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Probably the most well-known of all early instruments, used in schools all around the world, recorders are surprisingly ancient instruments dating back at least 2000 years. The earliest examples, made of sheep's bone, have been found in Iron Age graves. Later wooden recorders were popular throughout medieval and renaissance times, having a slightly wider bore than modern recorders. This gives renaissance recorders a characteristically "breathier" tone. "Modern" recorders, on which Aulos, Yamaha and other plastic recorders are based, were first made around the 1600s (the start of the 'Baroque' era of music). The continuing popularity of the recorder is due to several factors: it has a beautiful tone and a large range of notes; it is relatively easy to learn to play; and it is one of the least expensive wind instruments to buy. Added to all this, the work of Carl Dolmetsch and his family in the 1940s - 1950s in reviving recorder playing in England was probably the main reason why it is still the most widely-played school instrument.

Recorders Sound Clips


play clip: 67 kb


play clip: 68 kb

Large printable image of the recorders

Although the four members of a recorder consort are usually soprano (descant), alto (treble), tenor and bass - heard together on the sound clip which can be downloaded above - the photograph also features a smaller sopranino recorder, ideal in earlier times for providing dance music out of doors because of its high pitch and loud tone. The smallest recorder, not shown in the photo, is the garkleinflötlein and there are two larger sizes: the great bass and the sub contra bass.

Text copyright © James McCafferty 2000 Photographic images copyright © John Credland and James McCafferty 2000