Recorder A or recorder B?
What’s the difference between recorder A and recorder B? This question was posed to me at Texas Music Educator Association by a music educator. She seemed very interested in the difference between recorders and I wanted very much for her to learn and know why one recorder was different than another. So I began to give her a well thought out answer. I began talking about intonation, which is the primary concern for most teachers when choosing a recorder. I was planning on moving on to talk about cost, but then I was hit by the second half of her question. With her hand held up to stop my flow of rhetoric regarding recorder she said words that cut me to the core, “I mean, aren’t they all just toys?” I paused, thought about where I was and began to formulate an answer. I smiled and told her that recorders were learning tools and although were brightly colored at times and used in the elementary classroom, should be considered musical instruments and I politely thanked her for stopping by and went on to talk to other music educators.
I’m sure part of her question was on the minds of several music educators as they looked around for the best recorder for their classrooms. What is the difference between recorder A and recorder B? Although basic in their design, recorders have vastly different qualities making the price point vary. I’ve seen teachers torn between musicality and “fun” colors. Let’s put color aside and talk fundamental design. Recorders for classroom use should be in tune with themselves and with other recorders. To determine this, ask your local dealer for a sample recorder and play on it. If you are not a proficient recorder player, ask someone who is. Play the entire range of the recorder checking its intonation. In addition to intonation, check the timbre of the recorder. Some recorders are very bright sounding and are difficult to get a characteristic sound. The more mellow and warm the tone, the better. Next, check the placement of the holes. Some recorders have the finger holes placed slightly further apart than others. You know your classroom best and will know which recorder will be best for your students.
Now you know what to look for and are overwhelmed by the options out there! I used to have my students play on colored recorders. Then my knowledge of recorder grew and I realized very quickly that color is not always the best route. However, if you want your children to have a fun musical experience and your budget is low, then a colored recorder can be the way to go. You can find most colored recorders for as little as two to three dollars. At the risk of it being too “toy-like” the Canto CR101 comes is a variety of colors allowing for teachers to use a color coding system across grade levels or even within a grade level to distinguish classes. For example, Mrs. Smith’s 4th grade class could be yellow and Mrs. Jones’ 4th grade class could be blue. The Canto CR101 has been redesigned and has a nice recorder tone and plays relatively in tune for a single piece recorder. Unfortunately, if your players are struggling with pitch, these can be very difficult to tune, as you cannot adjust their intonation at the neck.
The recorder I recommend is the Aulos 903- E. For its cost at under five dollars you are getting a wonderful recorder. It has a beautiful warm tone and is very easy to manipulate in all the registers. It is in tune with itself and blends well with other recorders of the same brand. My students play on the Aulos 903-E with great success. They do not struggle to obtain a good tone on the low E or low D. The high notes on this recorder are gorgeous. This recorder also works well to sing along with and play Orff instrument accompaniments.
If you want the professional design of the 903-E but the fun of the color recorders you can always add colorful washi tape to the neck to distinguish classrooms or grade levels. If you store them in their bags, you could allow the children to decorate their bags. Another fun option is to store the recorders in fun colored socks!
If you have any questions about recorder from what to buy or how to teach it, please feel free to contact me. I’ll be happy to help!