Anyone who knows me well knows that I love my recorders. Despite what many may think, these ancient instruments are still extremely relevant today and are a great tool for expanding our musical skill set. References to this little instrument date back at least to the 14th century, and the instrument continued to be popular all the way through the Baroque Period. My favorite Bach cantata – Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit – features them prominently. Newer, louder instruments stole the show for a while after that, but then people figured out recorders were a great way to teach children the basics of playing an instrument. There are two huge reasons they are great for kids. First and foremost, they are extremely accessible because they don’t require any embouchure work and they take almost no breath pressure to produce a sound. I always tell my students if you look at a recorder too aggressively it may make a sound! Secondly, their size makes them very portable. We can play our recorders while we are moving around the room, dancing, and playing games.
Third Graders playing in the forest, trying not to get caught by the wolf!
Even though the recorder is so accessible, there are always new challenges for our students as we progress. More advanced players will find that the instrument has an impressive range. I am still pushing myself to find the elusive upper reaches of the recorder’s range! Our students always get so excited to discover new notes on their instruments, enabling them to play new pieces with more notes, or to play the same pieces in new keys. All this work means our students will be ahead of the curve if they choose to play band or orchestra instruments later on.
The recorder’s story doesn’t stop at being a great teaching tool for elementary school students. Many people still play this great instrument, leading to some recent innovations. This summer I learned about the Elody, a recorder that is now at the top of my wish list. The Elody is – wait for it – an electric recorder! It can be plugged into an amp and distorted just like the guitar. I always love when old traditions find new life in unexpected ways!