The recorder is a family of woodwind musical instrument in the group known as internal duct flutes: flutes with a whistle mouthpiece, also known as fipple flutes. A recorder can be distinguished from other duct flutes by the presence of a thumb-hole for the upper hand and seven finger-holes: three for the upper hand and four for the lower. It is the most prominent duct flute in the western classical tradition
Recorders are made in various sizes with names and compasses roughly corresponding to various vocal ranges. The sizes most commonly in use today are the soprano (also known as descant, lowest note C5), alto (also known as treble, lowest note F4), tenor (lowest note C4), and bass (lowest note F3). Recorders were traditionally constructed from wood or ivory. Modern professional instruments are almost invariably of wood, often boxwood: student and scholastic recorders are commonly of molded plastic. The recorders’ internal and external proportions vary, but the bore is generally reverse conical (i.e. tapering towards the foot) to cylindrical, and all recorder fingering systems make extensive use of forked fingerings.
The recorder is first documented in Europe in the Middle Ages, and continued to enjoy wide popularity in the Renaissance and Baroque periods, but was little used in the Classical and Romantic periods. It was revived in the 20th century as part of the historically informed performance movement, and became a popular amateur and educational instrument. Composers who have written for the recorder include Monteverdi, Lully, Purcell, Handel, Vivaldi, Telemann, Bach, Hindemith, Berio. There are many professional recorder players who demonstrate the full solo range of the instrument, and a large community of amateurs.
The sound of the recorder is often described as clear and sweet, and has historically been associated with birds and shepherds. It is notable for its quick response and its corresponding ability to produce a wide variety of articulations. This ability, coupled with its open finger holes, allow it to produce a wide variety of tone colors and special effects. Acoustically, its tone is relatively pure and, when the edge is positioned in the center of the air jet, odd harmonics predominate in its sound (when the edge is decidedly off-center, an even distribution of harmonics occurs).