Flexibility is an important life skill. It’s also an essential part of playing the recorder. We frequently move between fingering systems, switching from C instruments to F instruments, G and D and beyond. And we toggle between clefs- treble and bass to start, and often more.
It’s a great mental workout, but it can also be frustrating. You pick up an alto but your fingers are still playing a tenor. Or you’re trying to read bass clef and your mind slips back into treble.
“How do I deal with switching instruments?” is a question I’m asked frequently at workshops.
There’s no easy answer, but there is an answer: strategic practice combined with a simple technique for orienting yourself to new instruments and clefs.
It might seem obvious, but the first step is to get as comfortable as possible in each mode (clef or fingering system) in which you play. If you’re not comfortable in bass clef, for example, spend a little time each day reading in that clef. There’s no “trick” to clef reading, but it does get easier with practice!
Rather than picking up a new instrument and plunging right in, take a moment to breathe and go through a three-part checklist:
1) Ground yourself physically by placing all seven fingers and your thumb on the instrument, as if you were playing its lowest note. This will help accustom your body and mind to the new stretch.
2) Say the name of the lowest note in your mind.
3) See the line or space to which the lowest note corresponds. Imagine yourself playing that note.
Taking the time to orient yourself, both physically and mentally, will pay dividends when you start to play.
Switch it up
We get better at what we practice, so why not explicitly practice switching? One exercise I often give students is to take a multi-part piece and, working either up or down, play each of the parts in turn. It’s a great way to practice, deliberately, the flexibility you’ll want during workshops and performances.