Baroque bass recorder

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Contextual Associations

The bass recorder is an end-blown duct-flute aerophone originating in Europe. Pictured and described here is a modern bass recorder the design of which was based on Baroque era instruments. Throughout the course of the Baroque era recorders in general evolved from being consort instruments (their primary setting in Renaissance times) to becoming more of a solo instrument specified by composers in their compositions. A large body of solo, concerto, and chamber music works was written during the Baroque era for recorders in general, and especially the alto; the repertoire for the bass recorder is much more restricted. Many instructional tutors were published during this time, which suggests there was also a considerable market of amateur recorder players. Recorders are played today by amateur enthusiasts, college students in early music ensembles, and a small number of professional concert and recording artists.


This replica of a Baroque period bass recorder is made of wood (maple) in three sections connected by tenon-and-socket joints, one located just above the topmost finger hole and the other above the bell section. These joints are highlighted and strengthened with a ring of brass. Its external profile is more ornate than its Renaissance period predecessor, often with bulges at the section joints. Internally, the tapering bore of Baroque recorder is slightly more pronounced than that of its Renaissance counterpart. It has eight holes drilled in it, one being a thumb hole on the reverse side, the other seven being fingerholes three of which are reached with the aid of brass keys. The blowing end of the mouthpiece section is nearly entirely stopped with a wood plug (fipple) save for a narrow channel/duct that is left open between it and the inside wall of the body. This channel directs the airstream against a deep cut chiseled into its upper side to create a sharp edge. Unlike its smaller counterparts, the bass does not have the characteristic ‘beak’ shaped mouthpiece; instead, it has a short windcap section with a slit in its top edge through which the performer blows.

Player - Instrument Interface and Sound Production

The bass is the fifth highest pitched member of the recorder family, tuned in F with a range of F3 to G5. It is fully chromatic over this range, but intonation becomes an issue the further away a key is from F. Notation is written in the bass clef sounds an octave higher than written. The player blows into the tip of the windcap and the airstream is channeled through a duct and directed against a sharp edge chiseled into the side of the instrument. Notes in the second octave are attained through a combination of increased airflow and the opening of the thumbhole. The playing technique involves coordination of finger work (including cross fingerings) and tongued articulations, The instrument has a narrow dynamic range.


The immediate precursor of the Baroque bass recorder is the Renaissance bass recorder. Changes to the design of the latter appear to have taken place in the second half of the 17th century, possibly in France and probably in response to the recorder being used increasingly as a solo instrument. Throughout the course of the 18th century other woodwind instruments underwent design changes that made them more suitable for inclusion in the fast evolving orchestral ensemble, while recorders didn’t and by the end of that century they had become obsolete. Around 1925 an interest arose in period instrument performance, recorders being one of the first families of instruments to be revived. By the middle of the 20th century the early music movement was in full swing and a number of workshops were producing replica instruments such as the one pictured here.

Bibliographic Citations

Campbell, Murray, Clive Greated, and Arnold Meyers. 2004. Musical Instruments: History, Technology, and Performance of Instruments of Western Music. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Carroll, Paul. 1999. Baroque Woodwind Instruments: A guide to their history, repertoire and basic technique. Aldershot: Ashgate.

Hunt, Edgar. 1984. "Recorder [common flute, English flute]." NGDMI v. 3: 205-215.


Instrument Information


Continent: Europe

Formation: European

Classification (Sachs-Von Hornbostel revised by MIMO)

421.221.12-5 aerophone--single open flute with internal duct: the duct is inside the tube; with wind-cap; with fingerholes

Design and Playing Features

Category: aerophone

Air cavity design: tubular - tapering with open distal end

Source and direction of airstream: player exhalation through mouth into air cavity; unidirectional

Energy transducer that activates sound: beveled edge in wall of instrument, indirectly blown against with aid of duct

Means of modifying shape and dimensions of standing wave in air cavity: opening fingerholes to reduce space or shorten length of standing wave in air cavity

Overblowing utilization: overblowing at consecutive partials

Pitch production: multiple pitches - changing length of standing wave within cavity with fingerholes and by selecting partials through overblowing


37 in. length

Primary Materials




Entry Author

Roger Vetter