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Topic Summary
Posted by: berto Posted on: Mar 26th, 2003, 10:48am
I began playing the alto recorder with a thumbrest, but after a year, I dispensed with it.  Yes, I feel I have less of a "grip" on the instrument for certain notes, but for other notes and note sequences I find that the thumbrest gets in the way. For instance, I like to roll the instrument counterclockwise a bit when hitting the low F#, and the thumbrest interferes with that motion. All in all, I finally concluded that the alto thumbrest is more trouble than it's worth.
I also began playing the tenor recorder with a thumbrest. After about 15 minutes of play, however, my right thumb would get really tired supporting the weight of the instrument. Ultimately, I removed the thumbrest and now play the tenor with the recorder foot balanced on my right knee. (I sometimes wonder how that affects the tone coming out the end of the instrument.) (Question: How then would I play the tenor recorder standing up? Good question!  Roll Eyes)
As for the bass recorder, I need and use the thumbrest, along with the neck strap. But for reasons of control, I play the bass recorder balancing it, too, on my lowered right knee. (I use a bocal.)
What are your experiences with recorder thumbrests? I am especially interested in hearing from people who switched from using them to not using them, or vice versa, after long playing experience.
Posted by: emfcentral Posted on: Mar 28th, 2003, 9:59am
Thumbrests - yes (and no).  Certain instruments I do not (sopranino and garklein); soprano and alto, I use a substiture for a thumbrest -- a heavy cord or double crocheted string looped around the bottom of the instrument and brought up into a loop into which my thumb is inserted, allowing me to rotate the instrument as I need.  For the tenor, I use the removable snap-on thumb rest, again allowing me to move it up or down and turn it.  The bass I play is a direct blow, and I use the neck strap (also utilize a thumb cover to keep the thumb rest from digging into the thumb).  Positioning of the instrument can be done to the side; however,  most play the instrument by holding it between the knees and resting the base on one's foot (or crossed feet) if necessary.  Hopefully, this helps.  In a performance situation, also, it looks better to have instruments played in positions where the audience doesn't note an uncomfortable position by a player.  Good luck.
Posted by: berto Posted on: Apr 2nd, 2003, 8:00am
The looped string? I'll have to give that a serious try. It does provide more freedom of movement (but it still puts significant weight on the thumb joint).
"Loop around the bottom of the instrument"? I don't quite understand how that would work.  I had thought that one uses a thin, yarn-like string that clamps in place with the recorder foot joint.
I'm curious:  How did the "ancients" solve this problem?
Is there any evidence--direct, anecdotal, pictorial--whether recorder players Baroque and before used thumbrests (or strings or...)? Are these thorougly modern inventions/crutches?
Posted by: Marsyas Posted on: Apr 15th, 2003, 9:20am
A survey of some 4,000 artworks featuring the recorder or recorder-like instruments shows no sign of thumbrests or slings. See  
Similarly, a survey of some 1,000 surviving historic recorders in public and private museums shows no sign of the use of thumbrests. See  
However, a number of original bass recorders (by Bressan and others) are fitted with a "crutch" which is used to support the recorder on a stool or directly on the floor. The bell opening of such instruments vents to the side. The modern equivalent is a suitably shaped steel spike and some velcro.
Certain 17th century methods for the recorder describe what has been described as "buttress technique". This involves supporting the recorder by keeping finger 6 on the instrument whenever possible. Many contemporary players use something like this, possibly unconsciously. An alternative often seen is to support the recorder by leaning finger 4 against the side of the instrument. Some might consider these strategies faults.  
A loop of leather thonging slipped around the foot of an alto recorder and then around the thumb of the lowermost hand provides excellent support. It allows the hands to find their correct position without the use of the supporting finger techniques described above. It has the merit of not marring the instrument in any way. It costs virtually nothing. And it can be discarded when and if the student feels ready to do so.  
Tenor recorders are best supported by a hook and neck sling, like a clarinet, oboe or sax. This is especially true of the renaissance style tenors which can be very heavy.
Posted by: berto Posted on: Apr 15th, 2003, 10:00am
Marsyas, thanks for your excellent, informative post!
I have Giesbert's Method for the Treble Recorder book that advocates the "buttress technique." I am reluctant to try that, though, because it seems too radical a departure from what I am used to. And besides, I have difficulty enough managing the C and F fingerings and the alternative fingerings required to get good notes out of my tenor and bass recorders. Oh, my tired, muddled brain!  Tongue
>Tenor recorders are best supported by a hook and neck sling, like a clarinet, oboe or sax...
What an excellent suggestion! The neck sling supports the weight of the instrument, and one's hands and fingers are left entirely free. Great idea!
Posted by: berto Posted on: Jun 20th, 2003, 12:16pm
While researching the so-called "buttress technique" on the Web yesterday (the comments, which were few, were mostly negative), someone suggested the following:
Put a strip of two-sided tape where a thumbrest would usually be. Then overlay a similarly sized piece of sandpaper (!). (I am using slightly sticky, non-permanent, poster mounting double-sided tape, as I don't want to harm the recorders' finish.)
I have tried this on my plastic tenor recorder (Aulos keyless), and (for me) it works! My right thumb "sticks" to the sandpaper, and I no longer feel a loss of control, especially when playing high C or D. At the same time, I have complete freedom to reposition my thumb and "roll" the instrument without a thumbrest getting in the way. (Before, I had been slightly wetting my right thumb to achieve stickiness, but the thumb would dry, and I would lose the stickiness effect after a while.)
I have tried thumbrests, looped strings, resting the recorder on my right knee, holding the instrument out nearly horizontal, etc. in pursuit of comfort-with-control. None of them work for me. (I haven't tried the neck sling, as I don't want to add a hook to my instrument(s).)
This sandpaper technique is very promising. I will try it with both of my tenor recorders. (And maybe also my altos, although I can play the altos--also my sopranos--as is, without any special thumb support.)
I'll report back after trying the sandpaper idea for a week or two...

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