Recorder Facts


How did the recorder get its name?

From Recorder Home Page, compiled by Nicholas S. Lander (

  • The English verb 'to record' meaning 'to get by heart, to commit to memory, to go over in one's mind, or to repeat or say over as a lesson', dates from as early as 1225.
  • The earliest English reference to the recorder as a musical instrument was in 1388. It was spelled 'Recourdour'.
  • The words 'recorde', 'recourdour', 'recorders' and 'recordys' appear in English poems from about 1440 onwards.
  • In about 1510, this old verb seems to have been applied to birds for the first time and, by extension, to humans with the meaning of 'to practise or sing a tune in an undertone; to go over it quietly (eg by humming it) or silently'.


Other names for the recorder

  • In some languages the recorder is called a flute.
  • In French, the recorder is called a ‘flûte à bec’ (‘beaked flute’).
  • In German, the recorder is called a ‘Blockflöte’ (‘block flute’)  because of the block inside the instrument that creates a duct which forces the airstream from the mouth onto a hard ege.
  • In Italian, the recorder is called a ‘flauto dolce' (‘soft, sweet flute’).
  • Before the late 1700s, the term 'flute' (or equivalent ) almost always meant the recorder.
  • Before the late 1700s, the recorder was also called the 'common flute'. 
  • The recorder was also known as the 'English flute', to distinguish it from the transverse flute, which had come from Byzantium to Europe via the Germanic lands by the 12th century, and was subsequently known as the 'German flute'. If a side-blown flute was intended in written music, it was described as 'transverse flute', 'German flute' or 'cross flute'.
  • Click here to see a table of names for the recorder and flute, compiled by David Lasocki


The first recorders

  • One of the oldest surviving wooden recorders is a Renaissance descant recorder found in Holland. It is believed to be from the 14th century. A second recorder and a fragment of a recorder from the 14th century have been also found in Germany.
  • The oldest surviving recorder instruction books are Swiss and German, dating from  about 1510-1529. Click here for more information.


Recorders were amongst the most popular instruments of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance period.

  • Recorders were popular in England and Europe from the 1300s to the end of the 1700s.
  • In the 15th and 16th centuries, recorders of different sizes were commonly played in groups, known as ‘consorts’. Recorder consorts accompanied singing and dancing. Renaissance recorders were quite loud.
  • The softer baroque recorder became popular as a solo instrument in the 17th century, but as orchestral concerts became more popular the recorder became unfashionable because it was not loud enough to play alongside other instruments.
  • By the end of the 18th century, the louder transverse (side-blown) flute had taken over the music traditionally played by recorders.


The recorder revival

  • The recorder became popular once again around the turn of the 20th century with the rise of the early music movement (meaning the revival of music of the middle ages, renaissance and baroque periods). The increasing interest in recorder playing led to the rise of a number of virtuoso recorder players who commissioned composers to write new works for the recorder.
  • The first plastic recorders were made as early as the 1930s. Plastic recorders, such as Frank Aman's 'Tonette', soon became very popular in primary school music programs.


The recorder and famous people

  • The English King Henry VIII (1491-1547) played the recorder. He also collected recorders. He had 76 recorders in his collection when he died.
  • Playwright William Shakespeare used recorders to play incidental music in ‘Hamlet’ and possibly in ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’.
  • Many famous composers, including H. Purcell, J. S. Bach, G. Telemann, Antonio Vivaldi and G. F. Handel, wrote music for the recorder.
  • Some pop groups, such as the Beatles and Jethro Tull, have used the recorder in their music.
  • The recorder has been used in film scores, including 'The Lord of the Rings' (2001) and in 'Tales From Earthsea' (Studio Ghibli, 2006).
  • Genevieve Lacey is a well-known Australian recorder virtuoso.
  • For a long list of famous people associated with the recorder, click here.