When playing my Recorder I found out that each note was half tone (sharp) up... I was wondering if this is a problem with the flute, or with my technique of blowing...

I have also noticed that when playing it really gently the tone is correct, the thing is that this way, I lose some of the dynamics and color of the instrument.

Is the problem my playing or the recorder? is there a way to "down tune" the recorder a half tone down (to make it flat all the way) ?


I have pulled out the mouth-piece a bit, it wasn't 100% on the money so I used a bit autotuning, the end piece can be found here.

Thanks for the help!

  • 1
    The problem is with your embouchure (or with you overblowing). Try dropping your jaw a little bit while preserving the same airflow. I have the same problem in some parts of the upper register on the tenor saxophone, and I have to practise with the tuner to get rid of them.
    – Pyromonk
    Commented Jul 22, 2019 at 7:12
  • 3
    @Pyromonk As opposed to the sax (and almost all other wind instruments) afaik there is no embouchure with the recorder....
    – piet.t
    Commented Jul 22, 2019 at 7:53
  • 3
    If the recorder is built according to a historic model, it may target another reference than 440 Hz.
    – guidot
    Commented Jul 22, 2019 at 8:38
  • 1
    @guidot If the instrument was built according to historic tuning, it would be flat rather than sharp. The standard for 'historic' tuning is A=415 Hz
    – PiedPiper
    Commented Jul 22, 2019 at 8:42
  • 1
    @piet.t there most certainly is embouchure. Just because there's no reed to control doesn't mean that lip pressure and mouth shape don't matter. Commented Jul 22, 2019 at 14:47

3 Answers 3


As you've observed, the intonation of a recorder is highly sensitive to the pressure it's played at, i.e. to the dynamics. It should not be understood as a “keyed” instrument where the fingers just select from a discrete number of pitches and the mouth is only responsible for dynamics and phrasing, but rather as a “fretless” instrument where the fingers select from a continuum of pitches.

Concretely: normally when playing p, the pitches are a bit too flat; this can easily be compensated by “leaking a bit air” from the lowest finger, e.g. when playing a d note (on soprano; it would be g on alto) you'd put the ring finger a bit off-center of the hole, not closing it perfectly, so the pitch goes up as desired. With enough practise, this kind of adjustment should eventually become second-nature and you don't need to think about it anymore. It actually feels kind of natural: when you reduce the breath pressure, you also reduce the finger pressure.

Now, in your situation the problem appears to be in the other direction: it's only in tune when playing quiet, and goes sharp at high pressure. This could in principle also be compensated with the fingers (basically you always finger one note lower, but make the last finger cover only small part of the hole), but it's not very practical; especially for a beginner way too confusing. So what you should do instead is bias all pitches lower. This can be done by pulling out the mouthpiece join a little (thus making the instrument longer). Alternatively, you can just shift your reference: when playing alone it doesn't really matter what the absolute pitch is, only that the notes a relative in tune. When playing with a guitar or electronic keyboard as accompaniment, this could easily tune up a quarter-step.

Both of that isn't ideal. Probably, at some point it would make sense to get a better instrument. But don't take that as an excuse not to practise until you have a better recorder!

  • 1
    We used to make the pitch lower by putting a piece of paper between the mouthpiece and the flute... Commented Jul 22, 2019 at 8:23
  • "This can be done by pulling out the mouthpiece join a little (thus making the instrument longer)" - This seems like something I can do as a beginner, it would probably require some fine tuning to get it right on the buck. but it seems like a better solution, because I really wouldn't like to miss the high-pressure dynamics, which I found brought more sound and detail from the recorder...
    – levi
    Commented Jul 22, 2019 at 9:35
  • Yeah, but it definitely is a bit of an awkward hack. I'm not sure any proper recorder players would recommend this. Commented Jul 22, 2019 at 10:04
  • Adjusting the head joint is common among the whistle and Recorder players that I know. Especially with the wooden instruments, humidity and temperature will change the tuning enough to require adjustment. There are also instances where a Recorder built with an A442 tuning wants to play with an accordion made with a lower tuning. The accordion can't adjust so the whistle does. Commented Jul 22, 2019 at 21:46
  • I actually completely forgot about that, but adjusting the mouthpiece is indeed a great way to fix the problem. I have a few marks on the cork of my saxophone for different seasons of the year, because humidity and temperature affect the pitch...
    – Pyromonk
    Commented Jul 24, 2019 at 7:20

The recorder has a very limited range of dynamics. If the instrument is very sharp, you are blowing too hard.


If the tone is indeed half a tone sharp, the solution is rather simple: use the finger setting for the flat version of that tone: If you want to play a D, but it comes out as a D-sharp at that dynamic; play a D-flat instead, so what comes out will be a D-natural.

Using alternative fingerings for certain notes to account for detonation is quite common for valved instruments (brass instruments) at least, and perhaps for others as well (but my experience lacks there).

  • Alternative fingerings are common on saxes and clarinets, but hardly ever used on 'brass' (trumpets, etc., with valves.). There's often only three to choose from!
    – Tim
    Commented Jul 22, 2019 at 10:10
  • @Tim Actually; they are very common in brass, especially in the higher registers. I am a brass player myself, and usually have at least 2 fingerings to choose from (we use valve combinations, not just single valves). I often hear conductors say "play that E with 1&2, if that doesn't work, try 3", but they rarely give such directions to woodwinds
    – ThisIsMe
    Commented Jul 22, 2019 at 13:07
  • I'm aware that valves 1+2 = valve 3, with the slight intonation improvements of one over the other, but are there any other 'valve substitutions'? And isn't that 1&2 or 3 just for the written low E? The woodwinds have differing fingerings often to make moving between certain notes easier, but sometimes it can change the tuning slightly, too.
    – Tim
    Commented Jul 22, 2019 at 13:13
  • for a high E (top of the treble bar), the options are 'open', '1+2', and '3'; a center G can be either open or 1+3, a center B can be 2 or 1+3 the higher you go, the more options you get. For brass; the changed tuning is the reason, not the side-effect. A 3-valved brass has at least two options for most tones; a 4-valved one can have up to 4 choices
    – ThisIsMe
    Commented Jul 22, 2019 at 13:40

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