In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Recorder

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Bibliographies
  • Periodicals
  • Discographies
  • Technique
  • Iconographical Studies
  • Consort Instruments
  • Inventories
  • Replicating Historical Recorders
  • Makers
  • Folk and Popular Music
  • Recorder in the Classroom

Music Recorder
K. Dawn Grapes
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 April 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 April 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199757824-0214


The recorder is a member of the woodwind family distinguished by its seven fingerholes on the front, a thumbhole on the back, and an end-blown mouthpiece with an inserted block that creates a channel for sound production. Recorders come in many different sizes. The most common are the descant (soprano), treble (alto), tenor, and bass, spaced at intervals of a fourth or fifth apart. Though pitched at different levels, recorders are not transposing instruments like most woodwinds, so different fingerings are learned for F and C instruments. The recorder has been referred to by many names in various languages, including Blockflöte (German), flauto dolce (Italian), flûte à bec (French), and flauta de pico (Spanish). Though flutes and pipes as a general class are some of the oldest musical instruments, the earliest extant recorders date from the 14th century, as does iconographical evidence of the instrument’s use. In the Renaissance era, the recorder was one of the most popular wind instruments and was often played in consorts in both domestic and professional settings. In the 17th and early 18th centuries, the recorder was respected as a virtuosic solo instrument and featured in sonatas, concertos, and opera orchestrations. By the mid-18th century, however, the recorder was replaced by the transverse flute as the preferred solo and orchestral instrument of the flute family. Some composers still wrote pieces for recorders throughout the 19th century, but the instrument remained in the shadows until the early 20th century, when instrument makers in England and Germany “rediscovered” the recorder. Makers began replicating early instruments and performers advocated for the instrument’s return to the concert stage. In the 1930s, a movement began to incorporate the recorder into school music curricula because the instrument is easily learned in classroom settings, is appropriate for basic musicianship training, and lends itself to ensemble playing. Amateur interest in the instrument surged, and the recorder became one of the best-selling musical instruments of the century. It remains so today. Different paths of recorder performance emerged in the 20th century: one linked to the historical early music movement that intensified in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s; one that sought out new repertoire featuring the instrument’s ability to use modern and extended techniques; and one of use within folk music settings. Today the recorder continues to be played in classrooms, enjoyed by amateur enthusiasts, showcased by professional performers, and studied by recorder scholars.

General Overviews

Due to the recorder’s international appeal and popularity among both professional performers and amateur players, there are many general overviews available. Book-length offerings often cover multiple topics including, but not limited to, descriptions of instruments, history, fingering systems, technique, and repertoire. Examples of sources that explore more than one aspect of the recorder include Thomson 1995, a collection of essays by leading scholars and performers, and Thomson 1982, a special issue of a respected early music journal. Peter 1958 is a classic single-author tome that is cited frequently in subsequent recorder scholarship. An extensive section devoted to the recorder is found in Adorján and Meierott 2010, an encyclopedic German dictionary of people and terms. Websites such as the Recorder Home Page (Lander 1996–2017) and Furulya provide links to articles, repertoire databases, and bibliographies of potential sources for study. Linde 1991 and Lasocki 2001 provide excellent starting places for those seeking general background information on the instrument.

  • Adorján, András, and Lenz Meierott, eds. Lexikon der Flöte. 2d ed. Laaber, Germany: Laaber-Verlag, 2010.

    A dictionary of musical terms and people associated with instruments of the flute family, including the recorder. The section on the “Blockflöte” provides information on multiple recorder topics, from acoustics to history (pp. 117–142).

  • Furulya.

    Nonprofit website associated with the Hungarian Foundation for Recorders. Includes articles, with several by leading Hungarian scholar János Bali, on recorder history, organology, maintenance, and pedagogy as well as downloadable music and links to other recorder sources.

  • Lander, Nicholas S. Recorder Home Page, 1996–2017.

    An extensive website that features a wide range of articles and resources related to history, technique, discography, and iconography as well as international databases of recorder societies, repertoire, and references to the recorder in literary sources.

  • Lasocki, David. “Recorder.” In Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online, 2001.

    A general introduction to the recorder that outlines history by era and provides overviews of performance practice and repertoire. Focuses more heavily on historical aspects than modern status and practice.

  • Linde, Hans-Martin. The Recorder Player’s Handbook. 2d ed. Translated by Richard Deveson. London: Schott, 1991.

    A compact work that provides an excellent introduction to the instrument, both in terms of technique and history. Includes many photos and illustrations. Appropriate for use in college classrooms and collegium musicum settings. Originally published in German in 1962 as Handbuch des Blockflötenspiels.

  • Peter, Hildemarie. The Recorder: Its Traditions and Its Tasks. Translated by Stanley Godman. Berlin: Robert Lienau, 1958.

    Though dated, this concise, general introduction to the recorder still holds relevant information. The pullout historical fingering and trill charts and ornamentation examples based on treatises of the 16th to 18th centuries are especially helpful. Originally published in 1953 as Die Blockflöte und ihre Spielweise in Vergangenheit und Gegenwart.

  • Thomson, J. M., ed. Special Issue: The Recorder: Past and Present. Early Music 10.2 (1982).

    This journal issue is devoted entirely to the recorder. Includes articles by leading scholars, performers, and instrument makers on topics such as history, contemporary performance issues, the recorder in non-western countries, iconography, repertoire, and organology.

  • Thomson, John Mansfield, ed. The Cambridge Companion to the Recorder. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

    Compilation of more than a dozen chapters by noted recorder professionals and scholars on recorder history, repertoire, treatises, performers, and performance practice. Intended for a general audience.

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