The recorder is a flute-like woodwind musical instrument. In German it is called the Blockflöte, in French the flûte ā bec, and in Italian the flauto dolce. It is held vertically from the lips (rather than horizontally like the 'transverse' flute). The player's breath is directed by a wooden 'fipple' or 'block' in the mouthpiece of the instrument along a duct called the 'windway'. Exiting from the windway, the breath is directed against a hard edge called the labium, which agitates a column of air, the length of which (and the pitch of the note produced) is modified by finger holes in the front and back of the instrument. Because of the fixed position of the windway with respect to the labium, there is no need to form an embouchure with the lips. The recorder is descended from very early folk-whistles. It was used in Renaissance music and Baroque Music, and has more recently been revived, gaining a reputation as a children's and amateur's instrument.
Known in the 18th century simply as Flute = Flauto - the transverse form was separately referred to as Traverso. It was for the recorder that J.S. Bach wrote the 4th Brandenburg concerto in G major (though Thurston Dart controversially suggested that it was intended for flageolets at a higher pitch, and in a recording under Neville Marriner using Dart's editions it was played an octave higher than usual on sopranino recorders). Vivaldi wrote three concertos for the "flautino", an instrument first thought to be the piccolo. It is now generally accepted, however, that the instrument intended was the sopranino recorder.
The instrument went into decline after the 18th century, being used for about the last time as an other-worldly sound by Gluck in his opera Orfeo ed Euridice. Although it was revived at the end of the 19th century by the English researcher into Early Music, Arnold Dolmetsch, even in the early 20th century it was uncommon enough that Stravinsky thought it to be a kind of clarinet when first seeing one. Subsequent to its rediscovery it became very popular in schools, since it is inexpensive, easy to play at some level, is pre-tuned (and thus even the tone-deaf can play in tune with the rest of an ensemble), and is not too strident in even the most musically-inept hands. It is however incorrect to assume that mastery is similarly easy - like other instruments, it requires talent and study to play it at an advanced level.
Recorders come in two kinds: tuned in C and in F. The normal, school instrument, recorder is the soprano in C (in England known as the descant) which has a lowest note of c'. Above this are the sopranino in F and the gar klein Flötlein ("really small flute") in C. Below the soprano are the alto in F (in England known as the treble), tenor in C and bass in F. Lower instruments in C and F exist (great bass in C, contrabass in F, sub-contrabass in C, and sub-sub contrabass in F) but are more rare. They are also difficult to handle: the contrabass in F is about 2 meters tall. The soprano and the alto are the most common solo instruments in the recorder family.
The range of a recorder is more or less 2 octaves, chromatically. Some higher notes exist, but notably the augmented prime, two octaves above the base note, is absent or can only be played by covering the end of the instrument typically using one's upper leg. Basically, a recorder is a diatonic instrument, with one hole for each note of the scale of its lowest note. The chromatic scale degrees are played by so-called "fork" fingerings, uncovering one hole and covering one or more of the ones below it. Fork fingerings have a different tonal character from the diatonic notes, giving the recorder its characteristic, woody, and somewhat uneven sound.
See also: recorder player
The word recorder is also used to refer to several forms of devices for recording sound, visual, and other information, commonly on magnetic tape: