January 2019
Playing the Recorder Single-Handedly!
by ARS Board Member Greta Haug-Hryciw
O, how we love the recorder! This wonderful instrument continues to gain popularity for many reasons. We know it as a wonderfully expressive instrument that can bring the joy of music-making to so many people, including those who have physical differences. Read about the remarkable development of recorders designed for one-handed players.
What might be considered the first one-handed recorder is the 3-holed tabor pipe, designed to play along with the tabor (drum) by a single player. But the sound is more akin to the tin whistle than the dulcet recorder.

However, thanks to a famous musical pioneer, there is such a thing as a real recorder for players with only one hand to play!
Adaptive Recorders
One of the attractions of the recorder is its simplicity. But if a person has the use of only one hand, a simple recorder can yield only a few notes – not enough to satisfy a budding musician. Arnold Dolmetsch (1858-1940), a maker of recorders and many other early instruments, believed that making music is something everyone should be able to enjoy, and in the early 1930s he developed and built recorders to accommodate players with missing fingers and hands. The family continues this tradition today with their “Gold” model of adaptive recorders.

Meet two one-handed recorder players and discover their quest for instruments that would satisfy their desire to make beautiful music.
Joe Sledge (Colorado) always had a love of music, being a singer from early on. He took up the recorder around 1970, preferring its “smoky” sound to that of the flute, and says he learned to play tunes to impress girls. In 1980, Joe lost his right arm in a logging accident. About 5 or 6 years ago, while staying with a musician friend, he was inspired to search online for instruments that could be played with one hand. He discovered that the Dolmetsch Workshop, in partnership with instrument craftsman Peter Worrell , were producing one-handed sopranos and altos, but only in wood.

Because he is outdoors a lot he wanted an instrument in plastic, an all-season material, so he dug deeper. The Dolmetsch website led him to the Aafab Recorder Centre (Utrecht, Netherlands), the agent for Dolmetsch recorders. Through their website he tracked down Mr. Worrell, who not only fabricates the keys for Aafab but also modifies plastic recorders for one-handed players. Joe ordered one from him directly, and his beautiful custom recorder was received in about 5 weeks. (See photos at the top of this article.) He says the recorder gives him an artistic outlet, giving the other side of his brain exercise. He loves making beautiful sounds on his recorder, playing slowly.
Vicki Medland (Green Bay, WI) is nothing short of inspirational. Vicki started recorder in 4th grade and later played flute through college. A stroke in her early 20s permanently affected her left side and she lost fine-motor movement in her left hand.

Not wanting to sacrifice opportunities to play music with her husband, a musician, and others, Vicki found an article on how to make a one-handed recorder. She contacted the writer who sent her an example of his work: a low-level plastic soprano with specialized keys. Thrilled that she could play music again, she wanted a better instrument and found the Dolmetsch website. She purchased a rosewood alto, and then a soprano. When one-handed tenors became available through Aafab she ordered one in rosewood, to match her soprano and alto.

Vicki plays all genres of music with Recorders by the Bay, both an ensemble and a newly founded ARS chapter. Together they play for schools, nursing homes, and other outreach programs. The recorder has enriched her life tremendously.
New Challenges
Learning the fingering, even for musicians who previously played an instrument with both hands, requires starting from scratch. The fingerings are very different from standard recorders (see fingering chart below). Whereas with two-handed playing, fingers are basically lifted from or dropped onto the tone holes, these specialized instruments require lateral shifting from un-keyed tone holes to keys between the holes for notes above the lowest 5. Except for the thumb, each finger has at least 2 different positions, which makes playing fast difficult.

According to Vicki, playing in tune, especially with other sopranos, is tough. Alternate fingerings aren’t an option, so the only dynamic changes that can be made are by blowing harder or softer, so the highest notes won’t be in tune.

These modifications are expensive. The keys are handmade and take considerable skill and time to fabricate and install. Joe’s plastic Aulos alto cost 550£ ($670), and Vicki’s rosewood tenor was somewhere around $2,000.

Although the combinations of keys and holes take some getting used to at first, with practice and patience, players can enjoy the same repertoire as those with two hands. Whatever a player’s circumstance, with adaptations and modifications for one-handed players, bent neck tenors and basses, or key additions for players who otherwise can’t reach the holes, playing the recorder is now accessible to almost everyone , no matter the playing level!

~ Greta Haug-Hryciw
ARS Board of Directors
President, San Francisco Recorder Society
Co-Director, Barbary Coast Recorder Orchestra

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