You’re choosing a new recorder. After last week’s post, you’ve decided whether you want to go for plastic, wood, or even plastic-and-wood. But what do you do now? You could go to a shop. You could buy online. Or you could have some fun! Seeing as the London International Festival of Early Music is coming up, and also Open Recorder Days Amsterdam, you could well decide to go to an exhibition and see lots of sellers and makers all in one place.
Whichever option you choose, you need to think about the following things. These are my tips for making sure that you end up buying the instrument that suits you, your physique, and your playing style, so that you can have many happy hours of playing ahead.
Set your budget
Exhibitions are full of pretty things, and many of them are very expensive. Decide beforehand how much you are prepared to spend, and try to stick to it. Choosing a new recorder can be a little like attending an auction – if you don’t decide your limit, you can easily spend more than you intended!
The great thing about exhibitions is that there are a large number of shops and makers in one place. Talk to everyone; try as many instruments as possible. Even try instruments that are well outside your price range. I know this is a dangerous suggestion, but it means that you’ll have a sense of what a top-quality instrument is like. You can then use this as a kind of benchmark when you start to try out other instruments.
Try out instruments.
Be prepared to play. Scales and arpeggios will tell you if the instrument is in tune, and will give you an idea of the tone of each note up and down the registers. But also take along (or memorise) a fragment of a couple of things that you are playing at the moment. This will give you a sense of what each instrument is like to play in the repertoire that you are working on. Your new recorder will need to feel and sound comfortable in the repertoire you most often play.
It also needs to feel comfortable in your hands. Are you having to stretch a little more than is comfortable? Is this an instrument you’re going to play often? Unless there are really good reasons to do otherwise, I would tell you not to buy it, no matter how good the sound. You will always be struggling to play and won’t enjoy it as you should.
Try to find somewhere quiet
This is a tall order, particularly in the London International Early Music Festival home at Blackheath Halls, but if you can find a spot that is slightly quieter, you will have more of a chance of hearing the tone of the instrument you are trying out.
Take a friend
When you play, you are effectively behind the instrument, so you don’t really hear what it actually sounds like to an audience. Take a friend along (preferably someone who also plays recorder) so that you can ask their opinion on the tone.
(If you’re not at an exhibition) Order more than one instrument to try.
Shops like the Early Music Shop will send you more than one instrument, so that you can try different models at home. This is great because it gives you a little more time to decide, and you can ask friends you play with – or your teacher – what their opinion is of each instrument.
Take your time
If you find one or two instruments you like at an exhibition, ask the seller to put them to one side for you. Walk away. Have a cup of tea. Let yourself have a moment or three to reflect. It can be very easy to get caught up in the moment, and sometimes it’s a great idea to give yourself some space to decide if you want to go ahead with the purchase.
Then go back to the seller, and try the instrument one more time. If you still love it, buy it.
The most important thing is that you choose a new recorder that you enjoy playing. It should be comfortable in your hands, and make a nice sound for you. And you should take pleasure in the way it looks and feels. If it does all these things, you’ll be happy playing. And that is the most important thing of all.
Photo of Open Recorder Days Amsterdam 2017 by Jennifer Mackerras