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Learning How to Play the Recorder as an Adult

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This pictures shows a treble recorder, but I give the fingering for the descant.

This pictures shows a treble recorder, but I give the fingering for the descant.

Can You Learn the Recorder as an Adult?

The short answer is yes, the recorder is very suitable for an adult to take up.

The recorder has the advantage of needing little financial outlay. It is relatively easy to start playing but requires much practice to master. It can be enjoyed on its own or in an ensemble. the latter being most enjoyable and also providing social life. The stimulus of playing with others spurs one on to put more time to practice and so great progress is made.

How to Begin

Rosario Montenegro mentioned the recorder as a good instrument to take up as an adult and she is quite right. It is also an instrument where you can join in with a group of recorder players and have a really good time together.

One big advantage is that the recorder is much cheaper to buy than other instruments unless you go in for a really plush one.

The recorder has a thumbhole at the back which is covered by the left thumb, then on the front, there are three holes at the top to be covered by your first, second and third fingers of the left hand. Below that are three holes to be covered by your first, second and third fingers of your right hand. It is important to use the hands correctly as explained. Then there is a double hole at the bottom of the instrument to be covered by the right-hand little finger. You have to make sure that you are covering the holes properly. Having got this sorted you need to abandon the right hand for the time being and use the top three holes and thumb hole only to start with. This gives you the chance to get used to covering those holes properly.

Now you need to blow very gently into the mouthpiece producing a steady stream of air only slightly more than a gentle breathing. With thumbhole and three holes covered you should produce the note G. Above this is A (just two fingers down), above that B (one finger down, all with the thumbhole covered) so if you play BAGA BBB AAA BBB BAGA BBB GAABAG you should eventually recognize it as Mary had a little lamb. If you can do that you are on your way, so get a book and get cracking. If anybody can do it (and they can) then so can you. I wish you every success.

Fingering for a C on descant. Flatten your fingers so that the holes are completely closed by the pads of your fingers. Any escaping air will alter the tuning or make your recorder squeak. All the fingers are covering the holes for the note C and the thumb is covering the back hole too.

The back hole covered by the left thumb

The back hole covered by the left thumb

The back hole uncovered

The back hole uncovered

The note "G" on the descant recorder

The note "G" on the descant recorder

When I Heard Piers Adams

I had quite forgotten till now that I had personally heard a very talented recorder player perform at my daughter's school about sixteen years ago. It was none other than Piers Adams. You can hear him in the Youtube video below and judge for yourself. He is at present working in America so if you get the chance to hear him, take it, it will be well worthwhile. He plays with his ensemble, Red Priest. I guess this name comes from Vivaldi who was known by this name because he was a priest and had red hair. This man's playing is a delight and very far removed from the awful wailings of a school child just making their first attempt at the instrument. Piers is often called a modern-day Pied Piper and he could certainly charm the birds out of the trees. I remember the performance I heard was absolutely captivating. We were all spellbound. He also has a very charming stage presence and sent many of us home with weak knees that night. Take a look on his website to read more.

The Extraordinary Talent of Piers Adams and Friends

The note "A" on descant

The note "A" on descant

Talent: Is It Necessary?

Don't worry about talent. The ability to stick with something, to keep going against the odds is far more important than talent. There are plenty of people out there with talent, but what have they done with it? Nothing.

If you are prepared to work hard, and practise, practise, practise you will get huge enjoyment from your improvement. But increase the practise slowly or you will knot your fingers up. Start with ten minutes a day, or three sessions of ten minutes a day and gradually increase to half an hour a day. Remember there is no question of your getting to the Juilliard this is strictly for pleasure. No one may ever want to listen to you play except you but that is what it is all about, your own satisfaction in progress. Then if you have some talent too you will do even better.

These Four Notes Have the Back Hole Closed

The thumb of the right hand sits at the back of the recorder at the level of the hole below G. It is there just to steady the instrument and be in readiness for when these holes are needed. Later you will find that the left-hand back hole is pinched by pressing halfway across with the nail. This is used to give higher notes. A good tutor book will help you with these things.

The note "B" on the descant

The note "B" on the descant

The note "C" on descant

The note "C" on descant

© 2009 Liz Mackay

Do you find this lens helpful?

Kathleen De Souza-Smith on August 17, 2017:

Yes! Very helpful Thank You.

AuggieD on March 11, 2017:

Hi Liz,

At what age did you start learning the recorder?



Liz Mackay (author) from United Kingdom on September 05, 2012:

@anonymous: Snap! I'm in England too.

anonymous on September 05, 2012:


Thank you for your suggestion regarding the book/tutor. I have ordered the book via Amazon and will let you know how I get on.

Incidentally, I do not know where everyone is that sends in their comments. I am in England.

I am also interested in your comments about 'Red Priest' who I can vouch for as worth seeing. They played a concert at my local music society and entranced everyone.

Liz Mackay (author) from United Kingdom on September 05, 2012:

@anonymous: Hi Andrea, glad to have you visit here. I have added a tutor for adult beginners just above this comment module. I hope you enjoy playing your recorder.

anonymous on September 04, 2012:


I admire you enthusiasm for learning an instrument as an adult. In my case my boyfriend has just taken up the saxaphone so I did not want to be left out and have decided to take up the descant recorder. I learned it as a child at school so am full of enthusiasm. To see if I am any good at it and can make a tolerable noise I thought I would undertake a bit of self tuition. If the sound is not too painful I will look for a proper teacher. I, therefore, need to identify an initial book/tutor suitable for an adult rather than a child. Any suggestions?

getwellsoon on April 06, 2012:

Wonderful lens! Makes me want to take out my recorder and start learning again!

anonymous on August 24, 2011:

Your thoughts on talent being put to use and to practice, practice, practice reminded my of something my son told me once. "Some people say that practice makes perfect but really its perfect practice that makes perfect." What an encouragement you are to others and the low cost of the recorder as compared to other instruments is an excellent point. So well done!

CherylsArt on May 13, 2011:

Very good info about the recorder. I had an eighth grade music teacher that thought all students should learn how to play an instrument. The recorder is what he chose, since it was the most affordable for everyone. I still have mine and occasionally play it.

Liz Mackay (author) from United Kingdom on January 05, 2011:

@JanieceTobey: I'm sure you get great enjoyment out of sharing music with your son. It's a very special thing to be able to do.

JanieceTobey on January 05, 2011:

My son and I play the recorder with a small group of other homeschoolers and really enjoy it! It's a great instrument for kids and adults alike!

Lisa Marie Gabriel from United Kingdom on August 16, 2009:

Great lens Liz. I have lenrolled it to a couple of mine and added it to my Chopin lens featured lenses. 5*

Mihaela Vrban from Croatia on August 11, 2009:

Well done Liz! :) Good tutorial! BTW, I used to play this as a kid! ;)

Laniann on August 11, 2009:

Very good step by step pictures - very clear on what to do. 5*s

Anthony Godinho from Ontario, Canada on August 10, 2009:

Nice work on this lens, Liz...well done - I do like the step-by-step pictures too!

Robin S from USA on August 10, 2009:

This is wonderful! Nice work!

Rachel Field on August 10, 2009:

What a good looking lens! I particularly enjoyed the photos ;)