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The Principles of Musical Instruments

The focus of this article will be the principles of a musical instrument from
three different musical families. The three we will be covering are a wind
instrument, a string instrument and a percussion instrument. Lets start with
our wind instrument.
Wind Instrument
For our wind instrument, I am going to be using a very unique wind
instrument, it is called an Ocarina.
Ocarinas are typically shaped like a sideways teardrop or sort of egg with
many different holes in it in an enclosed fashion, the mouthpiece projects out
and stands very straight. They are a type of vessel flute. There are either 4 to
about 12 holes on any ocarina at a given time and they are famously
portrayed as being a dark blue colour. The material they are made of can be
one of many different selections, clay, ceramic, plastic, metal, glass, wood or
even bone, bone ones were made by people in medieval Germany, usually
from animal horns.
They are played using a persons mouth. The first step is blowing into the
windway (which is the actual name of the straight projection out of the
ocarina) which of course makes air enter through it, this air then strikes the
labium which produces sound through soundwaves, air vibrates through out
the inside of the ocarina and covering a hole lowers the pitch when the air is
going through it, uncovering them raises the pitch, it does the opposite.
String Instrument
It was pretty simple to choose which instrument I would cover in the string
category, I will be explaining how a guitar works, arguably the most famous of
stringed instruments.
A guitar, lets take an acoustic one for this example, is shaped rather odd. It is
a string instrument with anywhere from 4 to 18 strings although the max total
is usually 6 on most guitars. The guitar is actually a type of chordophone;
these are traditionally made from wood and strung with gut, nylon or steel
strings to create the signature noise it makes. Electric guitars look a bit
different, they have a more streamlined and sharp look and usually always
have steel strings, and they also employ a hollow body, well they did in their
infant stages anyway. A solid body was bought along eventually and it was
less prone to feedback that helped increase the sound of the guitar.
A guitar can be played many different ways, usually being either strummed or
plucked to get a sound out of it. The strumming/plucking is done with the right
hand while fretting, pressing against the frets, is done with your left hand, it is
of course the other way around for left handed guitars. When you hit one of
the strings, the air vibrates into the large hole underneath which is called the

resonating chamber, creating the trademark sound. The term finger-picking

can also refer to a specific tradition of folk, blues, bluegrass and country guitar
playing in the United States.
Percussion Instrument
The drum is the instrument I shall be talking about when it comes to
percussion instruments. They are used in nearly every piece of music so they
are a popular choice.
The shape of a drum is probably a bit more diverse than one would think.
Usually a cylinder shape, they can be the same width all around, some
sections may be bought in or project out, these all help to make a unique
sound. Drums are also called a membranophone as they consist of a
minimum of one membrane, called a drumhead or drum skin, on the other
side of the drum is placed a resonance head and these are tuned to a lower
pitch than the other head.
Drums are played very easily, all you have to do is hit the skin and a sound
comes out. This is the most used technique, slapping the skin of the drum
with your hand or a drum stick creates a beat and depending on where you hit
the drum skin, be it on the outskirts of it or the centre or somewhere in
between you will get a different sound. There are other techniques such as
thumb rolling but that is more accustomed to the tambourine.
Musical Attributes
Next we shall discuss the topic of musical attributes for, lets say, about two
other, different instruments. These attributes we shall discuss are dynamic
range, frequency range, envelope and finally timbre. The two instruments we
shall cover are the piano and the trumpet.
The piano is a large instrument, classified as a percussion instrument due to
the keys lifting tiny hammers inside the piano that strike strings. The dynamic
range of a piano, which is the amount of sound it produces, measured from
about 10 metres away has been recorded as 85dBC and 70dBC, it varies on
one or the other depending on how hard the keys are played. The frequency
range is next, the piano has 88 keys which span the range of 27.5 Hz to a
whopping 4168 Hz, this is of course the result of the little hammers tucked
away inside it. Now we are going to be talking about the envelope again so
here is a picture of what an envelope should look like in musical terms.

Usually for a piano there is a very quick attack, the decay is quite quick too
but its the sustain which is the longest, the echo of the note after does hold
for quite a while. Finally the release acts like a fade out and fades out the
note. The timbre of a piano is usually quite low compared to other
instruments, hit a c key on a piano and it will much likely sound lower than
playing a c note on a guitar for instance.
The clarinet is an instrument you hold up to your mouth to play and is
classified as a wind instrument.
The dynamic range of one of these things is impressive to say the least, going
from practically silent notes to ones that hurt your ears, over the pain
threshold of hearing. The frequency range of a clarinet isnt as impressive
though, only around 125 Hz to 2 KHz and about 200 Hz to 2KHz if being
played in E flat. The clarinet envelope is interesting as it has almost no
sustain, the attack and decay are very sharp and the release is long and low,
but the sustain is over with quite quick. The timbre of a clarinet is varied
depending on the register played; the low register holds a rich and reedy
sound whole the middle register can have a more open sound, kind of hollow
in a sense. The high register can be quite clear and piercing to the ear, this is
a very good instrument for covering all registers.