General considerations

The recorder has a very rich vocabulary of fingerings with duplicate fingerings for almost all notes. This article has made a somewhat artificial distinction between “usual” fingerings and “alternative” fingerings. The choice of the appropriate combination of fingerings to achieve the desired end result constitutes the grammar of recorder fingering. It is an appreciation of this grammar rather than the mere unorganized knowledge of scores of different fingerings which contributes towards a true understanding of recorder technique.

Avoid the use of alternative fingerings without a definite purpose in mind. If asked at any time why you are using a particular fingering for a note you should be able to reply without hesitation.

Avoid the use of alternatives in consort work since they are often slightly out of tune. Remember that just like conventionally fingered notes those played with alternative fingerings can be flattened by blowing softly and sharpened by blowing strongly. As far as possible, avoid the use of alternative fingerings for accented notes and long notes.

Cultivate a flexibility of mind about fingering. Remember that alternative fingerings are not unique to the recorder by any means. Learning other wind instruments, particularly renaissance recorders and capped reeds (crumhorns, cornemusen, kortholts, rauschpfiefen, etc.) will help develop this flexibility.

I would again stress the need to commence and end trills with normal fingerings wherever possible.

For pinched notes in the second and third octaves, the intonation of alternatives can be adjusted by varying the thumb aperture size as well as by limiting the height of trilling fingers and controlling breath pressure.

The general principles governing fingering selection on the transverse flute set forth by Rockstro (1967) are equally valid for the recorder.

  1. Never use different fingerings which cause an alteration of pitch for similar notes that are near each other [unless, as frequently is the case on the recorder, one wishes to make use of such pitch differences to achieve dynamic variation].
  2. Do not select a sharp fingering for one note and a flat fingering for another which is adjacent to it, but on the contrary, choose a set of sharp, or a set of flat notes, so that all may be corrected together by a slight change in the method of blowing.
  3. For slow music, select the fingerings which give the best notes, no matter how difficult they may be. Indifferent notes may occasionally be tolerated in very rapid passages, for the sake of smoothness and facility.
  4. Avoid all unnecessary changes. The chief object of extra fingerings being the preservation of smoothness, they will be needed comparatively seldom in staccato passages, for which many of them would be wholly unfitted.
  5. Any finger holes may be kept closed during performance of rapid passages provided no appreciable injury to intonation or tone be caused by such closing.

Waitzman (1978) makes the added suggestion that fingerings should be selected which require the fewest finger movements, especially those in contrary motion, in going from one note to the next, particularly in fast passages.

From these notes one could surmise the dictum that the use of alternatives should be avoided wherever possible, a view supported by Davenport & Katz (1964), Hunt (2002) and Rowland-Jones (2003). As the latter writer succinctly puts it:

Alternative fingerings make the recorder harder to play, not easier!

References cited on this page

  • Davenport, LaNue, and Erich Katz. 1964. “Controversy: I. Alternate Fingerings.” American Recorder 5 (4): 11–13.
  • Hunt, Edgar H. 2002. The Recorder and Its Music. Revised and enlarged. Hebden Bridge: Peacock Press.
  • Rockstro, Richard S. 1967. Treatise on the Construction, the History and the Practice of the Flute, Including a Sketch of the Elements of Acoustics and Critical Notes of Sixty Celebrated Flute-Players. 2nd ed. London: Musica Rara.
  • Rowland-Jones, Anthony. 2003. Recorder Technique, Intermediate to Advanced. 3rd ed. Hebden Bridge: Ruxbury Publications.
  • Waitzman, Daniel. 1978. The Art of Playing the Recorder. New York: AMS Press.

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