Reply To: Which to choose– soprano or alto?

Recorder Forum Home Page Forum Teaching and Learning Which to choose– soprano or alto? Reply To: Which to choose– soprano or alto?

Ken In Dallas

Hello again Katia, Having a few students of my own, I’ve a few thoughts on soprano vs alto. Jamming with guitar friends, one is more likely play a piece they’ve gotten ready while the guitars capo or whatever to match your key. Sometimes one hears something like an Irish piece they like, asks where they can learn it, and goes about getting and learning it. What’s important is that playing more than just a recorder’s lower octave goes a long way toward being able to play in other people’s keys. Both C and F recorders can jam on anything.

But for the first year or more, most of my students play along with me or a CD that they can slow down. They don’t have the music-reading skills to venture across the recorder ranges. Their ‘universe’ is of the several method books out there – especially Duschenes – that use CDs. I teach only adults and use Sweet Pipes, which doesn’t have CDs but has graded duets on the last several pages. I’ve recorded and saved those and the more useful lesson tunes for students to play along with as needed. Sweet Pipes also has a few good early duet books. But it is important to find a method book that has a substantial selection of ‘good melody’ international folk songs and early dance tunes from the Renaissance and Baroque periods. They’re our main repertoire. I’ve never picked up the Suzuki recorder books, so I don’t know if they’re like their more famous string and other instrument books, but as I understand it, all the books are designed for a classroom of whatever the available instruments are and are all therefore learned playing in tune with each other. (How the teacher doesn’t run away, I’ll never understand) But.. those are like twelve books of progressive tunes with accompaniment CDs available. I’d guess Suzuki is soprano/descant only. The real problem with most child method books is that the illustrations make adults feel belittled.

Getting control of playing speed using CDs is very important before one starts out on either instrument. Windows Media Player all but causes me to have a stroke. Whenever a CD player needs to be found, I recommend the open source VLC with its ‘traffic cone’ logo. I know nothing about MACs.

Once speed is under control, there are a number of Celtic song books with CDs to support explorations in that direction. Some come in both alto and soprano editions. Without CDs: The yellow-covered Beatle’s recorder book HAS NO CHORDS but the out-of-print brown covered one from the late 70s is widely availble at under $20 USD in used book stores and is the most amazing book for recorder students. At worst a phrase or two might need raising or lowering an octave for a cross over. I again record the accompaniment tracks for my students while friends might play the songs during a jam. Those tunes are now part of greater global culture that I didn’t fully appreciate till I saw the effect of playing them has on my students.

Regarding the physical of C vs F instruments: I have an important ‘talk’ with all my students. I make clear that I’m a trained musician that will give them a good dash of Theory, Solfeggio, and Musicianship, but they must tell me what ‘style’ of music they wish to learn and at least one important song they imagine playing on recorder. That’s important information for a teacher. I watch potential soprano players handle keyed and keyless tenors, which I play for them to get a sense of their sound. It gives me an idea of their hand size regarding later owning a tenor. The low cost (and good sound) of plastic instruments seems to have all of my students eventually owning a soprano, alto, and tenor – and more. I discuss it all as ‘C’ and ‘F’ fingerings and don’t rule out that they may sometimes mix-and-match at home with the understanding that they can get in trouble ‘away from home’ and when playing with other instruments. I tell them that once they fail to understand and respect the parameters of pitch, “don’t ever turn your back on anyone with a knife that has perfect pitch.” In other words, I make clear where we are corrupting things. Playing on a lower-ranged instrument is always refreshing and breaks the monotony of practice – just know where you are. I’m hoping here that I’m adding to the discussion. If feel it has many immediate and long-term issues. — k