Day 1 | Recorder31
The top 7 things to consider before buying a bass recorder
Starting to play and learn a bass recorder can be a daunting prospect, and like all recorders there is a huge variety of makes and models to choose from. And unlike the higher instruments there are more things to think (or worry!) about. In this blog guide, we explore the top 7 things to consider when looking at bass recorders. If you have any other questions or queries you can just pop the question in the comments for our experts to answer!
1. Which size bass should I choose?
You may already know which size you want to start playing, but if not, the followings questions and tips may help make up your mind.
Try before you buy
The best advice is to try playing all the different sizes to see which one you prefer. We offer the opportunity to do this in our stores, on the road at different events as well as during LIFEM in November. Your local SRP branch or recorder courses are likely to be other places where you can try different sizes of bass recorder.
Do I want to play with F or C fingering?
For F fingering you are looking at bass (basset) or contra basses. For C fingering you are looking at great basses. If you have a preference for one of these, then that would help narrow down your choice. With solo playing there is nothing to stop you playing pieces written in either fingering, as playing at a different pitch won't matter. However, you will have to keep at the written pitch if you play in an ensemble, which leads to the next question.
Where do I want to play?
Where you want to play is a really good thing to consider. Sometimes groups are desperate for people to play (and own!) larger basses, so you'll get plenty of playing by being in demand!
2. Do I need to be able to read bass clef?
It isn't essential to be able to read bass clef to play the bass recorder. However, if you play in groups or go on courses where you can't prepare in advance, then it will be necessary or expected. There is software that transposes music into different clefs, however you may find it quicker, easier and cheaper to learn the bass clef!
Basses in F tend to be written in the bass clef as standard. Basses in C are sometimes notated in the treble clef, sometimes in the bass clef.
3. Will my fingers reach the holes?
Most bass recorders have keywork on some, or even all of the fingerholes, which makes the finger stretch for basses smaller than a tenor on most instruments. The Paetzold by Kunath basses are particularly good for people worried about finger stretch.
The exception to this tends to be renaissance recorders, with keywork only starting on the great bass (except the bottom hole). The other thing you have to watch out for with these is not just the stretch between the finger holes, but the size of the finger holes themselves. These recorders aren't for people with slighter fingers, as they end up in the holes rather than covering them!
4. Will my arms be able to cope with the stretch?
This is a really good question to consider if you're on the shorter side. Most of the designs nowadays mean anyone can play big recorders, regardless of their size. For traditional style recorders the bocal is usually adjustable or the neck is bent (knick). As a 4"8 recorder player, I can reach and play all the basses, with the exception of renaissance basses!
For shorter players the problem with renaissance recorders and playing traditional style recorders in a direct-blow fashion is the stretch between the mouthpiece and finger holes in terms of length of neck, arms and upper body!
5. Will the recorder be too heavy?
This is definitely something to take into consideration when playing larger recorders, however the designs often take away this problem. The best test is the try the recorder and size you want for a decent period of time, as you'll definitely know after an hour of playing whether it's too heavy or not!
Bass recorders are generally only made out of lighter woods such as maple, pearwood and cherry so that weight is less of an issue. Using a sling helps, either one round the neck or more a bassoon-style sling that goes round the back. Most great bass and lower recorders are designed so that they can be placed on the floor whilst playing, meaning that you don't need to hold the recorder up. Accessories such as adjustable spikes can be used to change the height of the recorder to suit the player and whether they are standing or sitting.
6. Do bass recorders take lots more breath?
It depends on the bass recorder you have, but in general bass recorders do take more breath than smaller recorders. On the flip side, it is generally much easier to find the correct breath pressure and make a good sound on a bass recorders than it is on a sopranino!
7. What type of bass recorder should I go for – traditional or square?
There are different reasons to choose between getting a traditional bass or a square bass. One simple reason is you want to match the style of your bass to the other recorders in your consort or ensemble. (However, that is not to say that a square bass won't work perfectly alongside baroque style smaller recorders!) Another reason that could make your choice easy is the style of music you want to play. If you prefer playing early repertoire you may decide traditional is best for you, whereas if you enjoy playing contemporary music a square bass may be the better choice.
As with all instruments the best advice is to try before you buy where possible and keep an open mind. You may have a tenor recorder you love but find that the same make and model in the bass doesn't suit you at all. Bass recorders vary much more than smaller recorders in terms of design but don't let that put you off when trying them. They may have slightly different fingerings for some notes, work in a slightly different way, but these are things that you get used to really quickly and playing your recorder becomes second nature in no time!
Other things to consider
On top of these specific bass considerations, there are the more general recorder things to think about, plastic vs. wood etc. We explore all of these in our recorder buying guide. And for everything recorder we highly recommend Sarah Jeffery's Team Recorder videos on YouTube, especially her intro to the bass recorder.