Do you find your recorder clogging up frequently and sounding all muffled and horrible? Today I’m sharing a tip I learned just recently that solves the problem for wooden recorders…
A few weekends ago I attended the Society of Recorder Players Festival 2019 in Durham. It was a fantastic event (please do investigate going to the 2020 Festival in Norwich – you’ll have a ball), and had some brilliant tutors offering great advice.
Perhaps the most simple and practical piece of advice came from Joris van Goethem, who until recently played with the Flanders Recorder Quartet. I was playing with my group Pink Noise in Joris’ ensembles masterclass, and my recorder kept clogging. Joris gave a piece of potentially life-changing advice, and the reasoning behind it.
Moisture and recorders
When we play into a wooden recorder, we have to breathe into it, and the warmth of our breath creates condensation in the instrument. In a well-behaved instrument, according to Joris, the moisture should run in two neat streams down either side of the block:
Sadly, not all instruments are well-behaved, and not all condensation follows the right path. Sometimes we might end up with a blob of moisture sitting right in the middle of the block. If this happens, it compromises sound quality, and the instrument starts to sound muffled. We could try covering the windway and blowing the moisture blob away; if we’re in the middle of playing, we could try sucking it back in. But just as with raindrops on a window, once moisture has an established path it will continue to follow the path already created; our instrument will clog up repeatedly.
Obviously, we don’t want our lovely recorder clogging up constantly and ruining our concentration and the flow of the music. So what to do?
A paintbrush and some water
Joris recommended throwing a bit of water at the instrument! Put the head joint under the tap, and trickle a tiny bit of water down the windway.
Or, if that scares you, get a little paintbrush, and get the bristles wet. Then paint the block of your recorder through the fipple, and get it nicely moistened. By doing this you create a smooth moist surface over the whole of the block, so there is far less opportunity for one rogue moisture blob to create havoc in the middle of the block. All the moisture should behave in the way we want, and move to the edges.
I’ve tried this with a recorder of mine that has been prone to clogging, and after a couple of seconds of extreme displeasure at being so wet, the recorder then played beautifully each time I’ve tried it, and for over 30 minutes of constant use. One of my colleagues has reported similar results consistently since he started using this method.
But I have a plastic recorder, and it’s clogging…
I haven’t tried the water trick with a plastic or resin recorder yet, so I don’t know if it works in the same way. Bearing in mind that water droplets will behave the same way and create tracks on a plastic surface as a wooden one, it would certainly be worth a try. The other thing that affects plastic recorders is build-up of residue in the recorder, and particularly in the windway. Any brass player will tell you that condensation isn’t pure water, and that instruments need cleaning regularly. The easiest solution for this is to give it a little bath in some diluted washing up liquid, and then let it dry.
Happy clog-free playing!