Reply To: Remove the block during cleaning?

Ken In Dallas

You’ve described multiple recent and potential purchases all going on at the same time while in search of both tone (via the wood choice) and playability (right pinky issues.) I’m afraid I have a basket of unsolicited opinions. I kind of think there is no perfect Recorder. Its imperfections are part of its charm and ancient sound. The quest to perfect our instrument initiates the development of most all the other woodwinds including the modern Flute and your old Clarinet with all its plumbing of valves and linkages. I’ve found that it’s my job to play each of my recorders with an understanding of their beautiful imperfections, kind of like not expecting to change a person you’re marrying. That’s not to discourage you in your quest, but each individual instrument I own and play teaches me things that shape the way I try to find and play at their best.

I don’t know what wood was used to make the first Tenor I bought when I was 14, but I know that I couldn’t hear then what I heard six-month’s ago, when I bought my first Ebony Soprano (on eBay.) The Ebony’s sound exploded in my head, but my wife didn’t think there was much to it… till I played it here for a few months. Now she hears it and then in turn supported the search and purchase of my ‘Blackwood’ Alto.

That said (perhaps pedantically) on a more concrete issue, I’ll offer that your F# difficulties on an instrument you can play F on is something you have to resolve through practice and familiarity with that particular instrument. If you can get an F you’re pleased with, the F# is likely yours to resolve rather than the instrument’s maker. Moving the pinky forward and back going across from F to F# is often better done at the wrist rather than by the bend of the pinky.

On the F itself – I have to ask if your pinky is approaching the flute at exactly 90̊ to the body of the flute. While some people disparage using Thumb Rests, getting that angle correct is the Thumb Rest’s job. It keeps the right hand low on the instrument. The right wrist ‘cocks’ at an angle as a result. I don’t know anybody that’s had any wrist problems playing this way.

Ranting on… (opinion) I don’t think a Thumb Rest should bear the weight of the instrument as some people think. I wear a neck strap playing my Bass, and there are a number of pictures and descriptions on line of Alto Wrist Straps that tether down to a little strap around the top of the Bell just below the thicker area the F hole is on. I’ve been thinking to make one for my Rosewood Tenor as it’s so much heavier than my old keyed wooden one and the maybe four plastic Tenors I have. I haven’t seen anyone selling a good Wrist Strap. Everybody seems to make, or braid, or crochets their own.

If you are near and around 5-foot tall, the reach between the pinky and ring finger can be an issue. Many invest in installing a key for an Alto’s pinky hole, but my take on this is that you can’t just say ‘install it’ and hope it fixes things. This – despite many on-line shops saying they do such work, is something I think that has to be ‘fitted’ or custom made. I say this after looking into pinky reach while thinking to buy my unkeyed Rosewood Tenor. I discovered the pinky reach was just about the same on all the keyed AND unkeyed Tenors. That’s cause the hole distances are decided by (the unbendable) Laws of Physics. Though my old first Tenor had a key, I now play plastic and wooden unkeyed Tenors. Sarah Jeffery has mentioned developing her pinky reach over time by playing as well.

The same Laws of Physics apply in understanding other issues with Recorders such as the quieter low F. As makers lengthened the instrument to raise low note volume, they then had to move the hole for low notes even further down the instrument’s body – thus requiring a key (or two.) Going further, the Modern Recorder is an attempt (if I understand correctly) to go back to the drawing board and keep the Recorder sound while not going the route of the Transverse Flute with all the plumbing and linkage. I guess I’m leading up to saying that the ‘Modern’ may be a whole different beasty and may be too much to add into your equation at this time. I have not heard or played one… but I’m thinking it must approach the sound of a quality wooden Transverse Flute – beautiful – but isn’t there something to a simple Recorder with no keys.

Beneath all these words I guess I’m saying, “Slow down” a bit and maybe buy one at a time. You’re on a very exciting quest. I think you’re raising the right issues and going forward in very a smart way. I’m concerned that the ‘Modern’ may mix up things. Please also, I hope my over-long thoughts and suggestions are taken as helpful and supportive.
– k –