6 Types Of Recorders

Most of us are introduced to recorders at a young age. The recorder may well be one of the easiest woodwind instruments to play, and it familiarizes countless children with the world of music and music theory.

But did you know that there is more than just one type of recorder out there? It’s true. Recorders come in many sizes, and oddly enough, different shapes too.

In this guide, we look at six types of recorders.

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Soprano Recorder

Soprano Recorder

The soprano recorder is the most common, and probably the first instrument of the recorder family you were ever introduced to.

The instrument is affordable and widely available. No wonder it is often used in elementary schools. Most books and learning materials you can find for the recorder were also written for the soprano recorder.

The soprano recorder even has the greatest body of work for a solo wind instrument in European history.

But how affordable is a soprano recorder, exactly? They generally range from $4.95 up to $14.99 depending on how the instrument is made, and the accessories included. Your average recorder today, though, costs about $7 to $8.

Soprano recorders, as you surely know, are very portable. They’re only about a foot in length, and even in a carrying case, they are humble in size and lightweight. They can usually be easily stowed away in a tote or backpack.

Soprano recorders have a two-octave range from C5 to C7. Middle C is C4, which should give you a good reference point.

While the naming convention for recorders takes after vocal ranges, the soprano recorder is fully an octave above the human soprano voice.

Recorders are commonly made of plastic in part or in whole, but they can also be made of woods like maple, rosewood, ebony, pear, boxwood, olive, or African blackwood.

Recorders are most suited to playing melodies, but of course, they can be used to play single-note riffs too.

Soprano Recorder Models:

  • Yamaha YRS-24BY Baroque Soprano Recorder
  • Tudor TD175 Soprano Recorder
  • Nuvo N310RDBK Soprano Recorder

The above list should not be considered the only models available, nor should they necessarily be considered the best. Yamaha recorders are well-regarded though, and if you’re looking for a soprano recorder, there are others in the YRS series that are well worth a look.

Sopranino Recorder

Sopranino Recorder

Sopranino recorders are smaller than soprano recorders (about seven inches in length) and are higher pitched too (a one-octave range of F5 to F6). It is the second smallest instrument in the recorder family, and before the 17th century, it was the smallest.

Even though soprano recorders are often made of plastic, sopranino recorders are almost always made of wood, namely soft European tropical hardwoods. It is possible to find plastic sopranino recorders, though.

While sopranino recorders are rarely used in school, concerts, or music in general nowadays, a sopranino recorder was used in The Beatles’ “The Fool on the Hill” and was played by Sir Paul McCartney.

In a traditional setting, sopranino recorders are typically used for countermelodies and descants.

Sopranino recorders can cost more than soprano recorders and are usually in the $19 to $34 range.

Sopranino Recorder Models:

  • Yamaha YRN-302B Baroque Sopranino Recorder
  • Aulos A507B Sopranino Recorder

Alto Recorder

Alto Recorder

The alto recorder features a two-octave range (from F4 – F6) and is in a lower register than soprano recorders. It is not the lowest, however, and is just a step down from the soprano recorder.

Up until the 17th century, the alto recorder was in G4 rather than F4.

Because it is a non-transposing instrument, the alto recorder is played with “F fingerings,” much like one would with the lower register of a clarinet, or a bassoon.

The look of the alto recorder shares much in common with the soprano recorder, with the main difference being that the alto recorder is about a foot and a half long as opposed to a foot.

With the alto recorder, you can reach notes you wouldn’t be able to with a soprano recorder.

For teachers, the alto recorder could prove a good choice. Thanks to their lower range, younger males with changing voices may feel a little more comfortable with the instrument’s range. It is also possible to play wider chords with the alto recorder because of the instrument’s range, which can assist with teaching chord theory.

Of course, the fact that the lowest pitch on soprano and alto recorders are different (C and F respectively), can make it harder to wrap one’s head around one after they’ve played the other. After all, this changes fingering.

Alto recorders usually cost $20 to $39.

Alto Recorder Models:

  • Yamaha YRA-312B Alto Recorder
  • Yamaha YRA-402B Alto Recorder
  • Aulos 209B Alto Recorder

Tenor Recorder

Tenor Recorder

The tenor recorder is easy to pick up if you’ve played the soprano recorder because it’s the same as the soprano model, except an octave lower. It still has a two-octave range, from C4 to C6, but it’s capable of much lower notes than the soprano recorder.

A Tenor recorder, in fact, shares about two-thirds of its range with an alto recorder.

Because tenor recorders are larger, they may come with keys that make it easier to play the lowest notes.

If you’re trying to decide whether to go with an alto recorder or tenor recorder, then remember that while an alto has more range than the soprano, whatever you’ve learned on the soprano translates more easily to the tenor recorder.

Tenor recorders are usually more expensive than sopranos, sopraninos, or alto recorders, at about $50 to $74.

Tenor Recorder Models:

  • Yamaha YRT-304B Baroque Tenor Recorder
  • Aulos 211A Tenor Recorder

Bass Recorder

Bass Recorder

As its name would suggest, bass recorders feature a deeper sound than other recorders. Its appearance has more in common with clarinets and oboes than other recorders, but bass recorders aren’t that much harder to play than the others.

A bass recorder’s range goes from F3 to F5. That means bass recorders are set to an octave below alto recorders.

Bass recorders measure about three feet. Because they would be hard to play if they were completely straight, manufacturers add a bit of a bend to the mouthpiece, much like with saxophones or bass clarinets.

Thanks to the bend, the holes are easier to reach, but unsurprisingly, they are still relatively far apart. With the use of keys, you can cover certain holes without having to cover them with your fingers (much like with other reed instruments).

If you know how to play the clarinet, then the bass recorder will probably feel familiar and possibly even comfortable.

Bass recorders are the most expensive, at about $245 to $254.

Bass Recorder Models:

  • Yamaha YRB-302B Bass Recorder
  • Aulos 533B Symphony Bass Recorder

Other Types Of Recorders

Other Types Of Recorders

The most common types of recorders can be found above. In a recorder quartet (or consort), you would typically use soprano, alto, tenor, and bass instruments. Sopranino recorders typically do not make it into the mix.

That said, there are more recorders on either side of the spectrum – some smaller, some larger.

While these other types of recorders are not frequently used, they do exist, and they are used for very specific purposes. Here are the other types of recorders available:

Piccolo Recorder

The piccolo recorder goes by several names, including the garklein recorder or the sopranissimo recorder. As the smallest instrument in the recorder family, the piccolo recorder has the highest range consisting of C6 to A7.

A piccolo recorder has a length of about six to seven inches and is usually crafted in one piece, unlike other types of recorders.

Because the hole spacing on a piccolo recorder can be quite tight, that can make it harder to play than even the sopranino recorder. As it turns out, smaller does not always equal easier to play.

Great Bass Recorder

Have you heard of the revival of the recorder in the 20th century? I hadn’t either until I did a bit of research.

Led by French-born musician and instrument maker Arnold Dolmetsch, the revival would begin to take shape when Dolmetsch bought an alto recorder at an auction and played it in concerts.

Unfortunately, Dolmetsch would lose the recorder after leaving it on a platform at Waterloo Station. But he liked the instrument and wanted to continue playing it, because he decided to make his own recorder, and he would even go on to supply his family and friends with recorders.

Well, thanks to the revival, people started thinking about recorder instruments larger than the bass recorder. Thus, the subject of this section, the great bass recorder, was created.

The great bass recorder may come with up to seven keys to cover holes that would be very difficult to cover by hand, and it has a range of C to D2.

The great bass recorder has only been in existence for 100 to 120 years, and in that sense, it is very new to the recorder family of instruments.

Contrabass Recorder

The contrabass recorder is the same as the bass recorder except that it’s set to an octave lower, giving it a much deeper tone. The contrabass recorder was the largest of the recorder family until the invention of the sub-great bass recorder, which was created in 1975 (more on this in a moment).

The contrabass recorder, like the bass recorder, can feature several keys, including, at times, “diapason” keys, which can extend its range into even lower territory.

Sub-Great Bass Recorder

The sub-great bass recorder is sometimes also called the contra great bass or contrabass recorder. Reportedly, it has a range of C to D1.

If you come across a sub-great bass recorder with a square or rectangular cross-section made of plywood and wooden keys, it’s likely the work of Joachim and Herbert Paetzold, or it was at least inspired by their work.

Sub-Contrabass Recorder

The sub-contrabass recorder is very similar to the sub-great bass recorder, and it has a low note of F1.

A Brief History Of The Recorder

While it isn’t known exactly the recorder came into existence, the first documented can be traced back to Europe, specifically in the Middle Ages.

The recorder would enjoy great popularity throughout the Renaissance and Baroque periods but was rarely used during the Classical and Romantic periods.

It went through a revival in the late 19th and early 20th centuries (as we looked at earlier) when it ultimately became a popular educational and amateur instrument.

Many composers wrote for the recorder, including the likes of Bach, Lully, Monteverdi, Handel, Purcell, Vivaldi, Telemann, Hindemith, and Berio.

Famous Songs Featuring The Recorder

The recorder has been used in many pop and rock songs throughout the decades. Of course, we looked at one of the most infamous examples earlier – The Beatles’ “The Fool on the Hill.” But there are many others. Here are some songs you may be interested in exploring:

  • “Comin’ Back To Me” by Jefferson Airplane
  • “How Do You Feel?” by Jefferson Airplane
  • “Grafton Street” by Dido
  • “I’ve Seen All Good People” by Yes
  • “Long Tailed Winter Bird” by Paul McCartney
  • “Ruby Tuesday” by The Rolling Stones
  • “Satellite Of Love” by Lou Reed
  • “Stairway To Heaven” by Led Zeppelin
  • “Curly” by The Move
  • “Diamond Day” by Vashti Bunyan
  • “Rainbow River” by Vashti Bunyan
  • “Timothy Grub” by Vashti Bunyan
  • “Ivory Tower” by Lynsey de Paul
  • “Neanderthal Man” by Hotlegs
  • “Windy” by The Association

Best Types Of Recorders, Final Thoughts

The recorder is a fascinating instrument. While most of us have memories of the instrument squeaking and squawking as we attempted to play it (or as our children attempted to play it), it’s an instrument with a rich history and many works were written for it besides.

If you want a challenge and want to take your recorder playing beyond an elementary level, then it’s well worth looking into some of the more sophisticated works created by renowned composers. They might just blow your mind.

Thanks for reading and have fun.

P.S. Remember though, none of what you've learned will matter if you don't know how to get your music out there and earn from it. Want to learn how to do that? Then get our free ‘5 Steps To Profitable Youtube Music Career' ebook emailed directly to you!

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