Breaking in a recorder
A new recorder has to be played in – that is a well-known fact. Many instructions will tell you that you should only play the instrument for 5 minutes in the first week, 10 minutes in the second week etc. This isn’t wrong but your recorder will appreciate it if you pay more attention to the actual process of playing it in than just following these static rules.
Playing in a new recorder does not simply mean getting the instrument used to warmth and moisture but is also the beginning of a relationship that should last a long time. It’s not only the recorder that needs playing in, the player also needs to get used to the new instrument. It is a process of getting know each other. The more attention you devote to this process the more your recorder will appreciate it.
How long should you play for at first?
A player with little experience may be best off to work along the lines of the above mentioned table – it won’t do any harm. But it’s best to listen to the instrument which will clearly indicate when it has been played for long enough. This very rarely happens after only 5 minutes, it might be 10 minutes, 15 or even 20. In any case it is important not to stop when there are problems with droplets in the windway but to carry on beyond this point. For more on this see below.
After a while you will notice that the recorder becomes “tired”. It might be that the sound is getting blander or too sharp, that high notes speak only with difficulty, or that low notes are difficult to produce. Then it’s time to stop. Take the instrument apart, dry the inside and leave it out to dry completely – until the next day.
Then you carry on in the same manner. You will notice that you can increase the playing time gradually; your recorder will gladly join in.
How and what should one play in the beginning?
Sometimes it is said that “you shouldn’t play high notes in the beginning” or words to that effect. That is right and wrong at the same time. It is right that you should miss out on virtuosic passages in the beginning as it would be too demanding for a new instrument. Also you don’t really get to know an instrument in that way. It is better to play calm passages, songs, hymns, slow movements. Play in all registers, the low, the middle, even in the high register as long as it is relaxed and without tension. Get to know the character of each individual note, find its centre, test its limits. In that way you will get to know your recorder and your recorder will get to know you.
Vivaldi and Castello can wait a bit longer.
What about moisture?
Soon after starting to play you will experience problems with droplets in the windway that will cause your instrument to block up and sound hoarse, especially with new instruments. This will be worse when the instrument is cold and with larger instruments. Also, instruments from tropical hard woods are more prone to this problem than recorders from European fruit woods.
The usual way to deal with this is to either blow sharply down the windway or to suck out the droplets. This may be all right when you are performing in front of an audience and the sound matters. During the playing-in period, however, it is more of a hindrance than a help.
The new instrument will have to learn to cope with the moisture from the breath. The moisture will have to find its own way down the surface of the windway and block so that it can run off without causing a problem.
In a new instrument the surfaces of the windway and block are still very smooth, and the condensing moisture from the breath will result in droplets which disturb the flow of air. With time some deposits will form on the surfaces which will enable the moisture to spread like a thin coating across the surfaces causing less disturbance. This process will take several weeks.
During the playing in period do not use any anti-condens against blocking up or “hoarseness”. Although this destroys the surface tension of the moisture and so prevents droplets from forming, it will also cause the surfaces to be cleaned permanently so that no deposits – let’s call it a “patina”- can form and so the recorder will never learn to cope with moisture on its own accord.
Give yourself and your recorder plenty of time – it will then be