Alto Vs. Soprano Recorder

image alto v soprano recorder banner

Do you wonder which recorder is better to use?

Are you unsure the difference between the types of recorders?

The alto and soprano recorders are the most common types of recorders, and many people don’t really know the difference or which you should use in a certain situation. 

Over my 20 years as a recorder player and 10 as a teacher, I’ve learned more about these recorders than I ever imagined I’d want to. This is why I decided to help people out with this comparison of Alto vs. Soprano recorder. 

The alto recorder is based on the pitch F and is a little longer and more expensive than soprano recorders. The soprano recorder is a fifth higher and based on C. The alto is great for older, advanced students and teachers, while the soprano is perfect for beginners and carrying the melody. 

Check out the rest of the post for more information and answers to related questions. 

What Is A Soprano Recorder?

The soprano recorder is the flagship of the recorder family. 

In recorder groups (called recorder consorts), the soprano recorder is most often the melody. 

The soprano recorder’s lowest note is C5. This means the recorder is based on the key of C. 

Soprano recorders can play any pitch in their range (practical range is C5-D7), but the altered notes tend to be more out of tune, especially on cheap recorders. 

Soprano recorders gained a lot of popularity in the middle of the 1900s when music teachers began to use them as an early education tool for developing coordination, breath control, timbre awareness, and music notation reading. 

The widespread use of the soprano recorder has resulted in high demand which creates high supply as well. 

There are a huge variety of soprano recorders out there, some of which are quite affordable.

For an example of a good, but affordable, soprano recorder, we look to the Hohner 9550 wooden soprano recorder (click to check current price on Amazon). 

This recorder is durable and sounds great across all pitches. 

For more details, check out our guide on what a soprano recorder is.

What Is An Alto Recorder?

The alto recorder is the big brother of the soprano. 

The alto recorder is longer, and its lowest note is F4. 

This gives the alto a practical range of F4-G6. The lower pitches also result in a more mellow tone quality. 

Most people end up preferring the alto’s sound over the soprano. 

Due to the longer length, the finger holes are spread out more. For younger players with small hands, the alto may be difficult to play due to this spacing. 

Alto recorders are widely available by most reputable recorder makers, but the ultra-cheap (and ultra-terrible) models aren’t offered for the alto. 

This isn’t a bad thing at all. 

The alto recorder is also much more aligned with the range and quality of kid’s voices, making them great tools for teachers to help students find the right pitch without having to sing in falsetto. 

Personally, the alto recorder is my go-to for when I play. It even makes demonstrating the fingerings easier for kids. 

A great example of an alto recorder (and one of the several altos I own) is the Aulos alto recorder.

This sound is great without breaking the bank. I keep a few ready at school for my advanced recorder players to try out and add some harmony to our recorder playing. 

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Alto Vs. Soprano Recorder: Direct Comparison

Now you know a little about each of them, it’s time to compare the alto vs. soprano recorders. This chart should be able to help you decide which one you want and which one to use in a given situation. 

FeatureAlto RecorderSoprano Recorder
PriceMediumLow → Medium
SizeLongerSmall
Pitch rangeF4-G6 (lower)C5-D7 (higher)
ToneMellowBrighter
FingeringMore difficult to reachEasy
Recommended UseAs the teacher and with advanced studentsBeginner recorder players

Are Alto And Treble Recorders The Same?

Some of you may be confused if you see a recorder called a “treble” recorder. This isn’t a commonly used name. 

However, treble recorders and alto recorders are the exact same thing. 

Treble is the older name for the recorder in the alto range. 

Recorders, as they became repopularized, altered their names to better match the same naming system used by other members of the woodwind family (the saxophone family is a great example of this). 

What Is The Best Recorder To Buy?

The best recorder to buy is the one you’re able to afford which sounds good. 

If you’re a new player, or especially younger, a soprano would be great. 

If you’re older or more advanced, an alto recorder will serve you better. 

Wooden recorders will sound better than plastic ones every time, but they’ll be more expensive and sensitive to changes in weather. 

Based on this, pick the one best suiting your needs. 

However, you should spend at least $5 on a soprano recorder. Any less and the product will be so bad you’ll get frustrated and quit. 

You may enjoy the best soprano recorder brands.

What Are The Different Types Of Recorders?

The five main types of recorders are: 

  • Sopranino (F5)
  • Soprano (C5)
  • Alto (F4)
  • Tenor (C4)
  • Bass (F3)

You’ll notice the recorders are listed in order from highest to lowest with their starting or lowest pitches. 

The fingerings all remain the same regardless of the instrument type. 

For example: 

  • Low C on Soprano = All holes covered
  • Low F on Alto = All holes covered
  • Low C on Tenor = All holes covered
  • Etc etc 

In terms of usefulness and popularity, the soprano and alto are the only common school recorders. 

The tenor recorder does show up on occasion, but it needs widespread fingers to play. The tenor also uses a few keys on the lowest notes to make reaching them easier. 

The bass uses a lot more keys and costs quite a bit. 

The sopranino is so small and high, it’s hard for most adults to play and enjoy. 

The three just mentioned are more common with higher-level players or for just showing off at schools to help demonstrate how changes in length will change pitch. 

Learn more about the types of recorders.

Final Thoughts

Now you know more about the alto vs. soprano recorders. 

Each of these has their place and uses. While I love the alto recorder as it helps with kids singing voice and fits my adult fingers better, I know the soprano is always going to be the ideal for kids and beginners. 

Pick whichever one you’d like (or both) and enjoy playing the recorder. 

You may also enjoy learning about how to play B flat on recorder

Zach VanderGraaff

Zach VanderGraaff is a K-5 music teacher with Bay City Public Schools in Michigan. He's a Past-President of the Michigan Kodaly Educators and Executive Secretary of the Midwest Kodaly Music Educators Association.

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