dolmetsch onlinethumbrests

Recorder Thumbrests
Brian Blood

Ray Langley [mailto: Ray Langley], referring to a small plastic part supplied with a Yamaha plastic tenor, wrote:

According to my teacher it is is a thumbrest. I'll be looking forward to the answers to this question. However, I would like to note one thing. Last night, I attended my very first meeting of the Sacramento Recorder Society. There were about 30+ players in attendance. I did not see a single thumbrest on any of the many instruments! I wonder why? Is a thumbrest only for us beginners?

Joseph S. Wisniewski [mailto: Joseph S. Wisniewski], a recorder listserv member offered this original response.

I've paraphrased liberally from the "Thumbrest or no thumbrest" article on The American Recorder Society's Web Pages. Also Dr. Norris's "The Musician's Survival Guide", an interesting book on musician's ergonomics.

The thumbrest is more likely to be used by beginners, because beginners are more likely to:

1) believe in gadgets
2) fatigue easier when playing a recorder
3) have a plastic recorder which they're not as careful of as a better wood recorder
4) not know how a thumbrest promotes an ergonomically dangerous playing position on the recorder. (OK, experienced players don't know this one, either).

All the acoustical and ergonomic advantages are in playing the recorder more horizontally (farther out from the body) than most recorder players ever do. Suddenly, the weight is supported by the right thumb, and the recorder stops trying to slide out from between the fingers. The nerves in the right arm aren't as compressed. The windway is up a couple of inches (OK, it's not a major acoustical benefit, but the quiet, little recorder needs every boost it can get).

A thumbrest still lets the right thumb provide some support, but it stresses the joint from the side, on a poorly padded area. Horizontal playing loads the joint in a natural direction, on a well padded part of the thumb.

Ever get a neck ache playing a recorder? Just give horizontal play a try.

Bass players get to blow horizontally, but support is still a problem. I'll always favor a floor peg over the saxophone style neck strap, but there are good support solutions.

A basic rule of woodwind play, clarinet, sax, etc. "Get the head up and breath freely". You may think you look cool, introspective, or moody (whatever) looking down into your navel while playing, but you're closing your throat (and maybe restricting your lungs) and hiding from the audience.

Although the Marion Verbruggen advice is pretty good, install the thumbrest so you won't use it at all during play, so that it serves as a "safety net" to catch the recorder should it slide.

How does one locate the "best" position to install a thumbrest?

Find a clean bucket with an opening the size of your wastepaper basket. Toss the thumbrest into the bucket. Retrieve the thumbrest. Toss it again from the same spot as before. If you're missing the bucket most of the time, you're too far back. If you're hitting the bucket most of the time, you're too close. Once you've mastered the "practice bucket" you're ready to try "installing" the thumbrest in a real wastepaper basket.

This article led Nick Lander [mailto: Nick Lander] to send me his own thoughts on the matter:

For what it's worth, I favour the use of a thumb sling rather than a thumb rest. The sling can be made from a loop of thin leather thonging which is placed around the foot of the recorder and around the player's rh thumb. A little experimentation will soon reveal what is required. It has the following advantages (in no particular order) for alto and tenor recorders:

(a) invisible to the audience
(b) infinitely adjustable (you just twist it to shorten it)
(c) secure and comfortable
(d) does not mar the instrument in any way
(e) very very cheap

For heavy (ie renaissance) tenor recorders I find a sax neck sling best. For bass recorders a spike attached to the instrument's foot (not the player's) is marvellous.

A disadvantage of a thumbrest is that it makes certain virtuoso techniques difficult, eg playing a very rapid a'' to e''' reitterated (as in Vivaldi's "Il Cardellino") by moving the right hand up the instrument one hole (it's well nigh impossible with the hands in the usual position).

Brian Blood responded:

Joe's sparkling satire includes reference to an article on thumb rests and their use which appears on The American Recorder Society Web Site. They discussed this matter at length and over a considerable period and the article is a synthesis of those comments. However, in our opinion, the discussion and conclusions are often ill-informed and I would like to provide my 2 or 3 cents worth on this topic.


Thumb rests are not used to hold the recorder except under the most exceptional situations; e.g.: alternative fingering where all fingers and left hand thumb are removed from the instrument - I am sure there are better alternatives :-)


The rest is used to ensure the right-hand returns to the exact same position on the recorder each time it is used. This makes reaching for bottom holes and/or keys much easier on larger recorders such as tenors (for most of us) and trebles (altos) (for those with small or crabbed hands). Even holding the recorder at 45 degrees, the recommended angle by the way, a rest continues to serve the same role. If you hold the recorder even more horizontally you might be mistaken for a trumpeter or, even worse, a clarinetist ;-(


The Yamaha rest is as it is because AULOS thumb rests are patented by the Toyama Manufacturing Company and so other makers cannot produce this elegant even if obvious solution. Dolmetsch Nova treble recorders are supplied, when requested, with clip on thumb rests, a la AULOS, but in a quite legal way [no, I promised our lawyers I wouldn't say how]. The Nova tenor and Nova bass come with an adjustable thumbrest that does not infringe anyone's patent.


Screwing or gluing a thumb rest onto a recorder is not a problem - recorders are not virgins to be left inviolate until they know better. They are tools for making music and whatever makes this less stressful for the player should be strongly encouraged. We recommend taking a few months to get used to the placing of a thumb rest by taping the rest on with sticky tape (any brand will do but we recommend masking tape). Then, once you know the position is comfortable and practical, screw or glue the rest in the anointed place. Don't forget that if the thumbrest has to be removed or repositioned you will need to plug any tiny screw holes where these have pentrated into the bore.


To find the best place for the thumb rest we recommend placing the instrument on it's side on the floor. Bending over, pick it up with the fingers of the right hand on the appropriate holes used during performance and if you lift it up successfully, you will have placed the right hand thumb in the correct position on the back of the instrument.