Looks like thumbs in general are a real issue for me.

I'm teaching myself the recorder, and would not want to acquire a bad habit. I'm approaching notes in the higher octave (soprano recorder) and closing the thumb hole partially in a solid way becomes of paramount importance.

My question is what to do with the thumb when playing notes that don't require the thumb (e.g. high D). I find myself starting a piece with my thumb well in position (upper left part of my thumb closes the thumb hole), which allows me to play high notes that require the thumb hole to be half closed (e.g. high E, G, A) very swiftly (I just gently slide my thumb back), but if after a while I encounter the aforementioned high D then it becomes very hard to find that good thumb position again while playing.

So what does one do when one plays a high D? Does one simply slide it more and more (like one would do for partially closed notes) but keeping it on the recorder or does one lift it completely from the instrument? I have tried the former solution and the issue seems to be that one has to REALLY slide the thumb out of the holes way to make the D sound well.

Any tips?

  • Not having played for years, but while the thumb is in contact with the body of the recorder, you know where it is. Once it waves about freely, it's more difficult to re-instate it in exactly the spot you need it.
    – Tim
    Commented Mar 12, 2018 at 7:53

3 Answers 3


I lift my thumb completely off for the D.

It may seem a bit counter-intuitive, but it's actually a smaller and easier movement than the slide you're talking about. When you "half" hole for the higher notes you're moving your thumbnail less than a quarter of the width of the hole, and there's enough give in your flesh that the contact area between your thumb and the recorder probably isn't moving at all. As you've discovered, to completely open the hole for the D you have to extend that movement a LONG way, much further than seems reasonable, actually sliding your skin against the wood as you do so. It's an awkward movement, there's a tendency for the thumb to roll, and you lose your nice comfortable position on the thumb hole.

If you lift your thumb to achieve the same result, the minimum movement necessary is actually much smaller, and it's much easier to immediately put your thumb back down in the same position. Try trilling between C and D by lifting and then by sliding - which is easier?

If you don't think there's much in it either way, try the same exercise on a tenor.


Lift the thumb. You don't have to lift it very far.

Rolling the thumb all the way off the tone hole fundamentally changes your grip on the instrument, which is already kind of tenuous, especially when playing notes with few fingers on the instrument like the second octave D.


Look at your left hand as a whole - it should be in a relaxed C shape. Your right thumb and lips provide the stability needed to keep all fingers of your left hand off the instrument. With a good hand shape you can keep the thumb always over the thumbhole and you'll develop the muscle memory to keep it from flying around as you need to replace it either full or half-hole depending on where you're going from the D or C#.

I bend the thumb knuckle with very little motion on and off the thumbhole, that gives me the top-left side of the thumb to act as my half-hole edge. -- your mileage may vary --

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