Saunders Recorders

Recorders for the Very Young

A frequent query relates to the suitability of recorders for the very young (or very small). Provided that there is a genuine desire to play, I don't think that there is a lower age limit. However, there are practicalities, and for some the descant recorder is too big.

There is no reason why a very young child should not start to play on a recorder smaller than a descant. The commonly available 'sopranino' is the obvious choice. The sound is very high, but it is in many ways more attractive than the descant. The only difficulty is the choice of written teaching material as I do not know of any commercially available.

In line with my firmly held view that teaching should be done on a 'level playing field' the teacher should use the same type of instrument as the pupil. It is possible to work with trebles and sopraninos together as the fingering is the same and they produce notes an octave apart, so there is no problem with the sound, but I do not think it is a good idea.

All recorders use the same pattern of fingerings so a sopranino may be played from a descant book. Everything will be correct except the actual pitch of the notes produced. They will all be too high. The fingering that produces a C on the descant produces the F above it on the sopranino. Because all the notes are affected, their relationship is not altered and the melody does not change. The only problem is that if another instrumentalist, not using a sopranino recorder, plays from the same written music the notes will be different and the two cannot play together. The same applies to a CD backing disc. The names of the notes on the page should not be altered. It is quite in order for the names of notes heard to be different from the names of the notes printed. (They must, however, be in the right order, as viewers of British TV comedy will recall... )

If you are adept with a computer it is not very tricky to alter the pitch of recorded music. If you need this to be done and cannot manage it yourself I may be able to help.

Playing a sopranino as a descant turns it into a transposing instrument, and you can click to find out more about this. It is a tricky concept for the uninitiated to grasp. A purist may object to this approach but I think it is a justifiable way of getting started. Think of the process as being like driving. If the only lessons available take place in a country where they drive on the 'wrong' side of the road you have to decide whether to go there and learn to drive, or not. Once you have learned to drive you should be able to adapt to the conditions in your own country without too much difficulty. Children find this much less of an issue than do adults.

Because the sopranino plays one octave higher than the treble there is no reason at all why it cannot be learned through the medium of a treble method. There are no treble methods for the very young because of the relatively large size of the treble. Most treble methods assume a degree of rapport with the descant that makes them unsuitable for an absolute beginner. The Enjoy the Recorder books by Brian Bonsor are an exception, but they are not aimed at the very young. A sopranino is a very good way for a young person to approach the treble after the descant if they are small. They should not treat it as a transposing instrument under these circumstances but learn the proper application of the fingerings.

When playing duet music for descant and treble it is not advisable to replace the treble with a sopranino as the parts would then be heard with the lower line sounding above the upper line. However, much descant music can be played on the sopranino to very good effect.


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