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I don't know if it's the same all over the world, but in central Europe it seems to be a tradition that every slightly music-interested child has to play the recorder to start.

Parents seem to find the recorder the most awesome instrument in the world and that their child will be a big musician because he/she learned the recorder!

I don't see the big deal with the recorder, I was forced to play it myself and I really can't see why it was important that I learn it. I play the guitar now (since almost 8 years) and I didn't see a connection to the recorder during my whole learning-process...

So why do parents adore this instrument so much? Does it really help to improve something?

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I hated that thing. It was (I think it still is) very common in México as well; there were music lessons in grade school where we had to learn to play the flute (known as "flauta dulce" or "sweet flute" here) - Yamaha must have made a killing because practically everyone bought that brand, I don't even know if there was a different brand available. Sounds awful, especially when 20+ kids are playing something out of tune/tempo (mostly out of tempo). –  Chochos May 15 '13 at 17:31
    
Related: music.stackexchange.com/q/7156/1678 –  American Luke May 15 '13 at 21:28
    
Most answers below are reasonable, lack of alternative melody instruments is also a good reason: perhaps only the harmonica could be successful, but that's a much more complicated instrument to make and requires more fine breath control, imho. –  ohmi May 16 '13 at 16:52
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5 Answers

up vote 3 down vote accepted

This is the same in the UK - they are very easy to carry, and relatively easy to learn the basics.

My childhood instrument was strathspey and reel violin, and it certainly did help my understanding of music in general, and my competence in playing guitar. I think any instrument will aid in your learning of musical concepts,rhythm, harmony etc., so a recorder may well be a straightforward option.

Also there may be a subsidised or supported learning plan in Central Europe for it, which would make it a more compelling choice for schools.

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Also - parents here certainly find it the most horrendous instrument and can't wait for their kids to give it up :-) –  Dr Mayhem May 15 '13 at 13:18
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Child-proof instruments are a rarity. Recorders are pretty well bombproof. They can easily be twisted to accomodate left-handers.It's quite easy to play each note in tune and the tone , whilst not over-pleasing, is acceptable, unlike, say, the violin in the hands of a beginner. The fingering is similar to flute, sax etc.So paving the way forward for some.Carrying one to school is not onerous.Comparably they are inexpensive.In the hands of a seasoned player, they actually sound very musical.

Most musicians would possibly agree that the keyboard (piano) is the best instrument to learn, as it's laid out graphically, and is far easier to understand - even if not to play - but it doesn't fit into many kids' shoulder bags.

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Handedness is not an issue for learning the recorder with left-hand on top. Even with separate foot joints, the double-holes found in Baroque and modern recorders are sized for right-hand down playing and that is the only way one should learn. Those who learn otherwise can become experts; I know of a couple and they wish they could switch but alas, that's truly difficult. –  ohmi May 16 '13 at 16:53
    
With lower recorders, you can't just twist them to make them playable the other way around. There is no way I could possibly play my tenor with my right hand on top. –  American Luke May 17 '13 at 2:01
    
Most children (original question ) would be using a descant recorder first. If the bell part is made to be movable, I can't see any other reason for this. –  Tim May 17 '13 at 6:32
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ohmi - the handedness question would be an interesting one to post. For other instruments also. Some people just HAVE to do things in a left-handed way, so if that suits them, so be it. Yes, I agree it may hinder them later in their career, but consider players like Hendrix. No, I don't think he was brilliant on the recorder........... –  Tim May 17 '13 at 6:59
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For starters, the recorder is a great instrument that is played by everyone from the absolute beginner up to conservatory-trained professionals. There are some differences in how it is used in European compared to American culture--for starters, almost all professional-level players hail from outside of the US, whereas in the United States it is seen primarily as a pedagogical tool.

The reasons for this, then, are many:

  • Recorders are cheap
  • They are not easily breakable
  • They are light and don't require a specialized embouchure, making them usable as a starter instrument for other wind instruments
  • They come in a few different sizes, so ensemble/choir music can be played without teaching new instruments.
  • Tons of pedagogical materials exist for recorder as a result of the above reasons1

Besides the physical considerations, I wouldn't necessarily say the recorder is easier to play than other wind instruments; as with many "easy" instruments, they are only easy to play badly.

To further explain the third point, we need to consider the typical ages where different instruments are introduced into the music curriculum (there are always variations; I will reference what is typically practiced in much of the US). The reasoning behind this progression actually has to do with the muscle coordination development of young students:

  • Prior to 3rd grade, students will mostly be playing Orff instruments, which are percussion instruments that don't require fine muscle control in order to play.
  • By 3rd grade, most students have developed fine motor control to the point where the recorder is a viable option, so it is typically introduced into general music curricula at this time.
  • Band programs start either in 4th or 5th grade. These instruments are necessarily more difficult to play than the recorder, as they are larger and heavier, and require specialized embouchures.

So to recap, the recorder is used to teach instrumental note reading to all general music students, and also as an introductory instrument in the year or two before the band instruments become physically viable for students.

So, I don't know why "parents" like the recorder, as in my experience American parents don't have much of an opinion, and it really isn't a matter of choosing between the recorder and a different instrument; rather, the recorder is being used in general music classrooms with all students to teach relevant skills at that time. I imagine in Europe the reason for the different perspective is the greater prevalence of classical recorder players, and a different curricular use of recorder as an introduction to other wind instruments.

1 see also: "Recorder Karate"

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+1 for "easy to play badly" –  American Luke May 17 '13 at 16:04
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The instrument is simple to learn which causes the player to more focus on all other stuff necessary to become a good musician. Learning to read sheet music, writing it and ear training. The faster and younger you learn these skills the more advantage you will have when you later switch to another instrument as you will then 'only' learn the instrument. The benefit of this is that learning is very focussed.

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The reasons (in addition to those of DrMayhem), which I think of are:

  • easy to find a teacher
  • affordable even in decent quality
  • no tuning efforts for solo play
  • as all other woodwinds: ear and breathing technique trained
  • traditional instrument for an orchestra
  • many small ensemble formations and musical styles open to choose
  • neighbour-friendly (closing the door is mostly sufficient)
  • just one tone at a time (reduces stress for sight-reading, at least up to many ledger lines)
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