January 9, 2021 at 5:01 pm #1326
This summer when I mentioned to my aunt that I was playing recorder again, she told me she had a little soprano she’d picked up secondhand. I sent her an instruction book, which she didn’t have time to look at then. The other day she asked me about it, because I’d mentioned to her that many adults prefer alto, so she wondered which I thought she should learn (she doesn’t want to learn both and keep track of different fingerings). She agreed that she would prefer a lower sound, not sure she cared much about the difference in size (her hands are medium-sized, so neither should be uncomfortable for her).
Her goal is just to play by herself for fun; I don’t think she cares that much about having a lot of “classical music” repertoire, so for that it doesn’t matter which she chooses. She also would like to be able to play informal jam sessions with some friends who play guitar and such. For that reason alone, I told her that she might prefer soprano, as I feel any tunes/songs she wants to play along with may fit better on an instrument with a bottom note of C?
Do you all think I advised her correctly? I don’t think she’d be that comfortable playing tenor as a beginner, so I didn’t advise her to start out that way.January 10, 2021 at 7:28 pm #1331Richard HureauParticipant
I think you were correct to suggest an alto.
“She also would like to be able to play informal jam sessions with some friends who play guitar and such. For that reason alone, I told her that she might prefer soprano, as I feel any tunes/songs she wants to play along with may fit better on an instrument with a bottom note of C?”
I don’t agree with you here. I mean, it’s not hard to play in the key of C on an alto – in fact it’s almost as easy as F. And other easy and common keys on guitar like G are very easy on the alto too. If she wanted to jam with me, I’d run screaming from the room if she showed up with a soprano! 😉 So if her hands can handle it, for sure go with the alto, IMHO.January 11, 2021 at 4:01 pm #1332Dick MattsonParticipant
I don’t think that it would make much difference whether she plays soprano or alto since, for one thing, it’s highly unlikely that a person who would run screaming from the room would be in the room in the first place. What’s more to the point for me however is for you to determine whether the soprano that she picked up secondhand has German or Baroque fingering. If German, I would strongly suggest that she get a recorder with Baroque fingering which will prove more adaptable to her needs in the future as she progresses.January 11, 2021 at 4:01 pm #1333Dick MattsonParticipant
I don’t think that it would make much difference whether she plays soprano or alto since, for one thing, it’s highly unlikely that a person who would run screaming from the room would be in the room in the first place. What’s more to the point for me however is for you to determine whether the soprano that she picked up secondhand has German or Baroque fingering. If German, I would strongly suggest that she get a recorder with Baroque fingering which will prove more adaptable to her needs in the future as she progresses.January 12, 2021 at 12:52 am #1334
My thinking for the soprano wasn’t that it would hard for her to play in C, but that a lot of the songs/tunes might go down to D or C, which would be awkward if the instrument’s lowest note is F.
And yes, I think she did tell me her recorder says “baroque”– at least, I seem to remember her mentioning that and me saying “Oh, good, that’s what you want.” (That conversation happened months ago, though, so I wouldn’t swear to it in court…)January 13, 2021 at 11:05 am #1339Michael PendredParticipant
I think that the only really important consideration comes if she decides to start doing exams.
If you take exams with ABRSM, they stop at Grade 5 for Soprano – if you want to advance further, you have to take alto exams.
If you go with Trinity, then after grade 5, you have to be able to play both soprano AND alto.January 13, 2021 at 2:07 pm #1345ChristopherParticipant
I think that the only really important consideration comes if she decides to start doing exams.
Her goal is just to play by herself for fun and maybe just noodle around with some amateur musical friends. I doubt exams would factor into this. Even just doing a few private lessons all can be accommodated.
Mainly French & English baroque repertoire on an A403 Bressan, and an A415 DeBey. Recorder enthusiast since 1971. Early Music program at York University, French baroque instruction at Royal Conservatory in Toronto.January 13, 2021 at 2:17 pm #1346Michael PendredParticipant
I did read that, but you just never know.
I started off just wanting to play a few Christmas Carols and not much else.
A year later I found a teacher and started doing exams!
I do support David Mattsons comment though – definitely check that it is not German fingering.January 14, 2021 at 7:59 pm #1352Richard HureauParticipant
I guess my little attempt at humor was not acceptable, so I’ll just say what I mean – I find soprano recorders to be very shrill and think that most adults with adult-sized hands would find the sound of an alto much more pleasant and fun to play. So, I would recommend an alto.
January 15, 2021 at 2:08 pm #1354
- This reply was modified 2 years ago by Richard Hureau.
Mostly I would agree with that, and would have hoped to steer her to alto for that reason, but as I said, if she is going to get discouraged because what she wants to play appears to go below the range of the instrument– I doubt she’s going to want to have to get creative in jumping octaves or figuring out alternate notes that will fit into a tune– then that’s also not ideal.January 22, 2021 at 1:54 am #1355Ken In DallasParticipant
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. — kJanuary 30, 2021 at 8:15 pm #1378
Ken, that makes sense. But I honestly don’t think she plans on getting that in-depth with music. I don’t think she’ll be interested in Suzuki books or even playing along with CDs, music theory, etc. To be honest with you, I don’t know that I’d be surprised if she never actually picked up the instrument and started to play it (after all, she first mentioned to me in perhaps June or July that she was interested and when I ordered the book for her, and it was just the other day when she mentioned it again and she had yet to start up with it). She told me she wants to pick up one or the other but not both, so there will be no switching back and forth– whichever she starts with is the one she will stick with.
I have no idea what she will be playing with friends, whether it will be Irish/Scottish music, other types of folk music, or Pink Floyd or Katy Perry. (My guess is that it will run more to folk music, as I *think* the people she’s playing with are the Ren Faire types, or at least one of them used to be long ago, but, I don’t know that that means that’s the music they’re playing all together, and I don’t know if their interest is “we will play a Taverner motet” academic, or runs more to “let’s play some Irish music, hmmmmm, I know, how about Danny Boy?” or “Okay, here’s a Bob Dylan song…”)
I can’t remember which book I got her; it was one of the ones recommended on ASW’s site. Possibly the Orr book?
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