From an article I read online, I believe I've understood that it's possible to treat the middle C (fingers covering all holes) on the tenor as if it were a D flat, and all higher notes on the instrument a semi-tone lower as well, relative to one another, in order to more or less be able to play this recorder as if it were a tenor in d' flat at a'=415 instead of a tenor in c' at a'=440. Does what I've written make any sense? My understanding of music is still very shaky.

If what I've written does make some sense, then I'd like to be able to consistently play a c' by keeping all holes on the middle joint closed and also close off part (not all) of the bell hole at the bottom of the foot joint with my knee or leg. Producing a c' this way is very hit or miss for me; is there a particular technique recommended for doing it?

  • I guess you've seen this related question? Commented Dec 28, 2013 at 1:25

2 Answers 2


My answer is no, it isn't really possible to use a fingering technique to play an A440 recorder at A415. No professional would even try; they would instead, as Wheat noted, have a real A415 instrument or, if extremely confident and well rehearsed, transpose on-the-fly down a half-step. One can indeed bend most notes up or down quite a bit using half-holes, the bell, and breath pressure, but each note requires something different and no one could reliably play musically trying to bend each and every note an entire half-step down.

A415 instruments are not cheap, although compared to many other instruments like strings and brass, handmade artist-quality recorders are 'affordable'; you just need a few of them. I have an A415 soprano, alto, and a voice flute (tenor in D) in addition to all my A440 recorders including a matched set of meantone-tuned recorders designed for Renaissance music. Some makers make instruments with 2 (or 3) middle joints, one for A440, one for A415, and perhaps one for A460/A465. That can be a money-saver.

As an experiment, pull out the headjoint of your recorder until your low C matches the harpsichord. Then move up the scale. The problem is that the holes are too close together for the rest of the scale to be in tune. If you pull out the foot joint some and the head joint some you might get a somewhat better result, but it still won't sound that good.

Talk with your harpsichordist about what they might be able to do; I agree with Wheat's suggestions.

Getting slightly off-topic, the majority of music written more-or-less specifically for recorder and harpsichord calls for an alto in F so A415 alto recorders are the most available and most affordable. A tenor can play a lot of flute repertoire but a voice flute in D is a better fit for the sharp keys most of that music is written in. I recently sold my A415 tenor (which had an A440 middle joint also) because I wasn't using it enough and I was lusting for a tenor viol.

Happy playing.

  • 1
    Aha! I'm glad we have a real recorder player on Musical Practice and Performance. Welcome, @ohmi.
    – user1044
    Commented Dec 29, 2013 at 12:57

I do not play recorder, or harpsichord, but I have friends who do, as I'm a fan of Baroque music. Let me tell you what I do know.

A=440 and A=415 are exactly one half-step or 100 cents apart (relative to 12-tone equal temperament).

I don't have a definitive answer, but the problem is that neither the recorder nor the harpsichord are (typically) tuned in 12-tone equal temperament, so if you were playing a piece on your recorder in D at A=440, asking the harpsichordist tuned to A=415 to play transposed up a half step would not work, because even with the transposition, most of the pitches and intervals would not be properly in tune between the two instruments (especially if the harpsichord was tuned to a historical meantone tuning, as most would be).

I believe that you would have to ask the harpsichordist to physically slide their keyboard keys up a half-step across the strings (most harpsichords these days have moveable keyboard beds and blocks that enable this), and then the harpsichordist would have to re-tune each string on their entire instrument to the same tuning used by your recorder.

In my experience, professional harpsichordists are used to this sort of thing. They transpose and re-tune their instruments all the time, since harpsichords always go wildly out of tune whenever they are moved to a new space and/or when the temperature or humidity change quickly, as with central heating or central air conditioning systems in performance spaces. Most harpsichordists would be quite able to re-tune between a historical meantone tuning and 12-tone equal temperament; many these days carry electronic tuners that can accommodate this.

More to the point, though, you would be asking the other person to do a lot of work to accommodate you. As far as I know, professional recorder players usually have pairs of instruments, one built to play in A=415, and a similar one built to play in A=440, in order that they don't have to ask everybody else to re-tune to the recorder. In fact I have a friend who is a professional recorder and transverse flute player who also has historical recorders built to play in A=395 and A=465, so that she can play certain historical compositions in the tuning in which the composer originally wrote them (for instance, A=395 for Charpentier). It must be very expensive to own all these hand-built historical instruments, but early music performers tend to be fanatical about these matters. Now my friend's husband is a professional harpsichordist who can retune his entire instrument to any temperament called for with a single tuning fork and his ears; I'm sure they have many different schemes for working things out.

It's all very complicated, but that's what it takes, it seems, to play early music in the modern era.

  • If you will Google me and send me a regular email, I can refer you to my friends the recorder player and the harpsichordist, and they can probably write to you with a definitive answer.
    – user1044
    Commented Dec 28, 2013 at 16:01
  • 1
    A non-complicated, inauthentic but practical solution would be to play your recorder with a keyboardist playing a modern digital piano with a harpsichord sound; they can be instantly transposed and tuned to different historical tunings or 12-tone equal temperament with the push of a couple of buttons.
    – user1044
    Commented Dec 28, 2013 at 16:19

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