The Techniques of Recorder Playing – TEASER

This blog entry is a long-sought article of mine and about the techniques of recorder playing, also containing special techniques on the Helder Tenor[1], which are marked in red colour. My focus lies on extended techniques of course, but I have included some general playing techniques, which are important for contemporary music as well.

Through my musical background as professional recorder player and my big passion for contemporary music, I have worked on this list for many years, being inspired by other recorder players and modern instrumentalists. This list is hopefully as complete as possible, and it should give an overview on what is out there, waiting to be explored and developed even more.

I have divided these playing techniques into four different categories, which should make everybody understand each individual technique better, especially its ways of manipulation. One can perform all of these playing techniques on every recorder model, but they will sound and work differently depending on the size, bore and voicing of each instrument.

The four categories are as follows:

  • AIR SOUND
  • ARTICULATION
  • PITCH
  • PREPARED INSTRUMENT

1. AIR SOUND

1.01. breath noise

  • breathing in through the mouthpiece (with or without articulation)
  • breathing out through the mouthpiece (white noise; window*[2] closed with one finger of the right hand; only left-hand fingerings possible)
  • breathing in and out at the window* (completely closed or at different angles; different consoncants possible, e.g. “s”, “sch”, “f”)
  • breathing in and out through finger holes (different consonants possible, e.g. “s”, “sch”, “f”)
  • breathing out through closed teeth and/or whispering a consonant like e.g. “s”, “sch” or “f” (this only works in the first two registers)
  • breathing out at mouthpiece, opening the upper lip (transverse flute embouchure) and/or whispering a consonant like e.g. “s”, “sch” or “f”
  • breathing out with distance to the mouthpiece (variations through different consonants, e.g. “s”, “sch”, “f”)
  • whistle (into window* or body)
  • breathing out through mouthpiece with a closed windway (starting from “E2”; sounds best with wide windway)
  • breathing out through the mouthpiece with a slightly opened windway and the tongue on top of the windway entrance (“white noise tone”, or “Rauschton”; especially in the first two octaves)
  • “granular tone” (distortion on certain pitches, especially in the highest registers and rather open fingerings; works best with a wide block position)

1.02. whistle tones

  • breathing in through the mouthpiece (with all holes closed; wide windway works best)
  • across the window* (with all holes closed (also bottom hole!), or with closed head joint only)
  • at the window* (with one finger splitting air at the windway’s exit while blowing through the windway; works best on low instruments, especially Paetzold basses)
  • breathing out at the finger hole (works best on the third finger hole of the upper hand)
  • “jet-whistle” (works best on the first finger hole of the upper hand with other holes closed)

1.03. vibrato

  • diaphragm
  • larynx
  • mouth (like “chewing”: a-f-a)
  • tongue (e.g. „j“, „l”, across the windway entrance)
  • shake (works over the range of approximately one octave and a fifth, but works best on low notes)
  • labium (Theremin sound; with right hand, only left-hand fingerings possible; adjust pitch with the piano key)
  • air flutter (e.g. with right index finger at the top of the window, depending on the size of the windway exit; adjust pitch with the piano key)
  • finger
  • knee (especially on forte fingerings in the first octave)
  • lip (throughout the range)

1.04. circular breathing 

  • regular
  • including lip control effects

2. ARTICULATION

2.01. different consonants: b, d, f, g, h, k, l, p, s, t, z (also in combination; inside and outside the instrument; or in combination with/or only with vowels )

2.02. pizzicato (closed lips) or “slap tongue” (no overblow on Helder Tenor; variations through different block positions, especially in higher registers)

2.03. sputato (open lips; including overtones)

  • lots of air sound (tha)
  • dry air sound (t)

2.04. tongue ram (pronounce “hot” or “ht” with or without breath noise)

  • into the mouthpiece
  • into the window*

2.05. legato (expanded through extended 2nd, 3rd and 4th registers)

2.06. whispering/speaking words (also in combination with finger movements)

  • into the window*
  • into the body

2.07. tongue click

  • into the mouthpiece
  • into the window*

2.08. “kiss” articulation

  • into the mouthpiece
  • into the window* or body
  • works also “stretched”

2.09. finger or key click (also bottom hole)

2.10. flutter tongue (variations through different block positions)

  • tongue (in front)
  • throat (in the back, high)
  • guttural (in the back, low)

2.11. trumpet embouchure (through body)

2.12. “fade in fade out” articulation (<>)

2.13. “hiss” articulation (on harmonics)

2.14. block click (through lower lip or right index finger)


3. PITCH

3.01. range (lowest note (extension), highest note (extension), chromatic)

3.02. different block positions:

  • standard
  • narrow (affects all registers, especially the attack)
  • wide (affects all registers)

3.03. alternative fingerings/colour fingerings (more variations through extended key system)

3.04. overblow

  • enharmonic (with and without articulation)
  • harmonic (with and without articultion)
  • multiphonic
  • microtonal
  • white noise (with covered bottom hole; works better with a wide windway)

3.05. underblow (“flageolet tone”)

  • “underbow” 
  • technique with slightly opened thumb hole (works better with the piano key)
  • more possibilities including upper octaves through the principle of pure harmonics and lip control

3.06. transverse flute tone

  • on certain finger holes
  • at upper part of middle joint (Shakuhachi technique)

3.07. covered sound

  • with one finger of the right hand at the window*, depending on the size of the window (only left-hand fingerings possible; adjust pitch with the piano key)
  • with right hand at the window* (only left-hand fingerings possible; adjust pitch with the piano key)

3.08. „Pfeifton“ 

  • noisy (flat palm; only left-hand fingerings possible)
  • pitched (round palm; only left-hand fingerings possible)

3.09. fast improvisation with random fingerings (with or without articulation; variations through different air pressure)

3.10. trills

  • trill (more options through extended registers)
  • trill (more options through extended registers)
  • double trill (trill with two notes alternating)
  • trill figures (including microtones)
  • timbric trill/bisbigliando (more options through extra keys)
  • multiphonic trill (more options through extra keys)
  • „Pfeifton“ trill (with right-hand flutter at labium)
  • glissando trill (with trill mainly on right hand)

3.11. glissando

  • small interval (more options with the piano key up to a2); either with finger or breath
  • large interval (more options through extended registers)
  • labium (with right hand; only left-hand fingerings in first register are possible; adjust pitch with the piano key)

3.12. short pitch fluctuations (on long notes)

3.13. multiphonic (different sound qualities through different block positions)

  • harmonic (three playing techniques : normal sound into overblow, overblow into normal sound, direct)
  • disharmonic (“beat”; more options through extra keys)
  • “insecure”[3] (unstable[4], unlike stable harmonic and disharmonic multiphonics)
  • “delicate”[5] (soft)
  • “quiet” (only two pitches; works better including white noise tone effect)

3.14. microtone

Mainly used:

  • 1/4 tone (+/- 50 Cent)
  • 1/6 tone (+/- 33 Cent)
  • 1/8 tone (+/- 25 Cent)
  • 1/12 tone (+/- 16 Cent)

Other intervals are possible as well. Through piano key one can easily produce microtones in the first two octaves.

3.15. two recorders at the same time (only one-hand fingerings possible, including the left and right pinkie finger for smaller models; different tunings possible; finger holes can be taped)

3.16. playing and singing at the same time

  • drone (one pitch only)
  • counterpoint
  • dissonance
  • “Summton” (any pitch)
  • singing into the window* or body (while moving certain fingers)

4. PREPARED INSTRUMENT

4.01. outside the instrument, e.g. with aluminium foil, plastic wrap, paper bags, clay or plasticine, etc. at the labium or any (exit) opening; e.g. “closed register”[6]

4.02. inside the instrument, e.g. putting something into the windway, or the head or middle joint

4.03. playing on certain parts of the instrument, e.g. head joint, mouthpiece, head and middle joint, middle and foot joint, middle joint, foot joint, tubes, cubs, etc.

4.04. different shapes and materials for the block

4.05. different shapes and materials for platelets (windway roof)


In my final theses I will include sound samples and musical examples to get a clear idea. Here is a link the files.

For now this list will hopefully give you an overview of the recorders potential. As Michael Vetter already writes in his treatise “Il flauto dolce ed acerbo” in April 1964:

“When these technical possibilities are fully exploited, the recorder is a new instrument which combines and mixes the characteristics of the flauto dolce with that of a “flauto acerbo” in a natural way; on the other hand it can clearly contrast them and produce musical tensions as scarcely any other instrument can.”

***

Please feel free to leave comments, suggestions, questions, etc.


[1] Starting with the first pieces written for Helder Tenor in 1995.

[2] * very often falsely referred to labium

[3] named by Donald Bousted in his piece „In Preparation” (2003)

[4] named by Martine Kientzy in his treatise „Les sonds multiples aux flutes a bec” (Salabert, Paris, 1982)

[5] named by Martine Kientzy in his treatise „Les sonds multiples aux flutes a bec” (Salabert, Paris, 1982)

[6] named by Michael Vetter in his treatise “Il flauto dolce ed acerbo” (Moeck, Celle, 1969)

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