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Learning more about: playing the recorder

20 March 2024

Subject advisers are u3a members who volunteer to share their expertise on their specialist subject and the movement can contact them for advice on their subject. 

Val is the new u3a Subject Adviser for Recorder and shares her tips for u3a members who might want to start playing the instrument or start a recorder u3a group.  

When did you first start playing the recorder?

Like everyone who went to school from 1940’s onwards, it was my weekly music lesson where I first came across the Descant recorder. At secondary school, where I had a recorder specialist teacher, I came across the Treble and Tenor recorder. Through playing days I encountered the Bass Recorders of all sizes and types. As a cellist, I was able to easily access the notation so, by age 16, I was playing recorders daily and in different settings, from concerts locally to solo performances across Northern Ireland.

What do you look forward to doing as Recorder Subject Adviser for the u3a movement?

I envisage being able to extend my knowledge to the Recorder groups across the u3a movement and to support members by encouraging their enjoyment of recorder playing and group music making.

What would you suggest to u3a members who want to explore playing the recorder?

Find a group through the u3a website, contact the leader, go for a visit. 

Don’t be put off if the group sound fantastic. Usually a lot of work has gone into sounding like that. Ask if they have a beginner group. If they don't, contact me and I can assist with the basics until you feel you can walk in and sit down without panicking (we have all been there!)

Look at the playing materials on the Recorder Subject Advice page. I would advise a quick refresher course on reading music but there is no shame writing the name of the notes under any music until you get fluent.

The website,, has lessons and exercises and is free. I have used it with all my groups prior to u3a. Print out a recorder finger chart for easy reference.

There are good cheap plastic recorders out there, you do not need to buy the most expensive wooden recorder until you are ready, I suggest Aulos or Yamaha. You probably will need a music stand for home and group playing, you can pick a decent stand up for £15.

What are the benefits of joining a u3a recorder group?

I would hope that the members will gain confidence and increased self-esteem of playing within a group, where everyone is there to learn, laugh at any mistakes and feel supported at whatever level.

Recorder u3a groups are a great place to develop friendships and, as I have discovered, a great place to have a social life with people who are like minded and welcoming.

Members will develop their knowledge and understanding of the Recorder’s place in history, not just within the UK but across the World and widen their musical experience of a repertoire they might not have expected.

Can you give 2 tips to members who want to start their own group?

Look at the spread of instruments and players you have. Then plan your music list to best fit playing levels and experience of group playing. The piece that looks simple on paper will not necessarily fit your group. Trial and error is important.

Your best player is only as good as the weakest player and you have to utilise the better player to support in the early sessions of a new player joining to ensure that they stay!

How can you help members and u3as to get started or progress their interest group?

I am here to help in any way I can. I can assist with members who are rusty and want some support before going back into a fully established group. I will be available for online sessions and recorder surgeries. I am also happy to visit groups and lead sessions where the group leaders feel this would be appropriate.

Musically, I can assist with scores and can alter/ arrange scores to fit specific group’s needs, just email me and I will get back to you.

I will be available to talk through plans on email, on line meetings or through an initial phone call. Please contact me!

You can contact Val through the Recorder Subject Advice page on the u3a website.

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