The recorder is a fun and easy instrument to play. For many (like me), it was their first instrument in grade school that served as a great introduction to the broader world of music.
Given that it’s a monophonic (one note at a time) instrument, it’s a little limited in what it can do, but you can play just about any melody of your choosing. Yes, even your favorite pop songs can be emulated with surprising accuracy and enjoyment on the recorder.
In this guide, we’ll be looking at a bunch of easy songs to play on the recorder – many children and Christmas friendly – along with videos that show you how to play them.
“Hot Cross Buns” by Eliphalet Oram Lyte
If you’re just getting started on the recorder, then Eliphalet Oram Lyte’s “Hot Cross Buns,” originally an English street cry, is a great place to start.
This song was later turned into a nursery rhyme, and it is only made up of eight bars of music. The melody is simple, and the first two bars literally alternate between just two notes. Its most sophisticated form, though, only resembles modern versions to an extent.
The simplest (and most widely accepted) version of the song only features three notes. That’s another reason for complete beginners to start their recorder journey here. It’s an exercise as much as it is a song, and it teaches you a great deal about notes and melodies. If you’re just starting out on the recorder, then be in discovery of what this song can teach you.
“Oh! Susanna” by Stephen Foster
Stephen Foster’s “Oh! Susanna” is like the very image of bluegrass / country music, and the lyrics paint the picture in full. It is among one of the most popular American songs ever written, and even legends like Bing Crosby (though Crosby seems to have taken to much of the music mentioned in this guide) and James Taylor rendered their own versions of it.
This tune has a “rise and fall” melody pattern that’s easy to duplicate. Some of the note durations might throw you off at first, but once you’ve internalized the melody, this should not present much of a challenge at all. If unsure, listen to the song a bunch of times, and you’ll start to get the hang of it.
And, if you encounter any trouble, simply focus on playing the right notes before working on the rhythm. Once you’ve memorized the melody, the rhythmic aspects start to come easier too.
“Mary Had A Little Lamb” by Sarah Josepha Hale
Sarah Josepha Hale’s “Mary Had A Little Lamb” is an obvious nursery rhyme favorite, and it tells a rather simple story of Mary and her lamb, though it is supposed that it might be based on true people and events (which is most curious).
This childhood staple has endured since the 19th century, when it was written, but a variety of versions exist, and blues guitarist Buddy Guy’s version is famous for having popularized it in the late 60s. Its fast-paced groove, along with Guy’s impassioned vocals, no doubt captured the imagination of many, including Stevie Ray Vaughan, whose version many will remember too.
This song is so deeply ingrained in culture that it should be easy to pick up, even by ear. If you don’t already have it under your command, watch the video guide below for additional help. Start slowly, and gradually pick up the pace as you feel more comfortable with it.
“Jingle Bells” by James Lord Pierpont
If you’re ever lost looking for easy songs to play on the recorder, a good place to turn to, in general, is Christmas music. As you’ll see from this list, Christmas songs are usually easy, and studying them can teach you a lot about playing the recorder (or any instrument for that matter). Melody is one of the three building blocks of music, after all.
Believe it or not, “Jingle Bells” is one of the most sung and best-known Christmas songs across the entire world. And it wasn’t even written as a Christmas song! Somewhere in the 1860s and 70s it became permanently associated with the holiday season, and some would say for the better.
“Jingle Bells” isn’t just taught as a beginner recorder song, but because of its straightforward melody, it often appears in beginner guitar books too. Other instrumentalists may find that to be the case with their method books also.
“Amazing Grace” by John Newton
John Newton’s Christian hymn, “Amazing Grace,” is often admired for its beauty. It is well-known, both in Christian and secular circles, and it is generally welcomed in all environments. The writer, Newton, apparently detailed his own life experiences in this song, suggesting that it was of especial importance to him.
For me, bass virtuoso Victor Wooten’s rendition of “Amazing Grace” is one to behold and is a great one for all types of musicians to take inspiration from. It goes to show how complex, soulful, and passionate a rather simplistic hymn can ultimately become. But that, in a way, has become the norm rather than the exception.
The melody in “Amazing Grace” is made up of a series of half, quarter, and eighth notes (with some dotted notes for good measure). And the melody tends to stay “tight,” without big intervallic jumps to higher notes and / or lower notes. Translation: that makes it a simple song to play even for beginners. A must.
“Pop Goes The Weasel” by Unknown
The English nursery rhyme and singing game “Pop Goes The Weasel” is often used in Jack-in-the-box type toys – one of the reasons it is so deeply integrated within our pop culture psyche. The song immediately evokes images of surprised, giggling babies and toddlers.
We don’t know exactly where the song came from, but it is supposed that it has 18th century origins. Even its meaning is uncertain, and many have come up with their own theories as to what the song ultimately means. Quite interesting.
Like “Amazing Grace,” “Pop Goes The Weasel” has a tight melody, and no major surprises. It is in 6/8 time, but if you don’t think too hard and long about it, it will probably come naturally, because you’ve heard it so many times before. If in doubt, just play one note at a time and start to work out the rhythm later.
“Scarborough Fair” by Unknown
For some, “Scarborough Fair” might not be an obvious pick for the recorder. But I think that’s exactly what makes it a great selection. Its melody really isn’t any harder than most of the other songs we’ve looked at so far.
The most famous modern version is obviously Simon & Garfunkel’s, and it is stellar to listen to, even to this day. It’s a great version to take inspiration from.
The tune is in 3/4 time with a relatively straightforward melody, mostly made up of quarter, half, and eighth notes (but with multiple dotted notes too. A great, recognizable traditional tune overall.
“Ode To Joy” by Ludwig van Beethoven
Ludwig van Beethoven’s “Ode To Joy” indeed sounds like the definitive work celebrating the feeling of pleasure and happiness. It’s a song every musician should endeavor to add to their musical vocabulary, and it’s melody, at least, isn’t too hard to play for most beginners on most instruments, including the recorder.
The rise and fall of the melody pattern is relatively easy to follow, and shouldn’t present too much of a challenge for complete novices.
“Greensleeves” by Unknown
The traditional English folk song “Greensleeves” may have been inspired by a beautiful woman, but its origins are kind of mired in history, even if we can roughly pinpoint a time in which it was likely written. Rather mysterious, all told.
The melody is decidedly minor (sad, dark), and it has obviously become associated with Christmastime. But it has appeared in so many different places in so many different contexts by now, that it isn’t any one thing. It is, however, part of most people’s consciousness.
The melody follows a relatively similar pattern throughout, so even though it’s in 3/4 time it’s relatively easy to pick up. And overall, 3/4 time is probably only second to 4/4 time.
“Yankee Doodle” by Unknown
American nursery rhyme and song “Yankee Doodle” has a rich history, and many have speculated that the tune has been in existence for longer than the lyrics.
No doubt it’s a simple song, but you would probably be surprised to find the sheer lyrical and musical content associated with it.
As applied to the recorder, though, you’re going to be focused on the melody, which largely consists of quarter notes. Quite straightforward, even if the melody isn’t as tight as some of the other songs we’ve looked at. There are some intervallic hops, but they aren’t too bad.
“This Little Light Of Mine” by Unknown
We have no idea who wrote popular gospel song “This Little Light Of Mine.” Many believe it was written by Harry Dixon Leos for children in the 1920s, but he did not claim credit for it. The Moody Bible Institute, where he worked, even went on record to point out he wasn’t the writer.
The song, nevertheless, has survived through the decades. It’s been sung by the likes of Sister Rosetta Tharpe, and it was even turned into the more secular “This Little Girl Of Mine” by the illustrious Ray Charles.
The simple tune allows for plenty of creativity by those who sing or play it, but its repeating melody line makes it one of the easiest songs to learn on the recorder.
“Silent Night” Franz Xaver Gruber & Joseph Mohr
“Silent Night” is another favorite Christmas carol. The song was originally written in German, but it has been sung and played in many styles by a variety of singers and artists. One of the most famous versions is Bing Crosby’s from 1935. It sold an amazing 10 million copies as a single.
By now, you’re starting to get the idea. Most if not all songs on this list feature a simple melody. You can put complex arrangements around such a melody to make it sound more sophisticated, but at the end of the day, that doesn’t make it any harder for a recordist to fulfill on their role of playing simple single note lines.
Nevertheless, “Silent Night” is an essential for every budding recordist, so don’t overlook it. Use the video below to learn it from start to finish and add it to your kit of tools.
“The First Noel” by Unknown
“The First Noel” has Cornish origins, and it is a popular, traditional English Christmas carol. It is supposed that it was written in the early modern period, though it’s entirely possible it has earlier origins. Basically, we can only ballpark when it was written.
The song is in 3/4 time, and the melody is largely made up of quarter notes. It sounds great solo, but it also has plenty of potential as a duet in case you happen to be sitting next to another recorder player who’s willing to work with you.
The song is a little on the longer side compared to many we’ve looked at, and that is perhaps the hardest thing about it. But once you’ve built up your stamina with shorter tunes, you should be more than ready for this one. So, even if you aren’t ready for it yet, be sure to come back to it later.
“We Wish You A Merry Christmas” by Arthur Warrell
Composer, conductor, and organist Arthur Warrell’s “We Wish You A Merry Christmas” is a traditional English Christmas carol. Chances are, you’re able to sing the lyrics without any musical accompaniment or further prompting.
Not surprisingly, plenty of artists have offered up their renditions of “We Wish You A Merry Christmas,” through the years, from Alan Mills and The 4 Seasons to Patti Page and Pat Boone.
The melody is set to a 3/4 waltz, and it has a bouncy quality to it. The verse and chorus section together basically represent 18 bars of music. The chorus is probably an easier place to start than the more commonly remembered verse, but if you have a bit of practice under your belt, you can really start wherever it makes the most sense to you to start.
“Old MacDonald Had A Farm” by Thomas D’Urfey & Frederick Thomas Nettingham
“Old MacDonald Had A Farm” is a popular nursery rhyme / traditional children’s song that tells the story of a farmer and the various animals he looks after. Animal noises are optional but encouraged!
Even early renditions of the song were entertaining in nature, suggesting that the song was probably played at local festivals and events.
There are many famous renditions of the song, vintage and modern, by the likes of Nat King Cole, Bing Crosby, and Baby Einstein Music Box Orchestra.
The melody is quite repetitive, making it a great song for even beginner recorder players to pick up and learn. Have fun!
“When The Saints Go Marching In” by Unknown
“When The Saints Go Marching In” is a black spiritual song with Christian hymn origins. It caught on with jazz bands, too, though, and legend trumpeter and vocalist Louis Armstrong and his orchestra recorded their version on May 13, 1938. Its exact origins, though, are unclear.
If you go digging for them, you can find other great renditions of “When The Saints Go Marching In,” by the likes of B.B. King, Lauren Daigle, and others.
The melody is very simplistic, making it a great starting point for beginners of all persuasions. It isn’t the absolute easiest song on this list to play on the recorder, but it comes close.
“Row, Row, Row Your Boat” by Unknown
“Row, Row, Row Your Boat” is a popular English nursery rhyme / children’s song. The lyrics were first published in 1852 but its exact origins aren’t known.
Bing Crosby used it in one of his medleys on 101 Gang Songs and sang it in concert as well.
The song is in 6/8 time and is only eight bars long. That said, through the ages, people have added many verses of their own, and their addendums range from the humorous and fun to the absurd and juvenile. Maybe you could come up with your own!
The melody is simple. It starts slower, picks up a bit of speed, then lands somewhere in between. The eighth notes are easier than they look, though, because they come in batches of three.
7 Tips For Practicing & Playing The Recorder As A Beginner
Interested in becoming a better recorder player?
Then, the best thing you can focus on is the basics. Because developing good habits and techniques leads to more success over the long haul. Fundamentals always translate well to more advanced playing.
Here are a few tips and guidelines for better recorder playing.
- Practice. It may seem obvious, but practice is important, and consistency makes a difference. If possible, find a consistent time to practice each day.
- Work on the rest, ready, and play positions. Rest and play are straightforward. Ready position is where the recorder mouthpiece is resting on the chin.
- Use “flat fingers” to cover the holes. The finger should cover the entire hole. You can usually tell by looking at the mark / indentations on the finger whether you’re using proper technique.
- Control your breathing. The temptation, of course, is to blow as hard and as fast one possibly can into the mouthpiece. Controlled breath tends to produce a better result, though. Less really is more in this case.
- Use the tongue. Don’t use your breath. Use your tongue to produce the notes on your instrument.
- Keep your shoulders and cheeks still. Make sure they’re not moving.
- Record yourself or your child. Only for fun, not for heavy criticism and “here’s what you’re doing wrong” blame games. Recordings can be great assessment and correction tools if used sparingly and with sensitivity, though.
Easy Songs To Play On The Recorder, Final Thoughts
Master these songs, and you should be able to pick up many others. We do suggest taking your time, though. After all, music is generally learned through repetition, and muscle memory plays a big role in your success. No one can say exactly how long it will take for your muscle memory to take over, where for some, it only takes a few repeats, and for others, it takes many more.
Focus on one thing at a time and go at your own pace. Once you’ve adopted good playing habits, adapting to more complex melodies gets easier. The better you get; the more enjoyable music tends to get. So, develop your patience. It can take a while to feel comfortable on any instrument, including the beginner-oriented recorder!