Most people nowadays think of the recorder as the first instrument that children learn at school. But it used to be an important instrument in its own right, often called the "flute à bec" to distinguish it from the "transverse flute".
consort of recorders, difference between baroque and renaissance
There are a whole range of recorders, to cover from the lowest pitches up to the highest. The school recorder is one of the higher ones, the "descant" or "soprano" (only the "sopranino and garklein are higher).
The different recorders are spaced 4-5 notes apart along the whole range of pitch, so, although they all have the same pattern of fingering, on some the fingering for the bottom note gives a C, on others it gives an F. The ranges overlap, so often you have a choice. eg if you find the low notes a challenge you might play a piece with a lot of low Fs on the tenor instead of the alto; conversely, if you're unhappy with very high notes, you might choose the alto instead of the tenor.
Most people start with descant (soprano) which has C as the bottom note, so a good first choice is a tenor, also a "C instrument", and in ensemble playing it's better to have more instruments on the lower parts than having more instruments on the higher parts, so you need more tenor players than descant players. Then move to alto - an F instrument, see below for hints on how to learn the new fingering. Sopranino is same fingering, and a useful instrument for high soprano parts, but not often used in ensemble playing. So better to get bass and learn the bass clef. Lower basses are available.
How to buy ...
Technique tips ...
Good resolutions .... (eg learn to play F and C, learn to transpose by an octave ...)
How to learn F instrument after playing C (the usual route) or vice versa - most people translate the note on the score in front of them music to name of note , eg G, to the fingering. A few people miss the middle step, and go straight from the note on the score to the fingers on the instrument. These people find it much harder to shift between a C and an F instrument, so we recommend that you get into the habit of identifying each note by name as you play.
On the new instrument, practise slow scales, perhaps playing each note 3-4 times while saying its name in your head. Get your fingers positioned on the first note before you start playing. When music moves stepwise, it's relatively easy, the danger point is when the music makes a big leap. If you start sounding out of tune with the other players, check that you haven't accidentally switched between F and C fingering!
Developing the ability to play by ear, and recognise intervals, helps - and it can be learned, you don't have to be born with the ability.
Although called "F" and "C" instruments from the identity of the bottom note, I find it's actually easier to fix on the "all LH fingers down" note, C on an F instrument and G on a C instrument.
Another skill you will need is to transpose by an octave - very often when you're playing an alto part, but some of the notes are too low, and you are expected to play the whole part "reading up. Just like moving from one instrument to another, say the notes in your head -except when you see the G on the second line of the treble clef, you actually play the high G on the alto instrument. Use the same technique when you start to use bass clef.
Etiquette - when playing in groups, take all the recorders that you can play, and be prepared to switch. In particular, if you can play bass, be prepared to take your turn - finger spacing is hard for small hands, and there will be players who would like to take a break and play one of the smaller instruments.
Sources of music - Rosenburg books, EMS