The third octave

In the following X indicates the total closure of the bell hole by pressing against one’s knee. The technique of bell-stopping is, of course, widely used by bagpipe players and has an analogy in French horn playing too, so we needn’t feel self-conscious about it. Its use on the recorder was mentioned by Agricola (1529) and  Cardano (1546), so there are historical precedents for its use. In the absence of a bell key, it is hard to do unless the player is seated.

f♯”’/g♭”’ (c♯””/d♭””) is a bugbear for recorder players. There is no easy solution and this note is seldom convincing, even in the hands of expert players. The following would seem most useful: / 1/3 4567, / 1/3 4/67, / 123 4567, / 1-3 4567, / 1(2)3 45-7, / --- 45-- and / 1-3 4-6/ X. Of these, the last is very much to be preferred on purely musical grounds, but its use is not always possible and it looks a trifle inelegant. It produces an easy, clear note of good tone and usually acceptable intonation.

Of the other fingerings / 1(2) 345-7 is probably the best since it is easy to produce on most recorders. Like all the un-stopped fingerings, it is noticeably sharp on many recorders and must be blown as softly as possible. If it is to be sustained (rare) then perhaps one could lower the remaining finger(s) unobtrusively to give / 123 4567 once the note has sounded. This fingering is exceedingly awkward at speed but can be coupled with g”’ (d””) = / 1(2)3 -5-7.

/ --- 45-- is to be used for trills and slurs from e” (b”’) = / 12- 45-- and from f”’ (c””) = / 1-- 45--. This fingering cannot be tongued.

One’s choice of these or other possible fingerings is dependent on the characteristics of the particular instrument being used and on the musical context. Authentic uses of f♯”’ (c♯””) are uncommon in the baroque repertoire and may signify the use of an instrument pitched in g (d) on which the fingering is simply / 12- 45--. Informed contemporary composers provide alternative passages or suggest a transposition down an octave if necessary.

g”’ (d””) is normally fingered / 1-3 4-6/. The more awkward variant / 1(2)3 -5-7 is useful in conjunction with f♯”’ (c♯””) = / 1(2)3 45-7.

Notes beyond g”’ (d””) are simply not useful on most recorders and are rarely called for except in contemporary writing. Some notable exceptions are to be found in the works of Telemann and Bach. In his Concerto in F Major TWV 51:F1 for alto recorder and strings (Hortus Musicus 130) Telemann writes passages requiring a”’, g♯”’ and c””; in a well-known Sonata in F Major from Der Getreue Musicmeister he again writes a c””, the highest note encountered in the baroque repertoire. In his in  Museum Musicum Theoretico Practicum,  Majer (1732/1741) gives third-octave fingerings from g”’ up to and including b”’.

g♯”’/a♭”’ (d♯””/e♭””) is used increasingly often by contemporary composers writing in a more or less conventional style. It can be played with / 1-3 ----, / 1-3 --6-, / -23 ---- or / -23 -5/-. The first two fingerings are often slow to speak but are useful in slurs from g”’ (d””), although both tend to be flat. More acceptable are the last two fingerings.

a”’ (e””) can be produced easily with / -23 -5/- X or / 123 45/- X. The latter tends to be soft and veiled. / -2- ---- is often suggested but tends to be loud, harsh and noticeably flat.

b♭”’ (f””) is best produced by / 12- 45/- X. It speaks easily, has an excellent timbre and is well in tune.

b”’ (f♯””) is readily obtainable from the fingering / 12- 45-- with strong tonguing and high breath pressure. If necessary, its tuning can be adjusted upwards by allowing vents 1 and 2 to leak a little thus: / //- 45--

c”” (g””), used in the Telemann concerto and sonata mentioned above, can be produced by blowing aggressively on / 1-- 4---. This is invariably harsh and very flat. Its tuning can be adjusted upwards by allowing vent 1 to leak a little, thus: / /-- 4---. A note of far superior quality can be produced by shading the window with the right hand whilst fingering / 123 ----. This is not possible in the context in question, but is to be preferred wherever the note is to be sustained.

For other notes above g”’ (d””) the extensive tables given by Waitzman (1978), Vetter (1969), Hauwe (1984) and Hanning (1998) will be invaluable. Other useful comments will be found in Rowland-Jones (2003) .

The volume, intonation and response of notes above c”'(g””) can be controlled by leaking the first finger hole, a technique described in an article by Robinson (1997) as an “extraordinary discovery” made by Walter van Hauwe. But surely this has been known for centuries by adventurous recorder players. Ganassi (1535)  wrote: “Mark that you can make every note softer by means of uncovering the hole a little and giving less breath accordingly.” Bottrigari (1594) says of wind instruments (such as recorders): “Even though these wind instruments may have a certain stability because of their holes, the accomplished player can nonetheless use a little less or a little more breath and can open the vents a little more or a little less, bringing them closer to a good accord. Expert players do this.” And the recorder fingering chart given by Minguet y Yrol (1754) shows the use of ‘pinching’ on holes other than the thumb hole.

References cited on this page

  • Agricola, Martin. 1529. Musica instrumentalis deudsch ynn welcher begriffen ist, wie man nach dem gesange auff mancherley Pfeiffen lernen sol, Auch wie auff die Orgel, Harffen, Lauten, Geigen, und allerley Instrument und Seytenspiel, nach der rechtgegrüdten Tabelthur sey abzusetsen [A German instrumental music, in which is contained: how to learn to play many kinds of wind instruments from vocal notation, and also how to set music into the appropriate tablature for the organ, harp, lute, fiddle, and all kinds of keyboard and string instruments]. Wittenberg: George Rhau.
  • Bottrigari, Ercole. 1594. Il desiderio overo de’ concerti di varii strumenti musicali  [“Il desiderio” or Concerning the Playing Together of Various Musical Instruments]. Venice: Gioambattista Bellagamba.
  • Cardano, Girolamo [Geronimo]. 1546. “De musica [On music].” Rome. Ms 5850. Vatican.
  • Ganassi, Silvestro. 1535. Opera intitulata Fontegara. La quale i[n]segna a sonare de flauto cho[n] tutta l’arte opportuna a esso i[n]strumento massime il diminuire il quale sarà utile ad ogni i[n]strumento di fiato et chorde: et a[n]chora a chi si dileta di canto. [Work Entitled “Fontegara”, which Instructs in Playing the Recorder with all the Proper Art of this Instrument, Especially the Creation of Diminutions that will be Useful for all Wind and String Instruments as well as Those who Practice Singing]. Venice: Silvestro Ganassi.
  • Hanning, Ilona. 1998. “Die dritte Octave der Altblockflöte altes Neuland” [The Third Octave of the Alto Recorder: Old New Territory]. Windkanal, no. 3: 6–9.
  • Hauwe, Walter van. 1984–1992. The Modern Recorder Player. 3 vols. London: Schott Edition 12150, 12270, 12361.
  • Majer, Joseph F.B.C. 1741. Museum musicum theoretico practicum, das ist, Neuroeffneter theoretisch-und practischer Music-Saal … [Thoretical and practical musical museum; that is, Newly disclosed theoretical and practical music room]. 2nd ed. Nuremberg: Johann Jacob Cremer.
  • Minguet y Yrol, Pablo. 1754. Reglas, y advertencias generales que enseñan el modo de tañer todos los instrumentos mejores, ye mas usuales … [Rules and general advice that teachers the method of playing all the best and most common instruments.] Part VI. Reglas, y advertencias generales para tañer la flauta traversera, la flauto dulce, y la flautilla, con varios tañidas, demonstradas, y figuradas en diferentes laminas finas, por musica, y cifra, para que qualquier aficionado las pueda comprehender con mucha facilidas, y sin maestro … [Rules and general advice for playing the flute, recorder, and pipe, with various descriptions, fingering charts, and fine illustrations, for music and its notation, so that any amateur can understand it easily and without a teacher]. Madrid: Joachim Ibarra.
  • Robinson, Andrew. 1997. “Quiet High Notes: An Extraordinary Discovery.” Recorder Magazine 17 (4): 139.
  • Rowland-Jones, Anthony. 2003. Recorder Technique, Intermediate to Advanced. 3rd ed. Hebden Bridge: Ruxbury Publications.
  • Vetter, Michael. 1969. Il flauto dolce ed acerbo [The Sweet and Bitter Flute]. Celle: Edition Moeck 4009.
  • 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: The third octave. Last accessed 20 May 2022. https://www.recorderhomepage.net/technique/fingering/the-third-octave/