“What recorder should I buy?” “What recorder should I start on?” “I want to upgrade to a wooden recorder, which one should I get?” I’ve been asked these questions quite a few times, and I figured it’s about time I put my answers in one place.
“What size recorder should I start on”?
Should you start with a soprano or alto or tenor? The answer depends on a few factors. If you want to play SCA dance music, go with a soprano. There’s a lot more support for teaching yourself the soprano than alto, and the melodies for most of the dances fit well on the soprano.
If you’re playing consort music, tenor is a better pick because the tenor lines tend to be easier, and many pieces sound better on lower instruments. You can use the soprano “how to play the recorder” book because both soprano and tenor recorders have the same fingering. The stretch on the tenor can take some getting used to, but most people can do it. My fingers are not particularly long and I get by.
Why not alto? The short version is that the method books I’ve seen aren’t very good. In particular they teach alto “at pitch,” when most of the time I play alto “octave up”.*
“I want to learn recorder, which one should I buy?”
The recorder to start with is a Yamaha 300 series soprano or tenor. Pretty much every recorder player I know has a set. The soprano runs around $20, the Tenor is around $65. The 300 series also has altos and sopraninos and basses.
If you want a renaissance style recorder, the Mollenhauer Dream plastic is great to start. (I still need to pick one up.) A soprano is about $30.
“I want to upgrade to a wooden recorder. Which should I get?”
First, remember this: just because a recorder is wooden doesn’t mean it’s better than plastic. If it’s under $100 it almost certainly isn’t better than a plastic. I’ve had the misfortune of playing wooden recorders that don’t play in tune. I would not recommend it!
If you want a step up from the Dream, you’re looking at a Kobliczek Praetorius or a Mollenhauer “Kynseker”. Sopranos run at around $450. Altos around $650. I have a Praetorius alto, and am really happy with it.
If you decide you want a wooden recorder, Von Huene is open to sending a few of each to try. I highly recommend doing that since every wooden recorder is unique.
For advice on how to judge wooden recorders, I recommend looking at Chapter 7, “Selecting and Caring for Your Recorder” of Ken Wollitz’s The Recorder Book. It’s a book recorder players should have in their collection.
“What method book should I use?”
I don’t think method book matters that much. When I was in elementary school my parents got me “Recorder Fun” which came with an attached Yamaha recorder. When I started playing SCA in college I dug it up out of their basement and used that to teach myself.
Since then I’ve acquired a few other method books:
These books are nice because they have a lot of description on how to hold and play the recorder. They are also nice in that there is a book dedicated to the Alto recorder
Steve Rosenberg’s Recorder Playing
I’ve used this book to teach recorder to new players. It is for soprano or tenor recorders. What is nice about this series is that much of the music in it is from the Renaissance or Baroque eras.
Kulbach and Nitka’s The Recorder Guide
I used this book to learn Alto recorder fingering. What is nice about this book is it teaches Soprano and Alto fingering simultaneously. The Alto fingering is “at pitch”, though.
I’ve found David Green’s recorder method book reviews useful. His descriptions of the different books are much more detailed than what I’ve written.
I hope this helps you make your recorder purchasing choices a little easier. Happy playing!
* “At pitch” means the staff for the alto is an octave lower than the staff for the soprano. For example both of the following are the same pitch: this is “octave up” and this is “at pitch” . Many pieces that fit a soprano recorder also fit the alto recorder, and those pieces are all written alto “octave up”.