Fingering the recorder

These notes concern both alto and soprano recorders with modern (‘English’, more properly called ‘Dolmetsch’) fingering systems. For a given fingering the note produced on an alto will be indicated first followed in parentheses by that produced on a soprano (or tenor, although it will sound an octave lower). Fingering will be indicated as follows:

O 123 4567thumb and all fingers on
- -2- ----second finger of left hand on alone
/ 123 ----thumb-hole pinched
O 1-3 45/-finger 6 half-holed
O 1/3 4567finger 2 partially closed
4*trill with this finger
(5)optional fingering
/ 1-3 4-6/ Xbell hole closed against one's knee

Thus e♭”(b♭”) = O -23 4-6- indicates that the fingering given will produce e♭” on an alto and b♭” on a soprano.

It will be useful to list the reasons for using alternative fingerings. We do so to enable us to:

  1. avoid difficult fingering sequences, particularly at speed
  2. play slurs easily and without the “clicks” and extra notes produced by complicated finger movements
  3. play trills and other ornaments impossible or clumsy with conventional fingering
  4. correct faulty tuning
  5. correct tuning at high and low breath pressures
  6. achieve various special effects such as the production of variation in timbre, microtones and chords.

Points 4, 5 and 6 do involve advanced techniques. Tuning should not be a problem with modern instruments if they are well cared for. A good quality recorder can be returned to the maker for retuning. Tuning at high and low breath pressures pertains to volume control. This is highly controversial and of doubtful value anyway. Rather than change the volume itself, recorder players usually resort to contrasting articulation and/or other psychological tricks to give an illusion of dynamics. Special effects mentioned in point 6 are, for most players, probably of acoustical interest only, although an increasing number of contemporary compositions do demand such effects.

Points 1, 2 and 3, however, are directly applicable to the performance of all recorder players. Since the techniques necessary to overcome them are easily mastered, it is with these three aims that I will be most concerned here.

Cite this article as: Lander, Nicholas S. 1996–2022. Recorder Home Page: Technique: Fingering the recorder. Last accessed 3 October 2022. https://www.recorderhomepage.net/technique/fingering/