household. Faced with this problem when he was touring around the world, Dr. Carl Dolmetsch worked out how to make a simple but effective mute for any size of recorder. We give his advice below.

    "Cut a piece of thin card about one and a half inches (four centimetres) long and the same width as the 'window' of your recorder. Bend the strip over at right angles dividing it into two parts with a ratio of about one to four. Hook the shorter length through the slot of the 'window' so that the shorter end lies inside the recorder; the longer end lies along the ramp. You will then find that you can practise your fingerings, co-ordinating them with your tonguing action, without producing any sound at all. If you cut your mute slightly less wide than the 'window', you will find that you can still produce a very small sound from your instrument, which may be helpful on certain occasions."

    to start learning the notes: first descant/soprano lesson :: first treble/alto lesson :: first bass in F lesson