There is an ongoing problem about the way we approach to tools or instruments today, which makes us focus more on how to use them rather than understanding how they work.
Some may say that it’s not necessary to know how an instrument works, or how it was made, however the same could be said about music in general. You could say someone is very good at playing, but doesn’t know a thing about scales, notes, and music reading. The point is that, this can stay this way but there would be more control and freedom for creativity if there is also the knowledge to support the practice. The same goes to the instruments themselves, wouldn’t it be better if you knew how a guitar was made, or how the piano produces the sound it does, or knowing about the difference between one type of strings or another, it even goes as far as knowing about sound waves and materials.
How is sound produced?
There are a lot of vibrating causes, these include vocal cords and strings with tension, but to make vibration there must be a certain amount of tension in the vibrating body. These different vibrations can also be amplified in very different ways which involve different sizes of bodies, mics and more.
Sound can be quite malleable, and to understand its malleability it’s important to know at least a few of the sources.
Strings, percussion and wind
There are obvious differences between each of the instruments that can be found, but first, it’s important to make a first division in these three main categories: strings, percussion and wind.
These are instruments that sound due to the tension of strings mostly made of nylon and steel. As the vibration area becomes smaller the pitch gets higher, and more space means lower pitch.
This category is comprised of guitars, basses, violins, violas, cellos, harps, and many more.
Percussion is all about “hitting” musical notes, this means that they are simple instruments which sound based on size and in many cases tension of leather.
These instruments range from barrels to drum sets.
These trigger sound with air, more specifically vibrating columns of air. These instruments are played by blowing which then makes the column of air vibrate, depending on its size the pitch is higher or lower, and it gets amplified by the tube.
Wind instruments are
Tuning an instrument
Tuning an instrument is an essential part of playing, not only is it necessary to maintain the right notes, but it gives more freedom as to the sound that we want to make. For example many guitarists use the drop d tuning, which is mainly used for power chords, hard rock, metal; it gives a heavier deep sound but also more possibilities with easy chords.
One of the most beautiful things for many before an orchestra is about to play is when everyone is tuning their instruments at the same time, for some it may be a disaster, but others hear many different sounds slowly falling into a place where great music can be achieved, it’s as if everyone in the room is synchronizing both in terms of sound and mind to deliver an experience.
Through experiencing music in the digital age, knowing how to manipulate sound to a certain degree it’s almost a requirement these days, and a computer is part of music composition as an instrument, it’s part of production, and a very integral part of the whole musical process. That’s why knowing at least how sound works digitally could help the overall knowledge in music.
There is just something important about getting to know a little bit more about the instruments we use, something beyond understanding how it works and fix it when it goes bad, it’s about getting the whole experience as a musician and learning every detail there is to learn.