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Ten Things You Didn’t Know About The Recorder

August 11th, 2023 | 3 min read

By Ewan Moore

The recorder is one of the most common starter instruments around, but did you know it actually has a rich and fascinating history? As pBone gets ready to celebrate the launch of its very own pCorder, we thought we’d share with you ten things you almost definitely never knew about the humble recorder!

1: Recorders Are Much Older Than You’d Think

Recorders are actually incredibly old, and have been around since the middle ages. That means they’re a few centuries older than a lot of instruments we know and love today, including the tuba, trumpet, harmonica, and clarinet. 

According to historians, the oldest example of a recorder dates all the way back to the 14th century - over 700 years ago! Back then, recorders were often carved from ivory or wood. Mass-produced plastic recorders didn’t hit stores until the 1960s, a long time later. 

2: Recorders Have Featured On Some Massive Songs

While the recorder isn’t quite as obviously rock ‘n roll as the guitar or drums, it’s been used by some iconic artists over the years. 

Below is a list of songs you probably had no idea were hiding a recorder. 

  • ‘Ruby Tuesday' - The Rolling Stones (1967)
  • 'The Fool on the Hill' - The Beatles (1967)
  • 'If 6 Was 9’ - Jimi Hendrix (1967)
  • 'Stairway to Heaven' - Led Zeppelin (1971)
  • 'Satellite of Love' -  Lou Reed (1973)
  • 'Time it's Time' - Talk Talk (1986)

Okay, so The Beatles one is pretty obvious. And can we talk about why 1967 was apparently such a huge year for the recorder? Weird. 

3: The Biggest Recorder On Record Is 10 Feet!

Ever wondered what the biggest recorder on record is? Probably not, but you’re here now so we’re going to tell you. While the most common type of recorder (soprano) is around 32cm, they can get a lot bigger. 

The sub contrabass recorder is ridiculously huge, and clocks in at around 3 metres. Take a look at the video below to see just how massive it is (and how on Earth you would go about playing it). 


Unsurprisingly, the sub contrabass recorder is extremely rare - there are currently only three in the entire world! 

4: The Recorder Nearly Went Extinct 

While the recorder is among the cheapest and most commonly available instruments today, it actually nearly went extinct in the late 19th century.

If it weren’t for the efforts of passionate musical enthusiasts with a love of pre-classical music, the recorder simply wouldn’t exist in 2022. Fans of the “retro” (at the time, obviously) style of music would hold special events where older instruments such as the recorder were shown off and played. Kind of like being taken to see a cover band perform songs that were popular when your parents were kids. 

5: WWII Prisoners Were Given Recorders To Play

Less of a “fun” fact, this one, but German-held prisoners of war were actually given recorders to play to help pass away the time in captivity. Manufactured in England, these cellulosic plastic recorders are the earliest version of the plastic recorders we’re used to today. 

Find out more about pCorder!

6: King Henry VIII Collected Recorders

Did you know King Henry VIII was almost as into collecting recorders as he was wives? The infamous former king of England was something of a musician himself, having allegedly composed several pieces himself. By the time he died in 1547, he’s said to have had 76 recorders as part of his collection. 

Oh, and they actually did get played, too. According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the king would probably have ensured his recorders were being played by the royal recorder consort and other musicians if he wasn’t using them. 

7: A Group Of Recorders Is Called A Consort

Because there are different types of recorders that vary by size and pitch, you’ll often find more than one in an ensemble. 

The types of recorders, in order of size and highest pitch first, are:

  • Sopranino
  • soprano (descant)
  • alto (treble)
  • tenor
  • bass
  • great bass
  • contrabass
  • sub-contrabass

And a group of recorders playing together is known as a consort! Lovely name. 

8: The Recorder Has The Perfect Name 

Technology has changed what many would associate with a word like the recorder, but the name of the instrument used to make a lot more sense. 

These days you might assume “record” means to literally capture the moment via the camera or voice recording app on your phone. But way back when “record” meant to literally remember. Recorder derives from the Latin recordārī (to call to mind or recollect). 

It’s been suggested by some experts that the name was applied to the instrument as it was often used to accompany singers who struggled to perform their songs and poems in tune and in time. In other words, the recorder was the perfect portable instrument for practising songs! 

9: Flute And Recorder Used To Be Interchangeable 

Ever wondered what the difference between a flute and a recorder is? Well, for a surprisingly long period, there wasn’t one! French influence changed the name recorder to flute in the 1600s, and it wasn’t until the 1720s that the flute gained popularity on its own terms and it became necessary to properly separate the two instruments again.

10: The Recorder Goes By Many Names

The recorder goes by many different names depending on the country. It’s called the Blockflote in Germany, the Flauto dolce in Italy, the Flute a bec in France, the flauta dulce in Spain, the rekoda in Japan, and the blockflojt in Sweden. We like recorder best, though. 

Find Out More! 

Feel like you just have to try a recorder out for yourself now? The pCorder is the perfect option! Lightweight, easy to use, and great fun, it’s a solid option for any younger players looking for their first instrument. You can find out more about our full range of pInstruments here, or learn all about the pCorder here. 

Ewan Moore

After seven years writing about video games, Ewan made the jump to the music instrument industry to stop his family asking when he was going to get a real job. Mostly, though, he adores music and is passionate about its vital role throughout life - especially in education. He also played guitar in several bands with deeply embarrassing names that won't be revealed here. With a degree in journalism from an NCTJ-accredited university under his belt, Ewan uses everything he learned as a writer over the last decade to help answer any questions you might have about pBone Music in an accessible (and hopefully entertaining) way. Because if you can write 1,000 words on SSDs and ray-tracing, you can explain why plastic instruments are accessible, sustainable, and fun.