Recorders Part 3 – Technique


Recorder technique is slow and cumbersome due to the lack of keys.  They are best kept in diatonic passages with few chromatics.  At most, three flats or three sharps away from the home key of the instrument is as remote as recorders are comfortable with.  This means, for an Alto Recorder in F, something in A-flat or F minor is an extreme key, but doable.  D-flat major is considerably harder (but possible).

At the bottom of the register the two lowest chromatic notes (the C-sharp and the D-sharp on a C instrument, or the F-sharp and the G-sharp on an F instrument) are only produced by means of sliding the fingers to uncover a small half-hole.

All Baroque recorders have a standard range of 2 octaves and a major second.  Notes above this are possible up to a range of 2.5 octaves.  However, in order to make this range chromatic, the player must cover the end of the recorder with the leg, which makes technique up here very slow and cumbersome.

Note, the Garklein only has a range of 1.6 octaves.

Renaissance recorders usually only have a range of 1.5 octaves.

Transposition – Except for octave shifts, recorders do not transpose.  Players must learn two different sets of fingerings for the F and C instruments.  The bandestrator should not take the liberty to transpose recorder parts.

Dynamics – Recorders cannot do dynamics.  No crescendos, diminuendos, fortes, or pianos.  This is part of the quaintness of the recorder.

Articulation – All notes on the recorder are generally articulated (tounged).  This is part of standard technique.  Rarely are true slurs employed in Baroque music.  Today, players slur easily, though some of the higher notes can only come out with aid of the tongue.  Techniques such as flutter tonguing and double/triple tonguing are relatively easy on the recorder.

Need for a Modern Recorder

There really is a need for a modern recorder with keywork in order for it to be able to compete technically with the rest of the woodwinds.  It wouldn’t take much to accomplish this.  This could be done so easily.  Three keys for the right pinky (F, F-sharp, G-sharp or C, C-sharp, D-sharp), and one for the left pinky (G-sharp or C-sharp).  Any competent instrument repair man should be able to install these keys on an existing recorder.

Oh look, someone has made one!

Listen to the difference a modern sound concept makes:

An instrument like this is only used in a soloistic capacity with modern instruments.

Of course if you want to hear the extent of recorder technique, look no further to jazz:


Recorders Part 2 – Recorders in the Band

The Recorder in the Band

Here we start getting into uncharted territory.  Off the top of my head, I know of no work in the band literature that calls for recorders.  That doesn’t mean it can’t or shouldn’t be done though.  A soloist on any member of the family will work fine.  The higher the recorder of course, the more likely it will cut through the band.

Remember, any woodwind player should be able to learn the recorder fairly easily.  Believe it or not, the instrument that has the most in common with the recorder is not the flute, but the bassoon.  The fingerings of the two instruments are very similar (due to the somewhat primitive state of the modern bassoon).  If the band possesses extra flute, clarinet, or saxophone players, why not give them the opportunity to shine as members of a new section?

Trying out a recorder ensemble in a band could lead to marvelous possibilities.  It could give the flute family some company as well.  Why not start out with a standard SATB or AATB quartet, or a SnSATB quintet?  All recorder players should be able to play other members of the family, so doublings are quite common and useful.  Most recorder players will have at their immediate disposal at least a Soprano, Alto, and a Tenor (and Sopranino and Bass won’t be far behind).

An interesting fact is that most professional recorder consorts eschew the upper members of the ensemble.  I have found many recordings where the Tenor or Bass Recorder is the highest voice in the entire ensemble.  The sound of an all low recorder groups is absolutely breathtaking.  Gone is the toyish quality of the Soprano and Sopranino.  Here is a sound that is moving and resonate.

Remember, because recorders cannot do dynamics, do not score around them too heavily.  They will get drowned in a mass of brass.

Scoring possibilities are endless.  Bassoon and Oboe are known mixtures from Baroque literature.  As is trombone and trumpet.  Why not try an anachronistic combination of recorder and saxophone, a mixture of old and new?  Or a call and response between a flute quartet and a recorder quartet?

One thing to remember is that the sound of recorders is right now novel in a band setting.  Use it as such.  The less you use something, the more magical it becomes.  Don’t have your recorders playing all the time.  Chances are, they won’t add anything to the texture in tutti.

To give some examples of the use of the recorder in an ensemble, here are a few examples of concerti that feature the instrument both Baroque and Modern.

For what is possibly the best and most well-known use of the recorder (in this case the Alto) in a large-ish ensemble, I can offer nothing better than Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto #2.  This video is done with all period instruments pitched at A=415.  Note the valveless trumpet, and how the recorder is able to keep up with and be an equal member of the group of 4 soloists.  I have played this recorder part before, and can attest that it uses the entire range of the instrument and that range is fully expected to be heard distinctly in the ensemble.

Vagn Holmboe’s Concerto for Recorder and Orchestra is an excellent example of how a recorder can work in a modern ensemble.  The recorder here (I think a Sopranino, but I cannot absolutely confirm this) comes across clear and direct above the whole ensemble.  We can also see how the instrument mixes with the “tinkly” percussion.  In the middle of this movement, there is a section where the recorder player uses multiphonics.  This is achieved by playing one note and singing/humming a second.  You can also hear flutter tonguing.

Another modern concerto by Richard Harvey.  The performer alternates between the Soprano and Sopranino Recorders.  Something to note is that none of these concertos use instruments lower than the Alto.  From Tenor on down, the sound is just too soft to be heard over a large ensemble for a prolonged section.

Another movement of the same concerto.  Listen for a wonderful moment between the Sopranino Recorder and the Bass Clarinet.

Recorders – Introduction



The recorder has developed somewhat of a bad reputation lately.  We see it now as a children’s instrument, only a small teaching toy.  In fact tough, it isn’t that at all.  The recorder may be a simple instrument mechanically, but it is not simple musically.  Remember, one of the the greatest orchestrators of all time, Hector Berlioz, was himself a recorder player.

Part of our stigma may stem from the fact that the recorder never grew up in a sense.  During and after the baroque period, all the other woodwind instruments had key work added to them, when the recorder stayed unadorned.  The lack of key work, in actuality, means that the recorder is harder to play than the rest of the woodwinds, not easier.  The more complex the key system; the easier technique is on an instrument.

All that said, the recorder can become a valuable voice in a band.  Any woodwind play can be called upon to play the instrument, and a makeshift quartet can be formed from various members of other section who otherwise would have just been doubling an already doubled part.

Nowadays, a set of five recorders (Sopranino to Bass) can be purchased for around $250 to $300 (with the Bass taking up more than half of that amount).  This is pocket change for most band programs.


Garklein Recorder

Sopranino Recorder

Soprano Recorder

Alto Recorder

Tenor Recorder

Bass Recorder

Great Bass Recorder

Contrabass Recorder

Subcontrabass Recorder

Flutes Part 4 – Flute Technique



            The technique of the flute family is probably the highest and most refined of all the woodwinds.  The bandestrator is thereby free to write nearly anything within the standard range of the instrument.

The only limitations are the bottom third of the instrument.  With the exception of the combination of the low C to low D, all combinations of notes E-flat and lower require the sliding of the little finger.  The D-flat to E-flat trill is the only impossible trill on the entire instrument.

For the entire flute family, the written low C is the standard bottom note.  There are a few exceptions to this rule:

1. First, all Piccolos only descend to the low D.  There are no exceptions.

2. The G Treble may or may not stop at the D, but this depends on the maker.

3. The C Flute itself is often equipped with a B-foot that allows the production of the lowest B natural.  You should be fairly safe in the writing of this note as all professionals and most amateurs possess this extension.

4. The low B may or may not be present in the larger flutes.  It is never present on the Alto and very rare on the Tenor.  Consult with your players before using this note.

The upper written range for all flutes is given as the C three octaves above middle C, but again there are some exceptions.  The top B and C on the Piccolo are extremely difficult to produce (owing surprisingly in part to the lack of the Low C) and can only be produced in forte.  Advanced technique on the C Flute has pushed the range upwards to around an F, but in practicality, only the D above the high C should be used.  The larger flutes are best kept out of their upper register (though the Alto has full use of all three octaves) and these notes are suspect and uncharacteristic of the instruments.

All flutes, from Piccolo to Contrabass, have the same sound signature.  That is, their sound is soft in the bottom of the register and gradually gets louder as the pitch ascends.  The softest sound in the flute family is a Contrabass on its lowest C (or B), while the absolute loudest sound is a Piccolo on its highest C.

By the way, the modern flute family, with all its new members, is the only family of winds that can cover virtually the entire range of the Piano (minus the low B-flat and A of the Piano).

One curious aspect of flute technique is that, as flutists are able to master the technique of their instrument fairly quickly (compared to most of the other woodwinds), many flutists venture out into performing works with extended techniques.  These include quarter-tones, multiphonics, beat-boxing, glissandi, breathy sub-tones, and many more.  Most of these techniques are used primarily in flute solos, and only rarely do they make their way into ensemble music.

When in doubt, ask a competent flutist.

Flutes – Flutes in the Band

The Flute in the Band


            First remember that you will only have C Flute and Piccolo at your immediate disposal.  You can basically ignore anything I said about the exotic species of flutes.

As I alluded to in the subsection on the C Flute, the flute family as a whole is alone in the band world.  As we only use the small members of the family, and the larger members are weak and powerless, we have an oddball situation on our hands.  Traditionally, orchestral woodwinds have been seen as thus:

Flute                Soprano

Oboe               Alto

Clarinet           Tenor

Bassoon           Bass

But, this arrangement really belies the instruments’ true capabilities.  If we were to really look at what their roles are it would be something like this:

Flute                Sopranino/Treble

Oboe               Soprano

Clarinet           Alto

Bassoon           Tenor/Baritone

Notice in this arrangement, the flue is move up one level to sopranino/treble and all other instruments shift up one spot.  Part of this is due to the flutes role.  Like the Basses doubling the Cellos at the octave lower, the flute is best at doubling the soprano voice at the octave higher.  This reserves the oboe, and not the flute as the true soprano of the woodwind section.  The flute now becomes the icing on the cake and not the cake itself.  Bands have yet to figure this out.  The C Flute is not your primary melody instrument.  It is best at countermelodies, descant lines, and octave doublings.  These roles allow for their part to also become more florid and embellished.

The Piccolo is yet another extreme.  It doubles the soprano, not at the octave, but at the double octave!  Less is more here.  The less you use the Piccolo, the more effective it becomes.  You do not have to have every single player playing in every single bar.  In fact, this is one of the great crimes of band music in general.

This leads me to a very curious example of orchestral efficiency.  It is Mahler’s Symphony 8, the “Symphony of a Thousand.”  No one in their right mind, you say, would call a symphony that is known for using 1,000 performers efficient, but I am making that case.  Mahler may use an exorbitant amount of players, but he uses them in a very selective manner.  The entire symphony is well over an hour long, and for one beat, only one single beat, does the entire ensemble play together.  This occurs just as the final moment comes crashing down, as the three choirs sing their final note and the brass band begins their triumphant paean.  Only by holding everything back until that moment, does this one moment of triumph have its dramatic impact.  Remember this in your own writing.

(By the way, there is a stunning Piccolo part in the last movement of Mahler’s 8th that bears looking into.  It is one of the very quiet moments, just before the Chorus Mysticus, where a solo Piccolo is accompanied by of all things a Harmonium and a Piano.  The result is magical!  The gentle Piccolo at its finest.)

The above performance starts at the Piccolo solo and culminates in the grand finale.  It is also of special note that all of the orchestral musicians are children!

I am going to lay out a very typical high school flute section.  I will make the assumption that there are roughly eight players in the section.  This is an average number for an average sized band.  The typical band music will have three parts for these eight players.

  1. Piccolo (player 1)
  2. Flute 1 (players 2-4)
  3. Flute 2 (players 5-8)

To me, this is a rather inefficient system.  Players 3, 4, 6, 7, and 8 are pretty much pointless.  They are there to beef up the sound of players 2 and 5.  A creative bandestrator can come up with some clever ideas.  Why not eight individual parts?  As I said in the subsection on the Alto Flute, many high schools I know now possess an Alto.  Why not have player 8 play the Alto?  In doing this we would even out the numbers of Flute 1 and Flute 2 to three players on each part instead of three on one and four on the other.  Flute 1 and Flute 2 can now be further subdivided.  Not necessarily into Flutes 3-6, but more along the lines of desks in a string section.  Use the term “one on a part” liberally.  Quiet sections greatly benefit from reduction of the clutter (and it helps with the overall intonation of the band).

With this new arrangement we have now three tone colors, four parts, and subtle gradations of two of those parts.  We have gone from three colors in our crayon box to six.

We can get even more colors if we have doubling.  Every flute, of any size, plays approximately the same as the C Flute.  Every flute player should be able to play the Piccolo.  Think of the terrific sound of eight Piccolos playing either together, or more horrific still, eight individual, contrapuntal lines!  What a wondrous sound that could be.

Next we could bring in our rare species of flutes.  The Tenor Flute is the first choice as it is by far the most common, but if you are assured of some of the rare species, by all means, plunder your riches.  The rare flutes should really be thought of as double instruments.  There is no reason in the world to have a Bass Flute playing when the full band is at fortissimo.  Reserve these rare flutes for quiet moments to reap the most rewards.

With just eight players, we really can have a whole palate of sound.  But remember, the flute family is only one flavor of sound; the ear needs more than just flute to survive.  If I had the option of eight players, all of whom can double on various instruments, I would probably choose an arrangement like this:

Player 1 – Piccolo, C Flute

Player 2 – Piccolo, C Flute

Player 3 – Piccolo, C Flute

Player 4 – Piccolo, C Flute

Player 5 – C Flute, Alto Flute

Player 6 – C Flute, Alto Flute

Player 7 – C Flute, Tenor Flute

Player 8 – C Flute, Bass Flute

This is of course a pie-in-the-sky scenario, but let’s think of the possibilities.  All eight players play multiple instruments.  At any one time we can have eight C Flute playing between one and eight different parts.  For forte sections, four first and four seconds would give the most impact.  Also at any one time we can have four Piccolos.  This scenario is useful for loud, bombastic, and terrifying passages.  (Think how much more terrifying this would be if all eight players switched to Piccolo!)  At the bottom end, we could see ourselves with a soft, low quartet of two Altos, a Tenor, and a Bass.  Would could have two Piccolos and six C Flutes; two Piccolos, four C Flutes, and two Alto Flutes.  The combinations are immense and exciting!

Here is what a full choir of flutes can do.

Flutes – Introduction




            The flute family is the highest voice in the band.  The C Flute, and its close kin the Piccolo, carry the top notes, and indeed are sometimes the only instruments capable of playing in the top soprano range with delicacy.  The flute, however is a loner in the band world.  It is a woodwind with no reed.  Its sound production is unlike any other instrument, and thus it becomes the one unique voice in the ensemble.  This fact, however, has gone unnoticed by most arrangers and bandestrators.  The traditional role of the flute is a simple soprano, but this role may be changing.

The Flute Family has recently undergone a massive expansion.  The popularity of flute choirs has seen a rise in the so-called “harmony” flutes.  When we think of the flute, we picture the traditional C Flute, but this is now only the tip of a much larger family.  These new voices are just waiting to be explored by creative orchestrators and bandestrators.


Nomenclature – Traditional flute nomenclature does not work.  For years the standard C Flute and Piccolo were the only flutes available for use, and then came along the slightly larger Flute in G, which we know as the Alto Flute.  However, the earliest composers to use this instrument, like Gustav Holst, called the instrument a Bass Flute.  Hence we have confusion already.  When a flute an octave lower than the C Flute was finally constructed, it was christened the Bass Flute entirely skipping over the terms tenor and baritone.  Over the past two decades, flutes even lower than the traditional “Bass” have been constructed and are seeing wider use.  In this volume, I am trying to do my part to rectify this situation.  I am using the terms Tenor, Baritone, Bass, etc. to refer to these instruments in their proper role.  What we generally know as the Bass Flute, now becomes the Tenor Flute.  The new Bass Flute is now the instrument pitched one octave lower (what we generally call the Contrabass Flute).

Traditional Name

Revised Name

Piccolo Piccolo
G Treble G Treble
E-flat Soprano E-flat Soprano
Alto Alto
Bass Tenor
Contra-alto Baritone
Contrabass Bass
Sub-Contra-Alto Sub-Bass
Double Contrabass Contrabass

Many of these flutes are rare and not widely used, but I am including them for the sake of presenting the complete family.  Ten years ago, some of these instruments were represented by only a few individual specimens, but today can be seen more regularly.

For the majority of band writing, the bandestrator need only to familiarize themselves with the Piccolo, C Flute, and perhaps the Alto Flute.  All others are rare visitors.


D-flat Piccolo

C Piccolo

G Treble

E-flat Soprano

C Flute

B-flat Flute d’Amore

A Flute d’Amore

Alto Flute

Tenor Flute (Bass)

Baritone Flute (Contra-alto/Contr’alto)

Bass Flute (Contrabass)

Sub-Bass Flute (Sub-Contrabass)

Contrabass Flute (Double Contrabass)

Instrument List

Before I post anything about any of the particular instruments, I think it best to put up a sort of table of contents on what to expect.  The following list are all the instrument I plan on covering.  I already know that there will be more than is on this list, but I’ll keep some of those a surprise.


  •             Piccolo Flute
  •             G Treble Flute
  •             E-flat Soprano Flute
  •             C Flute
  •             Alto Flute
  •             Tenor Flute
  •             Baritone Flute
  •             Bass Flute
  •             Sub-Bass and Contrabass Flute


  •             Garklein Recorder
  •             Sopranino Recorder
  •             Soprano Recorder
  •             Alto Recorder
  •             Tenor Recorder
  •             Bass Recorder
  •             Great Bass Recorder
  •             Contrabass Recorder


  •             Piccolo Oboe
  •             Oboe
  •             Oboe d’Amore
  •             English Horn
  •             Bass Oboe
  •             Heckelphone
  •             Lupophone


  •             A-flat Clarinet
  •             E-flat Clarinet
  •             C Clarinet
  •             B-flat Clarinet
  •             A Clarinet
  •             Basset Horn
  •             Alto Clarinet
  •             Bass Clarinet
  •             Contra-alto Clarinet
  •             Contrabass Clarinet


  •             Piccolo Saxophones
  •             Sopranino Saxophone
  •             Soprano Saxophone
  •             Alto Saxophone
  •             Tenor Saxophone
  •             Baritone Saxophone
  •             Bass Saxophone
  •             Contrabass Saxophone


  •             Alto Bassoon
  •             Tenor Bassoon
  •             Bassoon
  •             Contrabassoon


  •             Soprano Sarrusophone
  •             Alto Sarrusophone
  •             Tenor Sarrusophone
  •             Baritone Sarrusophone
  •             Bass Sarrusophone
  •             Contrabass Sarrusophone


Wagner Tuba


  •             E-flat Soprano Cornet
  •             B-flat Cornet
  •             Alto Horn
  •             Baritone Horn


  •             Piccolo Trumpet
  •             F and G Trumpets
  •             E-flat and D Trumpets
  •             C and B-flat Trumpets
  •             Alto Trumpet
  •             Bass Trumpet


  •             Soprano Trombone
  •             Alto Trombone
  •             Tenor Trombone
  •             Bass Trombone
  •             Contrabass Trombone


  •             Flügelhorn
  •             Euphonium
  •             Bass Tuba
  •             Contrabass Tuba