The Family



Modern instruments (at concert pitch A=440 Hz) are either in the key of C or F and are, from the smallest (highest) downwards:


In C


In F


garklein in C6 (c”’)


sopranino in F5 (f”)


descant (soprano) in C5 (c”)


treble (alto) in F4 (f’)


tenor in C4 (c’)


bass in F3 (f)


great bass in C3 (c)


contrabass in F2 (F)


sub-great bass in C2 (C)


sub-contrabass in F1 (FF)



The larger instruments use keys, crooks or a knick to help the inevitable big stretches between the finger holes.

Instruments such as the tenor in D (the voice flute), the descant in B-flat (the fourth flute) and the Renaissance treble in G are still in use today, usually in the performance of early music. However, Evelyn Nallen, for example, uses a Baroque fourth flute as a modern pitch descant in A with the band Respectable Groove and David Gordon’s Romanesque for recorder, strings, harpsichord and percussion (2015) uses the Renaissance G treble.


Twentieth century design and construction innovations such as the Paetzold square-profile bass recorder and the Helder Harmonic Tenor recorder, which uses many keys, may be seen on the recorder home page section on innovation in recorder design.

Although recorders are most commonly made at concert pitch, among serious amateurs and professionals, two other standard pitches are commonly found. For baroque instruments, A=415 Hz is the de facto standard, while Renaissance instruments are often pitched at A=460 Hz. Both tunings are a compromise between historical accuracy and practicality. Some recorder makers offer 3-piece instruments with two middle sections, usually accommodating two of three tuning systems, Baroque pitch (a semitone lower than modern pitch), concert pitch and Renaissance pitch (a semitone higher than modern pitch).

The recorder family is non-transposing, which means that sheet music for recorder is nearly always written in the key in which it is played. A written C in the score actually sounds as a C. The higher members of the family (soprano and above) transpose at the octave, as do the bass instruments (bass and great bass)


Actual & written pitch:The garklein sounds two octaves above the written pitch; the sopranino and descant sound one octave above written pitch. Treble and tenor sizes do not transpose at all, while the bass and great bass sound one octave above written (bass clef) pitch. In modern scores, these transpositions are indicated by adding a small figure “8” above the treble or bass clef on sopranino, soprano or bass recorder parts, but in the past and still commonly today, the transpositions are not indicated and instead are assumed from context. Contrabass and sub contrabass are non-transposing while the octocontrabass sounds one octave below written pitch.

Sizes from garklein down through tenor are notated in the treble clef while the bass size and lower usually read the bass clef.


Last updated August 11, 2015