The Recorder Part 2- Parts of the Recorder and functions.

My first post on Instruments of the Orchestra began with the Recorder. I deliberately chose the Recorder as the start of the series because it is often the first instrument that young children learn to play and is their first experience of music. It may be considered painful for the parent/grandparent as the child learns, but as discussed, the range of other skills developed by learning an instrument is priceless.

In the previous post, I recommended some exercises that you as the parent and then you and your child could do to assist in the learning of the Recorder.  I hope you found these helpful tips.

Today I would like to explore the instrument itself- its parts and what they do and how you and your child can maintain the instrument.

First lesson to teach your child is that the recorder is an instrument- it is not a toy and should be treated with care and respect.  This care and respect is shown by how they maintain their instrument and of course how they play it.

Second tip: listen yourself to some Recorder Music and come to appreciate the intricacies involved. Then, introduce some of these pieces of music to your child to listen to with you. Discuss them. Hearing works for the instrument by the major composers will help your child understand that it stands as equal to any other instrument.


There are 4 key areas to the instrument when we look at it from the front view:

1.    Mouthpiece

2.    Sound chamber

3.    Tone Holes

4.    Bell.

  1. The Mouthpiece. 

The mouthpiece is the area in which a performer places his/her lips to blow into the instrument.  As I talked about in the previous post, how a person blows and which the intensity of the breath, can affect the sound that is heard and made.

Clarinet or Saxophone and of course the recorder are known as single-reed instruments.  The mouthpiece is that part to which the reed is attached. The function of the mouthpiece is to provide an opening through which air enters the instrument and one end of an air chamber to be set into vibration by the interaction between the air stream and the reed.

At the mouthpiece, there is a wooden block known as a fipple, whose function is to direct the air.

The mouthpiece naturally gets damp because of the saliva in the mouth.  It is necessary as a maintenance issue for the performer to undo the recorder into 2 pieces. (below the sound chamber) to let the recorder dry out after use.  A brush is recommended as well but allowing the instrument to dry out after use is essential in the maintenance of the instrument.

Today, high-quality recorders are made from a range of hardwoods. Plastic recorders are produced in large quantities. Plastics are cheaper and require less maintenance and quality plastic recorders can be as good as lower-end wooden instruments. Plastic recorders can be sterilised by soaking in a mild disinfectant, which may be desirable if they are shared between classes. Beginners' instruments, the sort usually found in children's ensembles, are plastic and can be purchased quite cheaply.

Although plastic recorders have the advantage of being cheaper and are potentially more hygienic than wooden ones, and therefore are often favoured by parents and students, it should not be forgotten the fact that the recorder is a category of wooden instrument and despite their distinct advantages for the beginner, a good quality instrument always has the potential to produce a good quality sound.

 2. Sound Chamber:

As the name suggests, this is the space for the sound. The sound goes down through the sound chamber down the instrument to vibrate. The sound comes from a vibrating column of air inside the tube. The player makes this column of air vibrate by blowing across it using the mouthpiece.

In normal play, the player blows into the  mouthpiece, a narrow channel in the head joint, which directs a stream of air across a gap called the window, at a sharp edge called the labium  ( or a sound chamber). The air stream alternately travels above and below the labium, exciting standing waves in the bore of the recorder, and producing sound waves that emanate away from the window. Feedback from the resonance of the tube regulates the pitch of the sound.

 3.Tone holes:

The player changes pitch by opening and closing holes along the instrument's length. The shorter the tube the higher the sound and the longer the tube, the lower the sound. This means then that when all the tone holes are covered, the sound will be lower in pitch than if only one finger covered it.  The tone holes are therefore the place to produce pitch which is done by covering the tone holes.

At this point in the discussion, I refer you back to my previous post where I mentioned an exercise to help with co-ordination of fingers.  This is one of the challenges for a younger child whilst learning the recorder. This challenge of co-ordination is also met at the same time when for most youngster, learn notation. So there is a double challenge. The more both of these topics can be dealt with separately first, the better outcome for the student. Marrying the two concepts becomes easier.

 The other aspect of playing that needs to be made here is that a recorder squeaks in sound for 2 reasons= either (a) it is blown too hard) or (b) the tone holes are leaking-this means that the fingers are not covering the holes adequately. The squeak is caused for either of these reasons or in some extreme cases can be for both reasons. Younger children tend to blow too hard and because they lack coordination sufficient for the instrument tend not to cover the tone holes appropriately.


As in any woodwind instrument there is a bell.  The bell is the final stage for the vibrating column of air to reach. The bell provides extra resonance and is the exit point for sound to emerge and be resonant.

 At the back view of the recorder there is the bottom lip plate used for the player’s comfort and the thumb hole where the thumb is placed and used in combination with the other fingers to produce pitch.

 When your child is learning, it is good to call the parts of the instrument by its correct name and to explain to the child its function.  It is also very valuable to teach them in a very basic way the concept of air waves so that they have a visual understanding at least of what happens when they play their instrument. 

 Next week: the 4 key steps to getting a good tone from the recorder.

In the meantime, you may wish to listen to these recordings using the Recorder.


Recorder Sonata By G. F. Handel.