Introduction to the Lessons

The Rules for using this course: This tutorial is Copyright ©2002, by Gene Casti. Permission is granted for visitors to freely use this information. You may print the pages for personal use only. All commercial rights are retained by the author. Professional music teachers may employ this course at their discretion but producing multiple copies of these pages is prohibited. If you are not certain about rights, Email me for clarification and permission. Reviewers may quote sections of the text but must get permission for more than 100 words. All musical examples, unless credited to another composer, are original intellectual propery of the author.

Each of the following sections assumes no prior knowledge of the art of music. Intermediate and advanced players should read all but may wish to skip to the INTERMEDIATE-ADVANCED section.



History of the Recorder

Brief History of Music

General Musical Periods

For the beginner

Purchasing a Recorder

Care of the Recorder

Holding the Recorder

Playing the Recorder

Practicing Tips

Rudiments of Music (beginning students must read before starting lessons)

Use the drop down list to go to the lessons. 

German Fingering Chart


More Rudiments of Music

Language of Music




Scales and Modes

Practice Music

Snappy Tunes



To Miss London, my music teacher at Frank Fowler Dow School, #52, Rochester, New York, who introduced me to the recorder and encouraged me to compose, in the mid 1950's.

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There are a number of good recorder methods currently on the market. This course is different and FREE!. It is my belief that many are lacking in the prime essentials of musicianship, namely humor and good taste. Music teachers have been trained by the methodologists to present the mechanics of music in a dry and dull manner, thereby producing exercises that are uninteresting and unworthy of artist respect. If a student is wearied by the mechanical exercise, it becomes a detriment to artistic maturity and promotes a lack of desire that can hamper or terminate the student's musical cultivation.

In this method, I have elected to introduce the student to some of the history of music and recorder. This will give the student a greater appreciation for the reason of the exercises. It is my sincere hope that this will foster a more immediate appreciation and promote the study of the instrument as a life long artistic activity.

I have deviated from the usual practice of presenting different methods of study for the C and F instruments. It is my experience that when a student becomes more proficient in recorder playing, he/she often becomes limited by the key of the instrument. This method will provide the student with the facility to play any recorder thereby increasing their musical horizons. I have purposely left out the bass recorder since these are rare and generally quite expensive. If the student desires to play the bass, they have only to learn to read bass clef and will already have the facility to finger the instrument.

The C recorder is commonly used in the elementary grades as a pre-band instrument. This is good but also tends to convince the student that the recorder is a toy. This sentiment is reinforced by the proliferation of cheap, poorly made recorders on the market. The student of my method will come to realize that even these cheap plastic instruments are not toys and are capable of producing historically excellent music.

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History of the Recorder

The flute type of instruments were known to exist as early as 4000 B.C. in Egypt, Sumer and Israel. They have been traced to China in 2000 B.C. and to pre-Columbian Mexico and South America. These were made of clay or wood. In Europe, the transverse flute did not make its appearance until the 12th century and was called a swegel. The end blown flute or recorder has been around in its current form since about 800 A.D. The transverse flute was used primarily for military purposes while the recorder was the flute of choice for artistic purposes.

The recorder is the most important type of whistle (or fipple) flute. It has a tone quality that is highly individual and unique to each instrument. It can be soft, slightly reedy or mellow. In the span of time since the Middle Ages to the mid 16th century it evolved into a complete family from the treble to bass and was the basis of much important music of the late Renaissance (1500's).

By the late 18th century, one size (the Alto) remained in common use. This instrument was called the flauto by J. S. Bach and G. F. Handel. The flute parts of these composers and others of the period were written and performed on the F recorder. Occasionally the use of the flauto piccolo (little flute) was specified because of its high and piercing tone. The flauto piccolo is our modern day Sopranino.

After about 1750 the recorder generally passed out of vogue, giving way to the modern transverse flute, due to advances in technology and the flute's ability to acheive a greater dynamic range.

In the 20 century the recorder underwent a revival begun by Arnold Dolmetsch in England and after 1918 by German manufacturers using large-scale production methods. In the 1970's Japan entered the market producing a large number of plastic recorders, some of which rival traditional wooden recorders in intonation and articulation.

There are two fingering systems, the Baroque (or English) and German. The German fingering has not gained favor and the Baroque is most often used.

Five sizes of recorder are commonly available. They are, according to country of origin:

 German-Japanese  English  Range
 Sopranino    f''-g''''
 Soprano  Descant  c''-d''''
 Alto  Treble  f'-g'''
 Tenor  Tenor  c'-d'''
 Bass  Bass  f-f''

There are other sizes that are very uncommon (and the big basses can be very expensive!).

  1. Garklein, pitched higher than the Sopranino. Only about 6 in. long (in C).
  2. Alto in G (not recomended since F is the traditional key for this instrument.
  3. Great Bass, pitched lower than the Bass (in C).
  4. Contrabass, a giant of a thing pitched very low (in F).
  5. Sub Contrabass, the biggest of them all. Can be about 9 ft. tall! (in C)

The Alto has the most extensive literature followed by the Soprano. Generally speaking, the music of the Soprano can be played on a Tenor and the Alto music can be played on the Sopranino.

Because of the availability of modern recorders much has been written for them in the 20th century. The F instruments are most played for traditional repertoire and the C instruments are most used for popular music inasmuch as the C range most approximates that of the human voice.

The bass recorder is used primarily in ensemble playing and does not have a solo repertoire.

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A Brief History of Music

The history of western music is based on European tradition. The student will often encounter music designated in languages other than English. The mose important designations are:

 German  French  Italian  English
 Blockflote  Flute a bec  Flauto dolce  Recorder
 Schnabelflote  Flute douce  Flauto diritto  Fipple Flute
 Altblockflote  Flute douce alto  Flauto alto  Treble
 Sopranblockflote  Flute en do  Flauto in do  Descant
 Sopranino  Flute en fa  Flauto piccolo  Piccolo flute
 Pickedflote    Flauto in fa  

One more designation, which is often used by my students and family is the "Squeak Horn". This name, although many times accurate, has not caught on.

The above chart will be encountered in different combinations but will give the player a guide to the instruments. It is unclear in many cases which recorder is used, therefore, by reading the score and understanding something of the historical basis of the music, the scholar/musician can make a value judgment on the intentions of the composer.

The music of the recorder is termed "classical" by most. This is not, however, the case. From the middle ages to the beginning of the 20th century music was often based on popular themes. Generally speaking, prior to the phonograph, all music was "popular" or "pop". It was influenced by the Church, folk songs and the interpretations of both amateur and professional musicians. When folks gathered they danced and sang to the tunes of the day. It is fair to liken the music of Bach to Rock and Roll . . . as a leisure activity of the period and the Recorder to the Electric Guitar as the popular instrument of the late middle ages. The fun-loving crowds of Bach's time would grab a couple of jugs of wine, go over to Johnny's and jam after church. Historically, Johann Sebastian Bach would improvise all night or until the wine was gone.

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General Musical Periods

Year Era Period Characteristics
pre-800 Middle Ages   Ambrosian and Gregorian chant. No significant recorder music.
800-1100 Late Middle-Romanesque   Staff invented, music written. Recorder becomes an important instrument.
1100-1300 Romanesque-Gothic School of St. Martial, School of Notre Dame, Ars Antigua Free improvisation dominates. Formal music begins.
1300-1450 Late Gothic Ars Nova, Burgundian School Early written music for solo recorder.
1450-1600 Renaissance Flemish School, Venetican School Polyphonic Ensembles. Height of recorder dominance.
1600-1750 Baroque Nuove Musiche Recorder joins the orchestra, becomes an important accompanied instrument.
1700-1775 Rococo Neapolitan School, Mannheim School, Berlin School Great forms of music such as the Sonata and Concerto are formalized. Beginning of the Romantic era. Modern symphony is defined.
1770-1830 Classical Time of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert A non-specific period when music was undergoing great changes. Very complex formulations were evolving.
1775-1900 Romantic Viennese Classics Recorder in decline. Many old instruments fall into obscurity.
1900-present Modern Impressionism, New Music Recorder involved in musical experimentation. Atonality and polytonality explored.

In the above encapsulation, some dates overlap such as the Baroque and Rococo. This is historically due to the fact the musicologists consider the death of J. S. Bach in 1750 as the end of the Baroque while Bach's sons, Carl Philipp Emanuel, Wilhelm Friedman and Johann Christian Bach are assigned to the Rococo even though they were writing during their father's lifetime.

There are many composers who wrote for the recorder. Three of the most important and prolific were; C.P.E. Bach (1714-1788), George Friedrich Handel (1685-1759) and Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767). The student who continues to study the recorder and its literature will find them quite prominant. Because of these composers, the years 1725 to 1760 are considered the "Golden Age of the Recorder".

The greatest problem in playing traditional music on the recorder is what the Germans call Auffuhrungspraxis (practice of performance). Prior to 1550 the instruments were not specified in the sources. There are passages of vocal character with no words, music that is possible on a great many instruments and the fact the many instruments of the period are now obsolete and forgotten. It was the practice of the musicians to play a piece on whatever instrument was handy and could play the indicated notes. The idea of writing for a specific instrument during the middle ages and Renaissance was foreign to a 15th century composer. To them, the only important thing was to play the music. Very often the written score was absent of accidentals (sharps and flats) and had no tempo or dynamic instructions. It was understood that the musician would supply whatever embellishments he thought the piece required. Therefore, today much of the traditional recorder music is attributed to a certain composer based on style by an educated guess of an editor or arranger. It is quite proper for the modern player to provide his own interpretation and embellishments to early music.

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Purchasing a Recorder

If you wish to play popular songs it is recommended that you buy a Soprano or Tenor. These most closely approximate the range of the human voice and are capable of playing the notes of many modern tunes To play more traditional music the F Alto is recommended. The Sopranino and Bass are very specialized and really useful in ensemble playing.

The Baroque (English) fingering is the best and most used choice. German fingering is not recommended for the novice since it may simplify the first octave but does so at the expense of intonation.

Buy the best instrument you can affored but don't let price interfere with getting one. A resonable priced recorder is generally good for a start and you can always get a better one later.

It is not recommended that the novice get a second recorder until he has mastered the first. When switching from an F to C or vice-versa, it is very easy to get confused and "goofy fingered". Once the fingerings are mastered, a second recorder is much easier to learn. If the student adequately masters both the C and F fingering, he can play any recorder (including German fingerings) with a little study and practice.

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Care of the Recorder

All recorders need care. They should be kept away from extremes in temperature, warmed before playing by gently blowing in the low register (all holes plugged by the fingers) and swabbed dry after playing. Avoid over-blowing as this will eventually destroy the high register. Do not store in direct sunlight or in a airtight container. To do so will leach the wax out of a wooden recorder and may warp or distort a plastic instrument. The joints should be occasionally treated with cork grease to avoid sticking. With proper care a recorder will last for a very long time and will actually improve in tone.

During play moisture sometimes accumulates in the mouthpiece blurring the tone and rendering some notes unplayable. To cure this condition place a finger over the aperature and blow sharply. This will clear the aperature and make the recorder sing again. Be cautious about over- blowing. No sound should be produced if the finger is properly placed.

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Holding the Recorder

Sit erect in a natural and comfortable position. Beware of slouching as this will interfere with breathing and may cause poor tone. Hold the recorder at about a 45 degree angle and always support it with the thumb of the right hand.

The holes must be covered with the soft pad of the fingers and never with the finger tips. The fingers must make a complete seal over the holes but do not press very hard since this may cause a condition similare to writer's cramp.

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Playing the Recorder

Proper blowing and breathing is the key to pleasing sounds. Breathing is sometimes a problem. On long passages, one has a tendency to run out of wind. Breaths should be taken from the diaphragm (like in singing) and expelled with support from the diaphragm. The upper chest should not move. This will allow for better breath control. When it becomes necessary to take a breath, it should be taken quickly and quietly.

Blowing is done through exhaling into the mouthpiece with the lips gently sealed around it and the end of the mouthpiece positioned in front of slightly separated teeth. Blow gently, sustaining the same pressure at all times. The greater the pressure, the higher (or sharper) the pitch and conversely, lesser pressure will lower (or flatten) the pitch. Proper blowing is essential to maintain the correct pitch (or intonation) of the note.

Playing a note starts with the attack. Silently say the word "Du" or "Tu" for each note. To terminate the note, the tongue moves forward toward the teeth and silently say a stopped "D" or "T".

The fingers should come down like little hammers, completely sealing the hole (unless a half hole fingering is needed, which will be explained in the lessons) and held tight for the duration of the note. When the note has stopped, the fingers must release quickly in order to repostition themselves for the next note.

The combination of blowing and fingering is called articulation.

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Practicing Tips

1. Try to play every day.

2. Practice for at least an hour when you can.

3. Play for family and friends when you have mastered a piece.

4. Practice with no interruptions or background noise. You will concentrate better.

5. Listern to yourself, don't just play the notes.

6. Use your playing for relaxation. Don't try to play when stressed.

7. Take your recorder on vacation to a lake, forest, desert, mountain . . . . and play. You'll be surprised at how good they sound outdoors. If you have a decent wood recorder, get a cheap plastic one to take with you.

8. Don't play your recorder while taking a bath, shower or swimming.

9. Don't practice at 4 AM in an apartment building.

10. Bathroom acoustics are excellent. Ever notice how good singing in the shower can sound? Play in the bathroom (but NOT while showering). Remember to sit erect and not slouch for good tone.

Last and most important - ENJOY!

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Rudiments of Music

This section is written assuming that the student knows absolutely nothing about reading music. Those that can read notation should scan and continue.

There is much to know about the structure of music. The following is a very elementary primer but should suffice to get the student started. It is not intended as a substitute for a qualified teacher but only as an introductory reference.

Music is comprised of notes, rests and symbols telling the musician what pitch, how long to play the note and the tempo (speed) of the piece. There are symbols that alter the note to make it sound higher or lower (sharps and flats) but not as high or low as the next note. These are called half steps.

In the below chart you will see that notes have a relationship in value based on 1/2 the note above or twice the note below it. The following charts show the notes with their American and English names.

american chart

As you can see by the charts, one whole note=2 half notes, 4 quarter notes, 8 eighth notes ...... etc. Each note has a corresponding rest.

english chart

If a dot is placed after a note, it adds a value of 1/2 of the note to the total. See below.

dotted notes

A staff is a five lined chart that shows the position of the note. All recorders except the bass use the Treble (or G) Clef. The bass uses the Bass (or F) Clef


The notes of the staff are:


A Sharp is used to raise the tone 1/2 step. A Flat lowers the tone 1/2 step. A Natural cancels the effects of a sharp or flat.

At the beginning of each piece there are two numbers that look like fractions. The upper number is the number of beats in a measure and the lower is what kind of note gets one beat.

time signatures

In measure 1, 4/4 means there are four beats in the measure and a quarter note gets one beat.

Measure 2 has no numbers but a "C" instead. This is musical shorthand for "common time" which is exactly the same as 4/4.

Measure 3 is 2/2, therefore there are 2 beats in a measure and the half note gets one beat.

Measure 4 has the "C" but there is a line through it. This is shorthand for "cut time", that is exactly the same as 2/2.

Measures 5 and 6: Three beats to the measure - quarter note gets one beat (5) and three beats to the measure - eighth note gets one beat (6). Every measure can have notes and/or rests in any combination but must equal the number of beats indicated by the time signature(yep, the two numbers at the beginning of the piece).

Well, clear as a mudpie so far? Don't worry - you'll get it. If you don't understand it, read it again. As we get farther along more symbols and directives will be presented.

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