The humble recorder. The classic classroom instrument of choice for generations of children. The soundtrack to your school years.
Many of us will have started our own musical journey with a recorder. After all, they are relatively cheap, portable, and accessible. They are surprisingly versatile too and easier to learn than many other instruments. And playing a recorder could take your little learner from "Twinkle twinkle little star" to...well, superstar! But if you are starting music lessons, what type of recorder is the best choice?
At Warwick Music Group, our beginner instrument expertise has seen us help children play their first notes across the globe. Our team also have rich experience in the education setting, such as our delivery of 53,000 beginner instruments to kids in Wales. Trust us when we say that's enough musical instruments to make a racket! So we know a thing or two about which type of recorder is most suitable for beginners.
Recorders sometimes get a bad rep. Like many beginner instruments, those first few notes can be a tad...screechy. But with the right guidance - and the right recorder - your child could soon be sending soothing sounds your way. As well as having a break from their screens!
We will help you discover the five main types of recorders, along with exploring which is best to help your child develop their talent.
What are the five types of recorders?
Although there are lots of unique, speciality models of recorders, there are five main types that typically form an ensemble. They are:
The most common of the five is the soprano recorder. The sopranino is the highest pitch, with the bass recorder being the recorder that hits those low notes. When a group of recorders play together, this group is called a recorder consort. "Recorder Consort" also sounds a little bit like a character from Bridgerton, but maybe that's just us.
Who is a sopranino recorder for?
A sopranino recorder is fairly uncommon, and not the typical choice for beginners. Recorder quartets are typically made up of the other four recorders on our list, but their ability to hit the high notes can see them utilised in concert performances by a recorder consort (ensemble). This makes the sopranino a going concern for recorder players who are serious about their instrument. For beginners, there are easier, more engaging introductions to learning to play the recorder. Speaking of which...
Who is a soprano recorder for?
If you have learned to play the recorder at school or searched online for a beginner recorder, the chances are you will have come across a soprano recorder. Why? The soprano or descant recorder is small, lightweight and is also an affordable option. It ticks all the right boxes for beginners.
The note range of the soprano recorder makes it perfect for playing melodies in recorder groups. The lowest pitch is C5 and can reach C7. For non-musicians, that means the soprano recorder reaches some of the highest notes...just as a soprano singer does!
Soprano recorders are available in a range of materials. Traditionally, these instruments would be carved from wood, but most beginners will learn to play using a recorder manufactured from plastic or composite material. Plastic recorders are easier to maintain than traditional wooden recorders and are also more durable. Wooden recorders are favoured by professional players for their sound, but the affordability of plastic soprano recorders makes them the number one choice for beginners.
Who is an alto recorder for?
The alto recorder could be an option for some beginner players, but this is a larger instrument compared to a soprano recorder. That makes it more of a stepping-stone instrument for players who have learned the tricks of the trade on a soprano recorder and want to progress. The deep sound and lower pitch of the alto recorder make it well-suited to classical music. Beginners might find the alto recorder challenging to start on, but that rich sound is certainly something they can work towards!
Who is a tenor recorder for?
You might start to notice a pattern here! Yes, the tenor recorder is even larger and even lower than the alto recorder. Where the alto might make for a progression instrument for young players, the tenor recorder is much more specialised. That moody, mellow sound is best suited to playing in a recorder consort or rocking out to some Renaissance music.
As these instruments get larger, disadvantages for children learning their craft begin to emerge. The larger size makes playing the tenor recorder more difficult and adds to the weight. This also adds to the price tag, which is why a tenor recorder is probably best left to those Renaissance recorder players and not as a simple starter instrument.
Who is a bass recorder for?
The fifth and final type of recorder on our list is the bass recorder. This is the largest and lowest-pitched recorder yet, with a deep, rich sound that's often heard in Baroque and Renaissance music. This recorder is often designed with a bend in the neck to make it easier to play. But even this design still makes it a step too far for beginners and young learners. You'll see bass recorders in ensembles but you're unlikely to encounter them in the classroom.
Which type of recorder is the best for children?
This is pretty cut and dry. The soprano recorder is the undisputed choice for beginners.
The soprano recorder is the instrument that many of us pictures when we think of the instrument. It has all of the key features that make it such a popular choice in schools.
Plastic soprano recorders are cheap to buy and easy to maintain, particularly compared to other instruments.
They can carry the melody, giving children access to the tune in a direct, simple way.
Speaking of carrying...soprano recorders are portable! They can comfortably fit in a school bag (and that means even more opportunities to get pitch-perfect!)
It is easy to forget about the other types of recorders when one model has become ubiquitous. Baroque recorder arrangements might be too advanced for learners, but the sounds created by sopranino, alto, tenor, and bass recorders are wonderful to hear. It also reminds us that starting out on a simple plastic recorder could lead to a voyage of musical discovery and even a professional career. All from one little instrument that punches above its weight.
Starting with the soprano recorder can also open up lots of other opportunities for learning other musical instruments. It can teach children the fundamentals of rhythm, and pitch, and introduce them to reading musical notation.
Picking up a recorder might be the start of something special. Just don't blame us for those first notes of "Three Blind Mice". We promise* that with practice that recorder might be the foundation of a lifetime love of music.
If you are looking for other instruments to play on the go, check out our article on the top ten instruments that put portability first!
Soprano recorders are often made from plastic. If you're wondering if a plastic instrument doesn't make sense for you, read our piece on picking up the plastic.