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I have small hands and I am 4 feet 11 inches. I was looking into getting an alto recorder. Is the fingering too spread apart for me? Should I just stick to Soprano?

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  • I played bass clarinet in school bands starting in elementary school, and I'm currently about 5 feet tall. Both of my hands only comfortably span an octave on the piano and must hit adjacent notes when I try to reach a 9th. I think you can handle an alto recorder just fine.
    – Dekkadeci
    Sep 8 '20 at 7:49
  • @Dekkadeci Clarinets are always keyed. Recorders are only keyed where an average person doesn't have the reach otherwise. There are even many tenor recorders without any keys. Altos never have them unless you specifically look for one with keys.
    – Nobody
    Sep 8 '20 at 10:02
  • You should try a couple of altos and see. My wife is also about 4'11" and has no trouble with normal altos. There are expensive alternatives, as people mention in the answers below. Another one is the Paetzold square plastic tenor, with all keys. But get a cheap plastic alto and try it out first. Sep 8 '20 at 10:29
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    My mother (who plays all sizes of recorder) had the same problem, but she was able to increase her hand spread via exercises, involving placing wine corks between the fingers of the left hand (which needs to spread more than the right on a recorder). Sep 8 '20 at 13:58
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An alto (treble) recorder is about one and a half (3/2) times the size of soprano (descant).
This means that the 2 spaces (between 3 consecutive holes) on an alto, will be roughly equal to the 3 spaces (between 4 holes) on a soprano.
So three fingers on each hand of the alto will need to span a length that 4 fingers would on a soprano.

Consequently, you can test the span required for an alto recorder, on your soprano recorder easily:

  • Place your left hand top finger on the top hole, and see whether you can reach the fourth hole down with your third finger, (placing your second finger somewhere between holes two and three): treble and descant recorders - left hand holes

  • Similarly with the right hand; place your top finger on the fourth hole down and see if you can reach the bottom hole (twin holes) with your third finger: treble and descant recorders - right hand holes

NB: While the ratio of an alto recorder to a soprano is 3/2, the ratio of a tenor recorder to an alto is 4/3.

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It’s impossible to answer definitely because you’d need to try an instrument to see for yourself if you can cover the holes. There are decent inexpensive plastic recorders available which would enable you to try the compass for yourself, which would be your best option. Whilst tenor and above may be beyond your hand span, many players with smaller hand compass are very comfortable on the alto.

As a much pricier option, Mollenhauer are one manufacturer who make keyed models, providing keys on the 3rd and 4th holes to bring hole 3 closer to 1 and 2, and hole 4 closer to 5 and 6. They would be able to advise on the span required, their customer services contact form is prominently available on their website.

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  • You can also have keys custom fitted, but that would cost more than $100 per key.
    – Nobody
    Sep 8 '20 at 10:04
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The American Recorder Society (ARS) says:

Some players with smaller hands will find starting on the alto difficult. ... However, there are models available from ARS Business Members to help players with small hands avoid fatigue when playing. (From the ARS FAQ page; link added.)

In addition to the ARS Business Members, you can try contacting the manufacturer of an instrument that interests you and ask about finger-hole distances. You might also look for someone with expertise in recorders (whether at the manufacturer or perhaps a teacher) who can help you measure your hands and advise on whether alto recorders will work for you. You might find someone through the Recorder Forum discussion site.

Note: I did not find finger-hole distances published online. Allowing I just didn't find them, it seems your best bet will be to contact stores and/or manufacturers.

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