instruments

These days we’ve come to understand and learn how to play instruments that have been around for many years, some as old as flutes and drums, others a bit more new like the violin and the piano, to the more modern ones such as electric guitars, synthesizers and computers.

The origin of how every instrument came to be is always fascinating, to think that people eventually found out that wind could make sounds that were as pleasing as a bird singing, or that tensing strings could allow for new melodies and sounds when you strum and press the strings in different ways, or even the endless possibilities of computer algorithms and samples in the digital domain.

After thinking a little about the history of certain musical instruments, one starts to wonder, where do we go from here? well we are going somewhere and there are already strange ideas being put to the test by musicians, luthiers, producers, engineers and pretty much everyone interested in music that wishes to expand the possbilites of the existing instruments or even create new ones.

Experimental Frankensteins

One of the most fun things to see and listen is how some musicians take it a step further with their instruments, allowing for combinations that blow our minds in new ways.

One of the most famous experimental instruments is the American Fotoplayer, used for circus music and classic cartoons.

Joe Rinaudo performing at the American Fotoplayer “Entry of the Gladiators” By Julius Fu?ík (1897)

Another good example to get a grip on this idea of a “Frankenstein musical instrument” is Muse’s Matt Bellamy’s Manson guitar, which has been outfitted with a kaoss pad to extend the range of sound manipulation on his guitar.

Now it’s important to know what is a kaoss pad, and why is it so special when it’s combined with an electric guitar. The Korg Kaoss pad is an audio effects interface with a touch pad that allows the manipulation of sound including pitch, loops, distortion, delay and many other sounds.

Many of these ideas come from strange combinations, and some take it further like Jon Rose’s “El Lubricato”, which is not very popular by any means but it gives an interesting insight to what “Experimental” in musical instruments development could mean.

He says:

I found the Ikea table on the street, cut it in half (as one should) and added an ex-oil drum as a resonator (gift of Paul Bryant). The course of strings in the lower half of the instrument were added later after some experimentation with bowed rods proved unsuccessful. The powered bow wheels are inspired by ancient hurdy gurdy technology, and were cut by local violin maker Harry Vatiliots. Sound is from the camera microphone, there are no electronic effects.

There are also minor experimentations with unusual materials such as using carbon fiber for the guitar body or basic modifications to instruments.

New Instruments

When it comes to new instruments, the most recently recognized musical instrument is the turntable, which was invented around the late 20th century going through a fase of experimentation since the 1930s until it was really established in the 1990s. This came to be a big step in music as it relied on sound manipulation rather than producing it. This became a big staple of hip hop and electronic music which then led to sampling with computers and a greater range of sound manipulation.

However while most instruments today involve some sort of digital or electronic device, there also some that don’t.

One of them is the steel pan, which is fairly recent and has gotten very popular the last few decades, due to how accessible it is, versatile and melodic, despite being a drum.

The Eigenharp is also a new instrument that is getting some popularity these days. This is a strange instrument that combines synthesizers, drum machines, and sequencers in an a single musical instrument that can be played like a guitar, keyboard, a wind instrument. While it does need to be plugged in, it’s an interesting hybrid and a good idea for the future of music.

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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.

Strings

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

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.

Wind

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.

Computer

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.

 

 

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It’s very hard to get into music without finding a link, something that attaches you sentimentally and technically as something to improve and use to express yourself. Unless learning how music works, this is reading, writing, and all of the structure of music, is just a hobby, there are always instruments, and or voice, but how do we know which in instrument is the one? Well it’s all about trying out every instrument you can get your hands on. Here are a few tips on how to approach some of the most played instruments in order to make the experience more entertaining and appealing.

Singing

While singing could be seen as something else rather than an instrument, this is the first mistake one can make. The voice is an instrument, and just like any other one has to learn how to use it, a good voice won’t come from a few days of practice, and because we use our voices everyday it’s easier to become insecure, listening to ourselves doing something different than speaking because it doesn’t sound like the usual speaking voice, but that is ok, because it’s not, it’s something else, it’s an instrument, so make sure to switch to instrument mode, and don’t pretend to have your everyday recognizable voice an expert singer so fast, find your instrument voice.

Guitar

One of the most common issues when starting to play guitar, is that the strings don’t sound as well as they should because they are not being pressed correctly. This is a very early stage but it can be quite frustrating because when trying to play chords or go a little faster it doesn’t sound good. The best thing to do is to let your fingers adjust to the pressure that has to be put, and be patient to try and play some scales in between chords as a warm up. But most importantly, experiment and have fun, because it’s one of the easiest instruments to get creative with.

Piano

Playing piano is one of the most precise experiences in music, that’s why it’s one of the “go to” instruments for teaching music. When approaching to a piano it won’t be very hard to pick up a few notes, memorize and play a tune and that is what you should do first, because it’s very welcoming in that way. The complicated part comes when using both hands, where usually one acts as the bass and the other does all the complicated melodies. The easiest way to use both hands at first is to start with one note on the bass in harmony with the melody, and after that play with octaves in the bass to give a real full sound while practicing with both hands.

 Bass

While it’s also a string-based instrument like the guitar, it doesn’t mean that the approach is the same, every string-based instrument has its own set of rules if you will, and a certain feel to it. When it comes to bass it’s less about fast mobility and more about precision, due to the sound and size of its strings. The best thing to do is to know when and where to play a certain note, since the bass gives a lot of what the body and rhythm is in a composition.

Drums/Percussion

Here all the attention goes to rhythm, although of course percussion requires tuning, and precision in its notes, the first approach should be to keep a good rhythm, and as you get more comfortable, add more layers to the overall body of it. Of course, it depends on the type of percussion being played, but the best most complete example are drums, since it’s a package of percussion types all being played by one person, that’s why developing limb independence while keeping track of the rhythm is the most important thing here. So, if planning on playing drums, work on that rhythm with your foot on the kick, and the hi hat, everything else has to fall into place after that.

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