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The Chemistry of Musical Instruments
Transcript of The Chemistry of Musical Instruments
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When we think of Chemistry, we often think of chemicals, glass vials and beakers... and sometimes mad scientists. But what we may not realize is that there is also another catagory to chemistry. A
Although it may not seems so, chemistry
affect musical instruments. Some more than others.
The Percussion Section
We will not go over all the instruments mainly because, they are just too great in number to go over all of the instruments in musical families. But major instruments in the instrumental families
The Difference in Drumsticks
The wood used in the drumsticks plays an important part of the sound created and ease of playing the instrument. There are three main wood types used in drumsticks. These three main types are:
Maple is more flexible than the other two. The Maple also better at energy absorption which allows ease to the drummers who will feel less of the impact.
Hickory has moderate energy absorption and is more of an average drumstick.
Oak is the most dense wood of the three, which causes the least amount of energy absorption.
Other types of Drumsticks
The tips are also a major part.
Nylon and wood are the most commonly used drumstick tips. With drum tips, the shape creates the different tones. Nylon tips are more of the "universal" tip--it creates both a loud and crisp tone.
The oval tips create a softer tone
The "mushroom" tips create a much louder and "full" tone
The ball tips produce crisp and "bright" sounds.
The Timpani is a large drum made from copper or at times, fiberglass. The large hollow drum "shell" creates a large and thunderous sound. The plastic drum-head creates such a vibration that the body of the drum will resonate. The screws along the sides of the drum alter the tension to create different pitches. The greater the tension, the higher the pitch. The less, the lower the pitch.
The snare drum is made of two heads attached to either side of a shell. The shell is usually made either of metal or laminated wood while the head is made either of animal skin or plastic. The snare drum creates a certain pitch that is unique and can only be created by the snare drum. The snare drum can also create drum rolls which is easily contributed by the drumsticks. The drumsticks and the plastic of the drum head collide and with a certain grip, the tips of the drumstick and the plastic flexibility of the head will create a well-done drum roll. Which is why it was easily used throughout history for marches. With the drumstick, drummers can control the volume (loudness) of the hit by increasing or decreasing the amount of energy used to hit the drum.
Saxophone And Clarinet
Cymbals are cast from certain alloys of different metals. Most metals alloys are cast from different metals which tend to create different pitches. The average "proportion" for the cymbal's alloy consists of approximately 2/3 copper and 1/3 zinc. The cymbals that use this proportion are named rule brass cymbals which is often chosen for its sustaining quality. Variations to this formula creates different qualitiy cymbals.
String width and Composision
Violin/Cello and Their Bows
We will cover the drumsticks, cymbals, snare drum, timpani, bass drum, and cabasa.
We will review the reeds, flute, oboe, saxophones and clarinets of the woodwind family.
We will review the mouthpiece, trumpet, trombone, french horn, tuba and mutes of the brass family.
We will visit the string width and composition, rosin, violin, guitar, and cellos.
Rule Brass Cymbals
Nickel Silver Cymbals
Nickel Silver Cymbals have an alloy proportion of approximately 2/3 copper, 1/4 zinc and 10% nickel. This formula creates a higher pitched "crash" or hit--depending on whether or not the cymbal is being used on a drumset. As its thickness and curve is decreased, the Nickel Silver Cymbals usually creates a lighter sound.
Bell Bronze Cymbals
The bell bronze cymbals have the most preferred top-quality alloy with a proportion of bronze, 1/5 tin and 4/5 copper. This formula creates top-quality projection and sound.
While modern alloys now combine many different metals together, high-quality alloys can create different pitches.
The very large shell of the bass drum--made of either laminated wood or brass--is designed to be hollow to create the thunderous sounds that the bass drum made. The heads are made by fibergalss, plastic or animal skin.
Although the bass drum is a critical part in many musical compositions, sometimes composers may have to mute the bass slightly. This can be done by placing dampers on the outside of the head or by placing dampning materials into the drum itself--such as a towel. This decreases the vibrations creating a softer sound.
The cabasa is an instrument with a round wheel with multiple contours going along the side of the wheel--usually made of metal or wood. The wheels are then laced with metal beads. To play the instrument, the percussionist holds the handle of the wheel in one hand, and the metal beads in the other. The percussionist then slightly grips the beads and twists the handle. This creates a unique metallic brushing sound.
While the more common used drumsticks are the ones we discussed before, there are other types of drumsticks as well.
Mallets are commonly used for larger drums such as the bass drum and timpani. The thick handles and the clothed tips are easily recognizable. The clothed tips help create full sound with loud-sounding instruments. This is why the mallet is commonly used on larger drums, but it can still be used to play smaller percussion instruments such as cymbals how it creates a hard, crisp sound.
Drum brushes are commonly used in jazz. The drum brush has a short handle and bristles that fan out at the top. The bristles are usually made of nylon, metal wire or plastic. The bristles brush over the drum head and produce a light drum beat that creates a slighted brushed sound.
The reeds are made more commonly of cane or part bamboo. However, some reed are synthetically made and are made of man-made materials. The reeds have certain measured thicknesses and are given numbers to represent the thicknesses, flexibility and strength (1 being the lowest and 5 being the strongest). The larger the number, the greater the strength of the reed will be. Although every musician has their own personal comfortability as different reeds affect a player's own ability to play with ease and a good-sounding quality.
Single Reed Instrument
To create sound with the reed, the player must first wet the reed to create a better flexibility. The reason why this is necessary is because the reed must be able to vibrate against the mouthpiece of the instrument. With a firm embouchure--that takes time to perfect--a saxophone or clarinet player is able to play great melodies.
Double Reed Instruments
One of the most common double reed instrument is the oboe. The double reed requires, as its name defines, a double reed. This double reed requires the same flexibility as a single reed so it is wet as it is with the single reeds. The difference between single and double reeds is that while the single reed vibrates against a mouthpiece, the double reeds vibrate against each other. The pressure between is so great that an oboe player can often hold out a note as long as he can hold his breath.
The oboe is often made of a wooden or a black plastic tube with holes drilled in certain places to move the air in different areas to create different pitches as metal keys open and cover the holes to create different pitches. The body's structure is idealy a long 62cm cylinder.
The saxophone is commonly made of brass. However, it is not in the brass family--as it is commonly confused--but rather the woodwind family due to its need for a reed. The structure differs from each saxophone--soprano, alto, tenor and baritone--but they mostly have the recognizable "s" shape. As the saxophones get deeper (from soprano to baritone) the parts of the saxophone gets larger, including the reeds, necks and mouthpieces. With its flexible structure and reeds, the saxophone can produce a whole new set of notes and sounds which is why it is commonly used in jazz and improvisation.
The ones with the Blue Highlight are the four main ones we spoke of
The clarinet is often made of heavy black wood or black plastic. Again, holes and keys create different pitches and tones. The reed is slightly smaller than a saxophone's. The structure of the clarinet is in the shape of a cone as it has a narrow body that connects to an opening that is known as the bell. The clarinet is able to move smoothly in the lower trebel clef scale.
Unlike many of the other woodwind instruments, the flute does
use a reed. However, due to its ability to play higher in the scale and its
composition (once made ENTIRELY out of wood) the flute is placed in the woodwind family. The mouthpiece is completely different than that of a reed instrument and requires a different embouchure. The flute is plays to the side and the metal keys have the same concept as the other instruments.
Then... Why Don't the instruments have the same pitches?
Well... because of the difference in the general structures, mouthpiece and opening sizes. The flute is more narrow and has a narrow mouthpiece which therefore creates a higher pitch. The saxophone creates the much deeper sounds because of its use of the reed as well as the length. And although those instruments can too play as high as the flute, the instruments have vital differences due to their size.
Different to the woodwind's mouthpiece the brass instrument's mouthpiece is shaped in a shape of what is similar to a funnel.
Brass players make sound through this mouthpice by pressing their lips tighly within the rim. The player would then have to vibrate his lips within the mouthpiece to move air to create sound in the brass instruments.
The larger the instrument, the larger the mouthpiece as the instrument needs more air to create sound.
Made of zinc and copper, and being the most commonly portrayed brass instrument, the trumpet can be a vital part in an orchestration. The trumpet's mouthpiece moves the air in through narrow bursts which move though the instrument. The valves have holes in them which move and change the wind moving through holes in the valves which open new airways--see diagram. There are only three valves on the trumpet which change the pitch, but with different amounts of air, the trumpet is able to create different pitches. The trumpet too is a flexible instrument with its tones, and is also commonly used in jazz like the saxophone.
With a larger, circular body and a smaller mouthpiece, the french horn creates majestic tones in many orchestrations. Usually cast with yellow brass which is 30% zinc and 70% copper and often nickle silver. The magnificent brass instrument have three main valves which create different pitches. The smaller mouthpiece gives off the same concept as oboe double reed with such strong pressure. Again, with the smaller mouthpiece, less pressure is needed french horn players can create louder sounds, which is why the french horn is often chosen for melodies as they can overpower many of the other instruments of the orchestra.
The tuba is the largest in an orchestra and its mouthpiece accurately displays that. With the largest mouthpiece of all the brass family instruments more air is required to get the full sound of the tuba. The size affects the tuba similarly as it does the saxophone family. It is so large that it creates a deep, low-pitched sound.
A mute is added to a trumpet or trombone by attaching it at the end of the bell. While the mute does not mute the instrument completely, the mute does soften the instrument. Mutes are usually made of aluminum, plastic or copper. Each shape--original, symphonic, bubble, straight, french style, and plunger--has its own specific uses and sounds. The copper tends to give a "darker" tone to the sound. However, the added length of the mutes tend to put the instrument out of tune as you are increasing the length of the instrument.
Not much different than other brass instruments, the trombone has its own specific mouthpiece size and is made of similar metal alloys. However, rather than having valves and keys like the other instruments, the trombone has a singular slide which changes the pitch. The longer you extend your slide, the deeper the pitch will become.
The strings are often made of nylon or at times catgut. Catgut is almost exactly what its name may sound like. Rather, catgut is a natural fibre found in the walls of an animals intestines--usually sheep or goats. The width and length of the strings also affect the sounds that the string instruments are able to create. The string width is most evident on an accoustic guitar. With six strings, the thicker the deeper the sound. As you pluck each string, you can tell the difference. The length is also a key part. The length is part of the reason why a violin sounds differently compared to a cello. The longer the string, the deeper the sound is.
There are different kinds of guitars--electric, bass and acoustic. The guitar strings are made out of acoustic steel string. Electric guitars, however, require an amplifier at times because of its thin strings. Bass guitars have thicker and longer strings. Frets play a big role in the changing of pitches. The closer the frets get to the body, the higher the pitch. The thinner the strings, the higher the pitch. The acoustic guitars often have a hole in the center of its body where the players often pluck the strings. The hole amplifies the sound and makes it have a full sound.
The violin, cello and most of the string family instruments are very similar. The bodies are usually made of wood and have an acoustically put hole where the sound created by the vibrations of the string will be able to be projected. The main difference between the string instruments are their sizes, which change their main pitches. Again, the larger the instrument the deeper its pitch.
The bows are made of wood and horsehair which is tied closely. With the bow, the horsehair is pressed against the strings to create vibrations which sound at different pitches.
is often used to help with the sound. What the rosin does is create a better grip to the horsehair and they then amplify the sound.
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