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Sound, Voice, and Instruments

Explaination of how sound works, and of the instrument families and voice types.
by

Alex Aldridge

on 7 October 2013

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Transcript of Sound, Voice, and Instruments

The baritone is also part of the "low brass". Like the trumpet, the baritone uses 3 piston valves to change pitch.
Sound
Voices and Instruments
Instrument Families
Electophones
The voice
Percussion
Brass
Woodwinds
Vibrations
How is sound made?
Vibrations create sound waves
These sound waves travel through the air
This moves a bone in our ear, which our
brains interpret as sound.
What is pitch?
Pitch is how "high" or "low" a note sounds.
This is determined by the frequency of the waves.
The faster the waves occur, the higher the sound.
Strings
Any instrument that is struck, shaken, or scrapes in some way to be played.
Electrophones are somewhat a forgotten instrument family, because they are so new, relative to the 42,000 year old flute.

By definition, we would describe them as instruments that make sound primarily by the use of electronics.
The voice is like a music instrument. It creates controlled sound that we can use to make music.
Get Low!
Turn it up!
How is volume, or dynamic, related to sound waves?
The more intense the waves, the louder the sound.
In the graph, we see this as the amplitude, or height of the waves, getting bigger as the volume increases, or crescendos
Notice that the space between waves, or frequency of waves, does not change to make the sound louder.
The waves that happen more frequently sound higher to our ear.
The waves with a lower frequency sound lower to our ear.
Timbre
Not about falling trees
Timbre is "tone color" or quality of sound. It is the way that you can tell the difference between your friends voices, or the difference between a flute and a trumpet.
Instruments are grouped into families based on how they make sound.
String instruments use strings of course!
Most string instruments are made of wood.
The strings they use are usually made from wound metal, or a synthetic like nylon. Originally, these would have been made from a material called "catgut"
The strings can be played by plucking, strumming, or bowing the strings.
The string instrument you are probably most familiar with is the guitar. In either acoustic or electric versions, it typically has 6 metal or nylon strings.
It is played by plucking or strumming the strings with a pick or with the fingers.
Other similar instruments include the bass guitar, steel guitar, banjo, and ukelele.
Other typical string instruments include those found in the orchestra. The orchestra is a performing group of around 100 musicians including all of the instrument families.
Violin
The Violin is the smallest of the Strings. The sound of the violin is high and sweet. Violins are played by running a bow across the strings. A fiddle is another name for the violin.
Viola
The viola is very similar to the violin, but slightly larger, giving it a lower, warmer tone.
Cello
Again, a cello looks like a violin, but it is actually much larger. It is about 4 feet long, and rests on the ground with a metal peg.
Double Bass
The double bass, or upright bass, is the largest of the violin-like instruments. It stands over 6 foot tall, and is the lowest string instrument. Like the other instruments, it is played by bowing or plucking, which is called pizzicato.
The Harp
The harp looks very different than the other string instruments. Each note has its own string, which is color coded.
Other strings
These aren't the only string instruments, just the ones we see most often in America. There are many other string instruments in other parts of the word, such as the sitar in India, and the erhu from China.
Heavy Metal!
Brass instruments are USUALLY made from brass, a type of metal. The metal is made into tubes of different lengths and shapes to create instruments of different pitch and sounds.

There are however some exceptions to this.
Mouthpiece
All brass instruments are played by the player "buzzing" their lips into a mouthpiece. This vibration is what causes the sound, that is then amplified by the shape of the instrument.
A bit of History
The earliest "brass" instruments weren't made from brass at all. They were made from animal horns, such as the jewish Shofar, which is still used today.
Instruments with a purpose!
In the Renaissance, during the 1400, is when we begin to see instruments like those we see today, however they weren't always meant for music making.
Hunting horns were used to signal other riders on hunting rides.
Herald trumpets were also used around this time to announce the arrival of important people or send signals.
These instruments eventually developed into an instrument like a bugle, an instrument we still use today, especially in the military.
This then led to the development of a slide like we use on trombones, and valves like we use on modern trumpets.
Trumpet
One of the highest sounding brass instruments, as it is the smallest.
It is played by buzzing into a cup shaped mouthpiece.
Typically has 3 valves which add lengths of tubing to the air's path, making the pitch lower.
The trumpet is used in classical music, jazz, musicals, funk, rock, mariachi, and swing styles of music.
French Horn
History
The French Horn originated from the hunting horn, which was used for signaling on horse back. It was first used in the orchestra when composers wanted to represent hunting.
Although the instrument could play several notes, when it began its use as a true musical instrument, players had to use their hand cupped in the bell to alter the pitch.
Eventually, rotors were added, which serve the same purpose as valves on the trumpet- to add lengths of tubing to play different notes.
The french horn is an instrument made from a thin tube of brass, which is coiled around in a circle. The player buzzes into a mouthpiece, and the bell actually projects the sound backwards from the player.
It was developed from the hunting horn.
If a french horn was unwrapped, it would be 12 feet long!
The French Horn has a wonderfully rich timbre, which lends it well to beautiful melodies, or majestic passages in music. It also makes it a favorite of movie composers.
Trombone
The trombone is one of the larger brass instruments, and is therefore considered to be "low brass" because of the low pitches it produces.
It has no valves, but instead is the only brass instrument to use a slide to play different pitches.
The trombone is developed from the trumpet. In fact, its name means "large trumpet." To this day, there is still an instrument called a soprano trombone, which is played like a trumpet with a slide.
Also like the trumpet, the trombone is used in many styles of music.
The baritone is not as old as the other brass instruments, first showing up around 1850.
Perhaps as a result of this, the baritone is not typically used in the orchestra. It is however used in concert bands such as what we have at school.
Baritone
Tuba
The tuba is the largest, and therefore the lowest sounding brass instrument. It plays the bottom notes of the band or orchestra. Like the trumpet and baritone, the tuba is played by buzzing the lips, and uses 3 or more valves to change pitch.
The sousaphone, sometimes incorrectly called a tuba, is played by tubists for marching and parade bands. It wraps around the player so they do not have to support it with their arms.
If brass instruments are wind instruments that you buzz your lips to play, then woodwind instruments are generally any wind instrument that you do not buzz your lips to play.
There are several sub-categories to the to the woodwind family.
Aerophones
Aerophones are any instrument that vibrate a body of air without the use of a reed.
The flute is the aerophone you're probably most familiar with.
Our modern flute is played by blowing across the lip plate, which splits the air, causing it to vibrate, much like what happens when you blow across the opening of a bottle.
Players are able to change pitch by using keys to either open or close holes, which makes the length of travel for the air longer or shorter.
However, the modern flute is not our only aerophone. Others include recorders and pan pipes, the ocarina or the nose flute.
The oldest known flute is 42000 years old and is made from bone. This type of flute is the oldest instrument in the world.
Reeds
Reed instruments are any instrument in which the air causes a reed to vibrate. Reeds are usually a type of thin wood.
The most common reed instruments are clarinets and saxophones. On these instruments, a single reed is held in place against a mouthpiece. When the player blows on the mouthpiece, it causes the reed to vibrate, creating the sound.
Clarinets are usually made from either wood or plastic. To change pitch, the player covers holes with their fingers, or presses keys to open or close holes.
The clarinet is usually played in bands and orchestras.
The saxophone is mostly made from brass. It uses keys similar to the flute to open and close holes on the instrument. There are several kinds of saxophones, including soprano, alto, tenor, and baritone saxophone.
The saxophone is rarely used in the orchestra, but is almost always seen in concert bands and jazz bands.
Other reed instruments include bagpipes, duck calls, and harmonicas.
Double Reeds
Within the reed family, there is a sub-set called double reeds. Like the name suggests, it uses two reeds vibrating against each other to create the sound.
One of these double reed instruments is the oboe. It is usually made from wood or plastic. It closely resembles the clarinet in appearance, but the double reed gives it a very distinct sound.
The other most common double reed in the bassoon. They are usually made from wood. It is a much larger instrument than the oboe, so it achieves a lower pitch. The oboe and bassoon both use a system of keys to change pitch, much like the other woodwind instruments. These instruments can be found in orchestras and advanced level concert bands.
There are a couple of different ways to break this family down. One is by how the instruments are made, and the other is by the sound they make.

Lets first take a quick look at their sound.
Pitched instruments are those that are meant to play specific pitches. You can identify their notes as being an "A", "B", "C", etc. All of the string, brass, and woodwind instruments we have looked at have been pitched. A piano would be an example of a pitched percussion instrument.

Unpitched instruments are those that are not intended to play specific pitches. Instead, they are just meant to play a certain sound. A snare drum would fall into this category.
Our other system of classification is based on how the instrument makes sound. We can divide the percussion instruments into 3 main parts this way.
Idiophones
Idiophones are any percussion instrument that makes sound by way of the instrument itself vibrating, without the use of strings or membranes.
This would include instruments such as the wood block, cymbals, bells, marimbas, xylophones, brake drum, anvil, maracas, shakers, guiros, and more.
Membranophones
Membranophones are any instrument that make sound primarily from a vibrating stretched membrane. Most drums fall into this category.

Traditionally, most drum heads were made from animal skin, but now are often made of synthetic materials.
Chordophones
Chordophones are percussion instruments that use a string to create sound, such as a piano or harpsicord, where the player strikes a key in order for a hammer to in turn strike a string. A hammer dulcimer would be another chordophone, because the player strikes the strings with a small hammer.
Theramin
An instrument that is played by sensing how far the players hand are from receivers, and therefore, the player never actually touches the instrument.
Turn tables
With the rise of popularity in hip-hop music, turn tables have become an instrument unto themselves. The Disc Jockey, or DJ "plays" the turn tables by controlling to records, or controller discs to 'scratch', fade, repeat, and mix songs together.
Synthesizer
An electronic instrument that can imitate other instruments, or create new sounds and can be controlled in a variety of ways.
Soprano
Soprano is the highest voice in a choir. Soprano singers can sing higher than other voices, and as you would expect they are usually female. Sopranos often sing the melody.
Alto
Altos are a high voice, but lower than sopranos. Lower female singers usually sing Alto. Altos often sing harmony to sopranos in a choir.
Tenor
The tenor is in the middle of the choir
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