First of all I want to inform you that I wasn't that close with music in my life so I might not know the obvious and mix up terminology. I am gathering information for an engineering project involving a recorder.
I have played the recorder for a few years in elementary school, so I know how to play the keys. But know when I am trying to simulate the keys with a pneumatic device, I am having some questions about tunes and the strength of blow. The pitch of the key differs when the strength of the blow differs. So, I assume that there is one right rate of flow that plays the perfect tune for a specific key (ignoring tremolo). Then how are symbols like forte, piano, cresendo, etc. played? So is keeping a consistant blow for each key important in wind instruments?

  • 1
    You might like this contraption: youtube.com/watch?v=OjONQNUU8Fg, or even better, youtube.com/watch?v=uEzGHg-JBZU Commented Nov 28, 2022 at 14:31
  • It matters a lot: for instance, you can get two different pitches even from one fingering. If you blow harder ("overblow"), you can get a pitch one octave higher. You can also make intentional slight variation in wind speed for vibrato. Commented Nov 28, 2022 at 15:26
  • When recorders were at their most popular the crescendo hadn't yet appeared in western art music. When it did appear it became so popular that some instruments - those with the narrowest dynamic range - became less useful to orchestral composers. Most instruments could be adapted but the recorder couldn't. Its lowest notes were no use in loud music: its highest no use in soft music. Commented Nov 29, 2022 at 14:24

4 Answers 4


If building a fipple flute type of instrument (aka a recorder) you will likely have to adjust the blowing pressure for each note. On a recorder the lower notes need a steady low pressure air stream. High notes typically need more pressure and flow. Every wooden recorder differs slightly.

Also the thumb hole aperture typically changes between notes in the upper register. It is possible to keep it a constant size as Paetzold do in their line of square instruments. I have no idea how they achieve this.

Getting any real dynamics out of a recorder style instrument is difficult. Loud low notes are almost impossible as are quiet high notes. Tuning varies with air pressure. Alternative fingerings can help, but there is not a complete set of loud or soft fingerings available. Consorts of recorders often cheat by blowing softly or heavily and hope that the listener did not notice the slight pitch change.


Wind instruments change pitch depending on how hard they are blown. When blown harder instruments like the flute or recorder go up in pitch and instruments like the clarinet go down in pitch. Experienced players learn to compensate for this by embouchure adjustments and possibly fingering changes so they play in tune at any dynamic level.


Yes, changing the air flow changes the pitch for all wind instruments. But, unlike an organ pipe, most wind instruments also have other mechanisms to alter the pitch, e.g., tongue position, embouchure, or alternative fingerings that lengthen or shorten the vibrating air column slightly and thereby alter the pitch. So if the air pushes the pitch in one direction, you can compensate with the other mechanisms.

The recorder is a bit of a special case. My recorder book (The Modern Recorder Player, Hauwe) says something like "at an amateur-to-intermediate level, the recorder is best considered like an organ pipe with a very limited dynamic range". But even recorders can support dynamics by using different fingerings for the different dynamics.


The following comes from my experience playing in recorder ensembles, so I will answer your questions from the perspective of playing together with other recorders.

Indeed, you can change the pitch of a note by strengthening or loosening your blow. We often use this to tune some notes relative to each other. We tune all recorders to the A of the lowest recorder, but as all recorders are different we often have to tune other combinations of notes/chords individually as well (while playing!). So for example if the C on my recorder has a high pitch relative to the G of my neighbour, one (or both) of us has to alter their blow strength every time we play a C/G together, especially on emphasised notes and chords.

When playing with a group, you can emulate forte and piano by varying the note length. So for forte you'd stretch out a note as close to the next note as possible, and for piano you'd cut a note of earlier (as a general rule of thumb, what sounds like forte in one situation could sound like piano in anouther, context matters so much). Because the relative tuning to each other is what matters most though, you can often get away with all strengthening your blow just a little bit. This is what we often do when there's a crescendo for everyone.

It takes a lot of tailoring and trial and error to get this right for an entire piece, and (to me) it is definitely the most challenging and fun part of playing in a recorder ensemble. The feeling when you get this right is totally worth it though!

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