Successful Practical Tips: 
for immediate recorder playing improvement of your students!






Thanks to a Great Group of Professional Teachers! 

If I can help in anyway, please communicate!


 New Jersey Music Educators Association  

 February 18-20 -East Brunswick Hilton & Towers 


  Translucent Recorders provided 
courtesy of:
Yamaha Corporation of America

Handout provided at session

e-mail address 


            Dr.  Fred Kersten


Outline of Session

             This “hands on ” presentation will explore  techniques of recorder playing that are not normally included in recorder methods book or taught in music education methods classes. Approaching the topics  discussed and demonstrated during this session will allow your students to immediately play better!! The orientation of the session will be to DEMONSTRATE, and PARTICIPATE in exploration of the topics mentioned below. 
The following suggestions for improving playing are based on a professional's many years of study of this challenging instrument and teaching it at both public school and college levels. These suggestions are  included in his book Teaching Recorder in the Music Classroom published by MENC.  
            The presenter will provide usable ensemble arrangements appropriate for classroom use for participant exploration, and also music for multicultural Orff creativity.  Recorded MIDI file backgrounds and a paper recorder template mentioned under Quick Tips for Success will be included with the handout. Music for multicultural Orff discovery will be performed including an African-American Spiritual,  “This Little Light of Mine”  arranged by Konnie Saliba. 
The recorder for the Physically Challenged  will be demonstrated.  The presenter will play several examples of solo literature available that may be utilized by children in upper grade elementary classes. Music will be provided appropriate for classroom use so that participants can play as an ensemble during the session and also with recorded Orff barred instrument sounds.


Quick Tips for Success

             *Make a paper recorder as part of a class project and use it for practice of hand position and proper holding.  Work on correct placement and pressure for fingers and hand position.  “Chin” practice singing/chanting/fingering of notes.

            *Mark your recorder with liquid paper for precise location of thumb rest and sections.  Line up recorder sections for optimum hand placement and then paint over the joints.  Draw a line over the painted sections as a resource should they get out of line.

            *Instrument Maintenance.  Clean and wash recorders with dishwater detergent.  By cleaning the recorder with detergent and allowing it to dry, water will “bead” off the windway sides and not collect making the recorder clog up.  A commercially available product “Duponol” is available that allows the beading effect.  Cut absorbent strips of lint-free cloth, put them in the slotted end of the cleaning rod and have your students use them with their instruments.

            *Tape over upper Left Hand holes of the recorder with duct tape so they will not leak.  The lower notes then can be fingered and will sound correctly allowing practice on production of full sound and correct placement of fingers of the Right Hand.

            *Use of a MIDI file with your synthesizer; develop an accompaniment tape or CD; or, obtain commercial products such as those made by Don Muro, to provide backgrounds for solo or classroom accompaniments.



            Check pinch movement of the left thumb. It is better to pinch the thumb back at the first  joint with the left top exposing the hole than to move the whole thumb from the hole. The pinch-technique will give you a reference point allowing the thumb movement to be continuously precise. Examine the pressure put on the thumb, it should be free to move with no tension. A larger aperture will aid intonation on high notes. Trim you left thumb nail as it can damage the thumb hole, and the space between nail and flesh provides a channel for air to leak which effects note production.   
Incorporate the recorder with Orff arrangements of multicultural musical either as a descant or harmony instrument.  African-American Spirituals such as “This Little Light of Mine”  will accommodate this instrument authentically and musically. Participants will perform examples at session.

            Some players use Duponol (commercially available anti-clogging liquid--a form of detergent) on windways to prevent clogging. I wash my plastic instruments with "Dawn" or other dish detergent and let them dry and this seems to work well at keeping them clog-free as well as sanitary. A thin piece of paper slid into the windway of plastic instruments can dislodge dirt or food particles if they do not come out while washing. Put a small piece of lint-free cotton cloth in the slot of the plastic swab rod that comes with every instrument and USE IT. Most students NEVER do and many teachers do not require daily cleaning.        

             Obtain an electronic tuner and allow your students to try and play in--tune pitches as an intonation game. If you pair up students as teams (one to four players) and have one play while others keep score, you will increase the number of individuals involved as you provide interest, and a cooperative education activity. This venture can provide good developmental awareness regarding intonation problems plus immediate feedback with an opportunity for correction. Such activity will also help with breath support needed to maintain a steady sound and relatively pure quality sound on the instrument.

            As a variation to a vocalization or singing activity, have half of your group play Recorder and the other half sing as selections are performed. Reverse the process! Divide the group further; sing/play triads, ostinatos, descants, or do partner songs and rounds. Greene's research supports a childrens' voice model as good for a pitch matching source. The recorder sound comes close to this. Practice open-throat exercises by singing through the Recorder. (Recorder will sounds fuzzy). Also have children sing and match pitch of note or note patterns being played by other students in a call response game that can aid in both pitch matching and tonal memory.

            For students who are physically handicapped, Aulos makes a Recorder that can be adapted to fit handicapped hands, and also hands with missing digits. Marsha Evans has written about using Recorder with Physically Challenged students and this information may be found in The American Recorder, March, 1994.

             The three-piece recorder, when properly adjusted, will provide the right-hand with a more relaxed hand position in addition to aiding in production of lower tones. Have students play and adjust the instrument for several weeks without taking it apart to find the most effective alignment of head- and foot-joint in relation to the main body. Then apply "white out" or "liquid paper" over the back joints to identify position of the body parts once the optimum hand and finger position for playing ease is established. Draw a narrow line on the dry white surface painted across the joints. If the recorder is taken apart, simply line up the marks as the recorder is put back together and you will always maintain proper alignment.

             Buy detachable thumb rests (approximately $1.00 for each rest) for your three-piece recorders as they vastly improve both player comfort and establish right-hand position for ease of note production. Use the "white out" method to establish thumb rest position .

             Try to get students playing on the larger Recorders (tenor and bass) as soon as hand size permits. The larger instruments permit playing of SATB music and allow for ensemble playing. Larger instruments are also perceived as serious musical instruments as sometimes the soprano is looked upon as a toy-- especially by the boys.

            Be aware of March as "National Play the Recorder Month"--a good chance to allow your children to participate in another activity in conjunction with MIOSM.

             Parents as Partners--many parents especially of European decent have had experience with recorder. Encourage them to work with their children or perhaps play for your class as part of a multicultural involvement.               

·                                                             Incorrect hand position results in tense hands and most problems of low--note production. The right hand fingers should be placed approximately at a right angle to the holes and it is allowable for the fingers to extend a little OVER the side of the recorder so the fingers do not play on the balls of the fingers as is taught with clarinet playing. (This is why students have such trouble obtaining low notes on the recorder--its a wonder that some of them or their teachers, obtain any low notes at all!!) Instead of a "curve your fingers" approach TRY the more FLAT FINGERED playing technique yourself--hear and FEEL the difference it makes in your playing--then pass it on to your students. As accidentals (C#, D# and Eb) utilizing double holes are played, the right wrist is moved upward at the joint and the finger slides off one of the double holes producing the note. Reversing the wrist movement allows the finger to slide back over the hole. The finger slides off the hole but does leave the location. Work for hand relaxation--almost to the place where the instrument will fall out of the fingers. Practice focus of air and diaphragm support for high tones.

            The tongue should be resting lightly on the top teeth and the tip should be on the palate just above the front teeth. There is a misconception that the mouth aides in resonance of the instrument and some state the student should think of having an Apple in his/her mouth. Such an approach places the tongue in the bottom of the mouth and it then has a greater distance to travel to reach the palate thus slowing tonguing. You must produce a strong focused air flow. Think of "whistling. "Aim the air so it flows down the front teeth and is focused just out under the top lip. The syllables Ti and Di (stronger and weaker attack) will raise the back of the tongue so the air flow is more directed. The syllable Na works well for legato passages (called a soft tongue) and Dit for staccato. To end the duration of a note put a "d" on you syllable or inhale the air back into the instrument for a more natural ending to the sound. Long tones are a must for developing pitch stability.

                            Elbows should be relaxed and down near sides, not up near the mid-body as this produces tension which will be reflected in the sound.

         Excessive water condensation is a problem that results as anxious students become so involved with obtaining notes that they adrenalize, grip the instrument harder, tighten the hand muscles, and usually move the fingers higher off the holes actually slowing up the playing and continuing the salivating/anxiety cycle. A suggested technique for teaching relaxation in playing is to take a piece of paper, and form it into a tube and have the children finger their performances on the tube (rest it on the chin) while singing the notes. The objective is not to crush the paper as they finger and the relaxation effect should permeate through the whole playing process as it effects the physiological and psychological body temperament.

         Two techniques for removing condensation from a wet horn: 1. Cover "window" with finger to prevent instrument from sounding and blow out. 2. Suck back on instrument to remove water from windway and also from thumb hole.

           Put the recorder between your lips (formed as a kiss). The chin is not pointed as with clarinet playing The recorder angle should be almost 90 degrees from the chin and angled slightly (approximately 20 degrees to the right) with the teeth slightly parted so the air flow is direct into the mouthpiece. You can use a lot of air in playing the recorder and underpitched lesser quality tone is a result from those who do not. Most people UNDERBLOW perceiving the instrument sound as being delicate and all they produce is a wimpy out-of tune-sound.

            Obtain an Alto (Treble) recorder yourself and start working on classical literature from the easier movements of the Handel Sonatas, to those of Marcello, Porpora, Bach and others. The great music for the recorder is for the Alto and you will have a superb solo instrument that is impressive in recital. Have some of your students especially those in middle school and secondary levels purchase an Alto and develop a repertoire of works that may be presented in a school assembly.

              A neat ensemble for songs in your general music classes includes...guitar (autoharp), recorder, and a quality hand drum-- or perhaps a multicultural percussion instrument such as an Indian tabla.

              The Recorder Home Page developed by Nicholas Lander  is the most through and complete source of online information in the world. Visit this page and discover the myriad possibilities for resources needed for the classroom.