Recorder playing has been a foundation of the musical traditions of CAMMAC, dating to the very founding of our organization over 60 years ago. Recorder classes for the young and for the young at heart are, indeed, offered EVERY week of the summer musical camp. Musicians of all levels seriously embrace it and make it sound like the amazing instrument it is. What makes it so amazing? Despite its very simple design (just a piece of wood or of plastic in which a few holes are drilled), the recorder has a charming sound, can be adapted to several repertoires and is very easy to transport! What could be better? In my most humble and unbiased (!!) opinion, the recorder is the Queen of all instruments.
However, learning the recorder is often not as easy as one may think. Learning to play the notes is not difficult, but when you work with the instrument, it is fascinating to learn that you can develop the sound on a recorder just like you can with the human voice. It is a wind instrument without a complex mouthpiece and without resistance, but the air you blow in it is quickly transformed into sound and THAT’s where the real challenges lay.
Whether you already play recorder, or you are thinking of starting to learn this summer, here are a few tips, suggestions which, I hope, will help you make your recorders sound better, and will help you impress your teachers at your first lesson!
Sitting or standing, aim for a straight back, chin up and shoulders relaxed.
Never rest your elbows against your thighs nor press them against the body. Be comfortable – never in the “chicken position” with your elbows up high like wings!
You want to blow into the mouthpiece, not eat it! So don’t put the recorder too far into your mouth. Gently rest the mouthpiece on the tip of your lips, never touching your teeth to the instrument. You mouth must be relaxed, your lips not putting any pressure on the mouthpiece. What you want is for people to tell you after a concert how easy and natural it looks and that it seems like you were born with a recorder in your mouth.
To produce a sound:
Each note must be articulated, well-defined. To achieve that, you need to have your tongue work properly. For each note, you should have the impression that you are making a “tu” sound in the recorder. Your tongue should touch your palate, never your instrument. Practice without an instrument and think about the movement of your tongue (“tu-tu-tu-tu”, don’t be afraid of sounding silly). And NEVER fill your cheeks with air!
To finish a sound:
Now that you know how to produce sounds, you need to learn how to end them. What is most important: a convincing final note. It is also the best way to sound good when you play in an ensemble. Make sure that the last note of a section or of a piece stays very straight until the end and that it finishes cleanly. Avoid sounds that have an emphasized ending (sounding like a passing train) or that fall without support (the dreaded “plane crash”).
There, now you just need to learn (or master) the fingerings and then challenge yourself with the magical musical repertoire available for this instrument. Have fun!
CAMMAC spokesperson for 2016