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Classical Music - Table of Contents

List of Musical Terms and Instruments

Types of Music Instrument

  • A musical instrument is an item modified or constructed with the purpose of making music. In principle, anything that somehow produces sound can serve as a musical intrument, but the expression is reserved generally to items that have that specific purpose.

Instruments are often divided by the way in which they generate sound:

  • A brass instrument is a musical instrument that uses a cupped mouthpiece shaped in a way that allows the player's lips to vibrate to generate the instrument's sound. Brass instruments are usually, but not invariably, made of brass. Similarly, in musical terms, not all instruments constructed from brass belong in the category of "brass instruments"; a notable example is the saxophone, which, although usually made of brass, is a woodwind instrument.

    Because the player has direct control of the prime vibrator (the lips), brass instruments exploit the player's ability to select the harmonic at which the instrument's column of air will vibrate. By making the instrument about twice as long as the equivalent woodwind instrument and starting with the second harmonic, players can get a good range of notes simply by varying the tension of their lips (see embouchure).

    Brass instruments generally come in one of three families:

    Natural brass instruments, where the player can only play notes in the instrument's harmonic series, for example the bugle.

    Valved brass instruments use a set of valves (3 or 4) operated by the player's fingers that introduce a additional lengths of tubing into the instrument, changing its overall length. This family includes the trumpet, cornet, flugelhorn, saxhorn, euphonium, tuba, Sousaphone, and French horn. The valves are usually piston valves, but can be rotary values. Rotary valves are the norm for the French horn.

    Slide brass instruments use a slide to change the length of tubing. The main instrument in this famility is the trombone and its ancestor the sackbut. Some modern trombones also have rotary valves in addition to the slide. The trumpet, trombone, French horn, and tuba are the instruments most often found in a symphony orchestra. See also wind instrument.

    For a comparative list of the pitch of various brass instruments see pitch of brass instruments

    Some other brass instruments:

    • tenorshawm horn
    • alphorn (wood)
    • shofar (horn)

  • Percussion instruments create sound, often without pitch, when hit by creating vibrations in the body of the instrument. Examples are various drums, xylophone, castanets.

  • String instruments generate a sound when the string is plucked, strummed, slapped, etc. The frequency of the wave generated (and therefore the note produced) usually depends on the tuning (tension) of each string, as well as the length of the string, which can be controlled by the position of the player's finger, pressing it against the neck of the instrument. One exception to this rule is the harp, which has no neck for the strings to be pressed against; each string will therefore produce only one tone according to how it is tuned.

  • Wind instruments generate a sound when a column of air is made to vibrate inside them. The frequency of the wave generated is related to the length of the column of air, so these instruments can produce specific notes. Different methods for varying the length of the column of air exist. For example: holes in flutes, clarinets, and similar instruments; actually varying the length in the trombone; and keys that lead to different paths for the air in the trumpet, organ, horn, etc.

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  • Voice, that is, the human voice, is generally also considered to be a musical instrument, played by singers. Voiced sounds are generated by airflow from the lungs setting the vocal cords into oscillation. The fundamental frequency is controlled by the tension of the vocal cords and the spectral envelope by the formation of the vocal tract. Many other sound types are also possible. Use of voice as an instrument was more evident in classical music and in opera.

  • Electronic instruments generate sound through electronic means. They often mimic other instruments in their design, particularly keyboards.

  • Keyboard instruments are wind instruments (organ), string instruments (harpsichord), percussion instruments (piano) or electronic instruments (synthesizer) that are played by a keyboard. Every key generates a single tone; most keyboard instruments have extra means (pedals for a piano, stops for an organ) to manipulate that tone. Further subdivisions (and different ones) are possible. The above divisions are widely used in western classical music, but various other musical instrument classification schemes have been used. If you are looking for a specific instrument, see the list of musical instruments.

    Most likely the first instruments were percussion instruments, maybe a hollow trunk, or stones hit together, that are useful to create rhythm, but not always melody. Thirty-thousand-year-old bone flutes have been found in archeological sites; the design seems to be similar to that of the recorder. All classes of instruments (except electronic) have a long history and probably predate recorded history, being mentioned in various ancient sources, including Egyptian inscriptions and the Bible.

Musical Instruments

  • A bass drum is a large, heavy drum that produces a low-pitched (but untuned) "thump". It is used in orchestral music, marching music, and throughout 20th century popular music.

    The bass drum is used to punctuate time. In marches it is used to keep the march even (marching bands march to the beat of the bass). A basic beat for rock and roll has the bass drum played on the first and third beats of a bar of common time, with the snare drum on the second and fourth "back beats".

    An orchestral bass drum is quite large (about 3 feet in diameter), and is struck with a large, padded mallet. On a drum kit, the bass drum is much smaller (about 1.5 feet in diameter), and is played using a special pedal with a mallet attached.

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  • A bassoon is the bass member of the woodwind family. Like the oboe it has a double reed and overblows an octave higher. The bassoon is considered to have a register tone similar to that of the human voice, particularly in the central and upper register. The instrument has a significant length made playable by doubling the tube back on itself. A metal keying system is vital to allow the player to operate the widely spaced holes, which control pitch. A large relative, the contra (or double) bassoon, plays an octave lower.

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  • A drum is a musical percussion instrument, consisting of a membrane which is usually stretched taut over a cylindrical tube that is open at the other end. The membrane is struck, either with the hand or some other object, and the tube forms a resonating chamber for the resulting sound. A drummer is a person who plays the drums.

    Examples of drums:

    In the Sachs-Hornbostel scheme of musical instrument classification, drums belong to the membranophone class.

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  • Cello (abbreviated from Italian violoncello) is a stringed instrument, closely related to the violin. Unlike the violin, the cello is much larger, and is played in an upright position between the legs of the seated musician, with the player drawing their bow horizontally across the strings.

    The cello plays notes on the bass clef, and has 4 strings tuned in fifths: C (the lowest), G, D and A (below middle C) - these are tuned exactly one octave below the viola.

    Well known cellists include:

    • Pau Casals
    • Mstislav Rostropovich
    • Yo-yo Ma
    • Jacqueline Du Pre
    • Leonard Rose

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  • Celesta (pronounced cheh-lest) is a keyboard musical instrument found in symphony orchestras. The keys on the celesta are connected to rods which strike metal bars similar to those found on the glockenspiel. The most famous use of the celesta is in the Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy from Tchaikovsky's ballet The Nutcracker.

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  • Double bass is a musical instrument, the largest and lowest-tuned member of the family of string instruments, which includes the violin, viola, and cello. It resembles the other members of the family, but is much larger and has slight differences in shape. Other names for the instrument (especially when used in folk, bluegrass, and jazz music) include String bass, acoustic bass, bass violin,doghouse bass, dog-house, bull fiddle, and upright bass.

    The double bass is derived from the viol family, unlike the rest of the modern stringed instruments. Because of this, and also to avoid too long fingerstretch, it is tuned in fourths whereas the violin, viola and cello are tuned in fifths.

    The player stands or sits and holds the instrument upright, slightly tilted toward them. When standing, the top of the instrument (the head) is approximately at the same height as the players head. At the base of the double bass is a 'spike' or 'foot' which rests on the floor.

    Sound is produced by bowing or plucking the strings.

    Modern instruments are usually tuned E-A-D-G, but a variety of tunings, and numbers of strings were used on a variety of confusingly-named instruments through the sixteenth to the early twentieth centuries, when the four-stringed tuning above became almost universal.

    The double bass is used extensively in western classical music as a standard member of the string section of symphony orchestras and smaller string ensembles. However, it has perhaps achieved more prominence in jazz, blues, and early rock and roll where it is usually played with amplification and exclusively by plucking the strings (known as pizzicato, or pizz. in notation) rather than bowing (arco.).

    In traditional jazz and swing, it is sometimes played in the slap style, a more vigorous version of pizzicato where the string is plucked so hard it then bounces off the finger board, making a distinctive sound. (Notable slap style bass players have included Bill Johnson, Wellman Braud, Pops Foster, and Milt Hinton.)

    Some recent variations of the double bass have been fitted with pickups like an electric guitar's and are designed exclusively for use with electric amplification.

    Bluegrass bass

    The String bass is often used in bluegrass music. It is the largest instrument in the violin family, and is made in several sizes. Most usual for bluegrass use is the 3/4 size bass. Less frequently used are the full size and 5/8 size bass. The upright bass is plucked for most bluegrass music. Some modern bassists have used the bow.

    The bluegrass bass is responsible for keeping time in the polyrhythmic conditions of the bluegrass tune, enhancing the flow of the music with tasteful fills and runs. Most important is the steady beat, whether fast, slow, in 4/4 time, 2/4 or 3/4 time.

    Early pre-bluegrass music was often accompanied by the cello, which was bowed as often as plucked. Some contemporary bluegrass bands favor the electric bass, but it has a different musical quality than the plucked upright bass which gives energy and drive to the music.

    Notable bass players in contemporary bluegrass music:

    • Roy Huskey, Jr.
    • Todd Phillips
    • Mark Schatz
    • Mike Bub

    Cedric Rainwater, bassist for Bill Monroe and later Flatt and Scruggs, helped to define the bluegrass sound with his characteristic walking bass, where each beat in 4/4 time is plucked, going up and down the scale.

    Common rhythms in bluegrass bass playing are, in 4/4 time (plucking on the beats) 1, 3; 1, 4; 1, 3, 4. In 3/4 time (waltz time) 1; 1,2; and 1,3.

    Bass tuning

    The bass has usually 4 strings tuned (lowest to highest) E, A, D, G. The strings are made of either nylon or cat gut (traditionally) or metal-wrapped synthetic or nylon. Commonly used are flat-wrapped metal strings. Some basses have 5 strings, with the additional string ((("at the top" - is this true?))) at the bottom of the range, tuned to B. These basses are larger than usual, somewhat harder to play (from experience!), and rare due to some preferences to several types of extensions to the bottom E string.

    Bass Pieces

    Some of the more well known pieces involving prominent bass parts: (these are rather hard to come by in classical music since it was used primarily as an accompianament). A famous piece is "The Elephant" from The Carnival of Animals by Camille Saint-Saens

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  • Flute is a musical instrument of the woodwind family.

    A flute is usually an open-ended reedless tube with circular holes, which produce higher or lower sounds when opened or closed with the fingers. The tone is most usually produced either by blowing horizontally across a hole located near one end of the instrument or by blowing vertically through a narrow channel against a sharp edge.

    Flute sounds are typically open and hollow as a result of relatively weak upper partials. As a result, flute tones are sweet in character and blend well with other instruments. The flute's timbre, pitch and attack are flexible, allowing a very high degree of instantaneous expressive control.

    In western classical music the standard concert flute is pitched in C and has a range of about 3 octaves starting from middle C. Also commonly used in orchestras is the piccolo, a small flute usually pitched an octave above the concert flute. Alto and bass flutes, pitched a fourth and an octave below the concert flute, are used occasionally. Many other sizes of flute and piccolo are used from time to time, including soprano flutes in Eb, and Db instruments used principally in older wind band music.

    The modern professional concert flute is generally made of silver, gold, or combinations of the two. Student instruments are usually made of of nickel silver, a form of brass. Wooden flutes and headjoints are increasingly popular. The dimensions and key system of the modern western concert flute and its close relatives are almost completely the work of the great flutist, composer, acoustician and silversmith, Theobald Boehm, who described his invention in his 1871 book, "The Flute and Flute Playing." Minor additions to and variations on his key system are common but the acoustical struture of the tube remains almost exactly as he designed it.

    Boehm's key system, with minor variations, continues to be regarded as the most effective system of any modern woodwind, allowing trained players to perform with facility in all keys and with extraordinary velocity and brilliance.

    Types of Flute

    This section is confused (what ARE the four classes?) and needs to be re-written. I will try to get to it shortly.

    Flutes fall broadly into four classes, depending on how the sound is produced, and whether the tube is open or closed.

    The familiar concert flute, piccolo, and fife are examples of transverse flutes, in which air is blown from the mouth across a small hole at the top of the instrument. In a transverse flute the embouchure (position of the lips and tongue) is the main determining factor in tone production (as well as having an effect on pitch).

    End blown flutes, include the recorder, ocarina, and the tin whistle. These typically have an arrangement whereby the stream of air from the mouth is directed against a blade; embouchure is less critical, though is still important in mastery of the finer points of playing. Nose flutes exist in some cultures.

    Flutes may also be either open or closed-ended. The organ pipe, ocarina, pan-pipes, concert whistle, jug, police-whistle and bosun's whistle are common examples. Open-ended flutes such as the concert flute and recorder have more harmonics, and thus more flexibility for the player, and brighter, more pleasing timbres.

    Production of sound

    A flute produces sound when a stream of air directed across the top of a hole bounces in and out of the hole. Some engineers have called this a fluidic multivibrator, because it forms a mechanical analogy to an electronic circuit called a multivibrator.

    The stream beats against the air in a resonator, usually a tube. The player changes the pitch of the flute by changing the effective length of the resonator. This is done either by closing holes, or more rarely, with a slide similar to a trombone's slide.

    Because the air-stream is lower mass than most of the resonators used in instruments, it can beat faster, but with less momentum. As result, flutes tend to be softer, but higher-pitched than other sound generators of the same size.

    To be louder, a flute must use a larger resonator, and a wider air-stream. A flute can generally be made louder by making its resonator and tone-hole wider. This is why police whistles, a form of flute, are very wide for their pitch, and why organs can be far louder than concert flutes: an organ pipe's tone-hole is usually eight or more times wider.

    The air-stream must be flat, and precisely aimed at the correct angle and velocity, or it will not vibrate. In end-blown flutes, a precisely machined slot extrudes the air. In organs, the air is supplied by a regulated blower.

    In a transverse flute, especially the concert flute and piccolo, the player must form and direct the stream with his lips. This makes the transverse flute's pitch and timbre more instantly expressive than any other instrument. However, it also makes the transverse flute immensely more difficult to play than the recorder.

    Generally, the quality called "tone color" or "timbre" varies because the flute produces harmonics in different intensities. A harmonic is a frequency that's an even multiple of the lowest, or "fundamental" tone of the flute. When a flute sounds harsh, or whiny, it is being played to provide more harmonics. Generally the air-stream is thinner (to vibrate in more modes), faster (providing more energy to vibrate), and aimed across the hole more shallowly (permitting a more shallow deflection of the airstream to resonate).

    Almost all flutes can be played in fundamental, octave, tierce, quatre and cinque modes simply by blowing harder and making the air-stream move faster and more shallowly. Flute players select their instrument's resonant mode with embouchure and breath control, much as brass players do.

    The timbre is also affected by the quality of the resonator. Generally, more rigid resonators (such as wood) have a "dead" sound, because they have a higher acoustic impedance, and do not resonate with the harmonics. Concert flutes are expected to produce a "brilliant" sound, with a wide range of harmonics. They are therefore generally constructed of thin tubes made of hard-drawn silver or gold alloys. These are more mechanically elastic than wood, and therefore vibrate in more modes. Theoretically, flutes constructed in thin tubes of elastic but heavy metals, such as alloys of gold, tungsten, platinum or osmium sound "richer" because they vibrate to a lower, therefore more audible range of harmonics. This effect also explains the excellent tone of bronze and brass flutes, which though inexpensive, are less massive, but more elastic.

    Appearance and development

    The precursors of the modern flute were keyless wooden transverse flutes, similar to modern fifes. Later these were modified to to be well-tempered, and include between 1 and 8 keys to aid in producing chromatic notes. The most common pitch for such flutes was and remains D, but other pitches sometimes occur. These simple system flutes continue to be used in folk music (particularly Irish traditional music) and in "historically informed" performances of baroque (and earlier) music.

    Construction and Materials

    Concert flutes have three parts: the head, the body, and the extension. The head contains a tuning-cork (or plug) for precision tuning, adjusted by the head-end knob. Gross, temporary adjustments of pitch are made by moving the head in and out of the head-joint. The player makes fine, or rapid adjustments of pitch and timbre by adjusting their embouchure.

    Often, a different head can make the flute play like a different flute. It is critical.

    The most common mechanical options of flutes are "offset E" keys, "split E" modification, and a "B foot." All of Boehme's original models had offset-E keys, which are mechanically simpler, and permit a more relaxed hand position, especially for younger players. Offset-E keys are more common on less-expensive flutes, but available on almost all makes at every level of expense. The in-line E was originally invented because it was easier to manufacture, and was used by the better commercial flutes. The split E modification makes the 3rd octave E easier to play for some players. The B foot extends the range of the flute down to B below middle C.

    Trill keys permit rapid alternation between two notes. False fingerings using the trill keys also permit a skilled player to reach four octaves of range, though the "natural" range is three octaves. Boehm's fingering is also used in saxophones, and many flute players therefore "double" on this instrument for jazz and small ensembles.

    Less-expensive flutes are constructed of nickel alloys, possibly silver-plated. More expensive flutes are made of silver alloys. Flutes have been constructed of gold, platinum, wood, glass and many other materials.

    The tubes are usually drawn, Tone-holes may be either drawn or soldered. The rest of the mechanism is constructed by lost-wax castings and machining, with mounting posts silver-soldered to the tube. On the best flutes, the castings are forged to increase their strength.

    The head end is the most difficult part to construct, because in form, it is a long thin hyperbola or parabola. The lip-rest and tone-hole have critical dimensions, edges and angles, which vary slightly in different models. Fortunately, once made, these never need adjustment.

    The tube connecting the embouchere hole of the lip-plate to the head has a critical length. The shorter the hole, the more quickly a flute can be played. The longer the hole, the more expressive and beautiful the tone.

    The holes are stopped by pads constructed of fish skin (gold-beater's skin) over felt, or in some very low-cost or ruggedized flutes, silicone rubber. A recent development are "precision" pads fitted by a factory-trained technician. Over time, fish skin pads rot, and must be replaced. At least one author prefers silicone rubber pads, especially for students' flutes, because they do not rot or change dimension.

    Pads were originally bedded in wax or lacquer, which prevented leaks and permitted them to migrate to a perfect closure. Modern pads are held by screws, which are far sturdier.

    Many flutes use open-holed "french" pads so that the players' fingers can open the pad more quickly than the return spring permits. Many flute-players prefer these. Closed-pads permit a more relaxed hand position for some players, which can help their playing.

    The pad return springs are phosphor bronze, and roughly the shape of a pin. Steel springs are mechanically superior, but are less electronegative than the silver or brass from which most flutes are constructed. The galvanic corrosion of salt and water from a player's breath and sweat will quickly cause steel springs to corrode to powder in a silver or nickel flute.

    Flutes should have axles and pad-retaining screws of a compatible electronegative material, such as silver or phosphor bronze, rather than steel, but this is rare. As a result, most flutes' steel axles, screws and mechanisms need periodic cleaning and relubrication to clear out the corroded steel. It appears as a black or grey-blue powder mixed in the lubricant.

    Playing a flute

    A maladjusted flute is much more difficult to play, and beginning flute-players should invest in a professional adjustment if their instrument is not new. The most common problem as a flute ages is that its pads rot and leak. Also, rough handling can bend the pads and make them leak. The return springs can also weaken, causing slow or unsynchronized opening of the holes. Also, the pad-closure mechanisms can become misaligned or misadjusted. Occasionally the alignment pins can fall out.

    Beginning players frequently find themselves unable to produce a sound. The most common reason is that the hole produced by their mouth is not aligned with the tone-hole. The standard beginning technique is to feel for the tone hole with one's tongue, and then roll the flute away to the correct angle.

    Beginning flute players also often have improper emboucheres: The correct embouchere is a small elliptical or slot-like hole formed by the lips and directed at the outer edge of the tone-hole. The aim should be more outward, with faster air for higher, or more brilliant sounds (more high-frequency overtones), and lower, more into the hole, with slower air for lower-notes. One reliable way to aim is to move one's chin in and out.

    Correct breath control requires a player to emit large amounts of air, especially when the flute must play more loudly. A breathy sound is preferable to a pinched sound, because the breathy sounds to not carry, and a breathy tone is often otherwise louder and more pure.

    Flutes often have the most rapidly changing parts in orchestral music. To become able to play these parts, one should practice complex scales in different modes and keys.

    In outdoor playing, wind can "blow out" players' emboucheres, causing the air stream to become misplaced. It is normal practice for the piccolo and flute players of a marching band to face away from the wind in heavy weather; determining this action is customarily assigned to the flutes' section leader of the marching band.

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  • Clarinet is a musical instrument in the woodwind family.

    Professional clarinets are made from African hardwood, often grenadilla or (rarely) Honduran rosewood. The instrument uses a single reed which is held in the mouth by the player. Vibrating the reed produces the instrument's sound.

    The body of the instrument is mostly of uniform diameter until the bell is reached. The body is equipped with a complicated set of keys Boehm System and holes which allow the full musical scale to be reproduced. C

    larinets are usually pitched in the key of B flat or A, although there are other harmony clarinets in the keys of C, Eb, D, and Ab. There are also basset clarinets in F, bass clarinets pitched one octave below the Bb soprano, Alto clarinets in Eb, Contra-alto clarinets in EEb (one octave below the alto clarinet), and the huge contrabass clarinet in BBb (one octave below the bass clarinet).

    The fixed reed and the uniform diameter give the instrument a configuration of a stopped pipe where use of the register key produces a one twelfth pitch interval.

    Clarinets are part of the normal orchestral make up. They are common in jazz and wind bands. Some famous jazz clarinet players:

    • Larry Combs
    • Benny Goodman
    • Pete Fountain

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  • French horn is a lip-blown brass instrument consisting of tubing wrapped into a coiled form. It is generally known in the rest of the world as simply the Horn, or, in other languages, Cor, Corno, etc.

    The original French Horns were much simpler than current horns, which consist of complicated tubing and a set of 3 to 5 valves (depending on the type of horn). These early horns were simply brass tubing wound a few times and flared into a larger opening at the end (called the bell of the horn). They evolved from the early hunting horns and, as such, were meant to be played while riding on a horse. The hornist would grip the horn on the piping near the mouthpiece and rest the body of the horn across his arm so that only one hand was needed to play and the other could be free to guide his steed. The only way to change the pitch was to use the natural harmonics of that particular length of tubing by changing the speed at which the lips vibrated against the mouthpiece.

    Later, horns became interesting to composers, and were used to invoke an out-of-doors feeling and the idea of the chase. Even in the time of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, however, the horn player (now a part of the early orchestra) still had a much simpler version of the horn; he carried with him a set of crooks, which we curved pieces of tube of different length which could be used to change the length of the horn by removing part of the tubing and inserting a different length piece. The player now held the horn with both hands, holding the tubing near the mouthpiece with one, and putting the other into the bell, which was either rested upon the right knee of the player or the entire horn was lifted into the air. Now the pitch played could be changed in several ways. First the player could change the harmonic series which the instrument as a whole had by removing and inserting different sized crooks into the instrument, changing the length of the horn itself. Less globally, given a particular crook, the vibration of the lips could be varied in speed, thus moving to a different pitch on the given harmonic series. Finally, now that the player had his hand in the bell, the hand became an extension on the length of the horn, and by closing and opening the space available for air to leave the bell, he could bend the pitch to interpolate between the elements of a harmonic series. This interpolation finally made the horn a true melodic instrument, not simply limited to a harmonic series, and some of the great composers started to write concerti for this new instrument. The Mozart Horn Concerti, for example, were written for this type of horn, called natural horn in the modern literature.

    In the late nineteenth century, the horn took on new form, as valves were introduced, which allowed the player to switch between crooks without the effort of manually removing one from the horn and inserting a new one. At this same time, the standard horn came to be the horn on the F harmonic series, and there were then three valves added to it. Using these three valves, the player could play all the notes reachable in the horn's range.

    The single F horn, despite this improvement, had a rather irksome flaw. As the player played higher and higher notes, the distinctions a player had to make with his or her embouchure from note to note became increasingly precise. An early solution was simply to use a horn of higher pitch -- usually B-flat. The relative merits of F versus B-flat were a hotbed of debate between horn players of the late nineteenth century, until the German horn maker Kruspe produced a prototype of the "double horn" in 1897.

    The double horn combines two instruments into one frame: the original horn in F, and a second, higher horn keyed in B-flat. By using a fourth valve operated by the thumb, the horn player can quickly switch from the deep, warm tones of the F horn to the higher, brighter tones of the B-flat horn (commonly called "sides"). In the words of Reginald Morley-Pegge, the invention of the double horn "revolutionized horn playing technique almost as much as did the invention of the valve." [Morley-Pegge, "Orchestral," 195]

    While most modern instruments are of the F/B-flat double horn variety, various special-purpose instruments are available (usually at a very high price). The most common is the descant horn, which is a single horn pitched in F alto, one octave higher than the traditional F horn. The descant is used largely for extended playing in the high register, such as in Bach's Brandenburg Concerti. Single horns in F or B-flat still see use, notably in operatic settings. Their lighter weight renders them much more suitable for the extended and strenuous playing required of Wagnerian operas. The triple horn is the result of merging an F/B-flat double horn with an F-alto descant, adding a fifth valve to an already complex instrument. While the horn is suitable for work in nearly every register of horn literature, the added weight makes it tiresome to play, and for this reason it is not widely used.

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  • Guitar is a stringed musical instrument played with the fingers (or a plectrum). The guitar is descended from the lute. Guitars usually have 6 strings. A variety of different tunings are used. The most common by far is (low to high) E-A-d-g-b-e', which provides a good compromise providing both simple fingering for many chords, and the ability to play common scales with minimal left hand movement. Others such as E-A-d-f#-b-e' (which provides the same intervals as for a lute), or D-G-d-g-b-d' ("open G," commonly used for blues or slide guitar) tend to be restricted to more specialist forms of music.

    Broadly speaking, guitars can be divided into 4 categories:

    Classical guitars: These are typically strung with nylon or gut, and amplification is provided by the resonant hollow body. They are normally played in a seated position and used to play classical music. Flamenco guitars are almost equal in construction, have a sharper sound, and are used in flamenco.

    Acoustic guitars: Similar to the Classical guitar, but with a narrower, reinforced neck to sustain the extra tension of steel strings which produce a louder and brighter tone, the acoustic guitar is a staple in folk, traditional and blues music.

    Electric guitars: Electric guitars have a solid body and produce little sound without amplification. Electromagnetic pickups convert the vibration of the steel strings into electric signals which are fed to an amplifier through a cable or radio device. The sound is frequently modified by other electronic devices or natural distortion of valves in the amplifier. The electric guitar is used extensively in blues and rock and roll, and was invented by Les Paul and independently by Leo Fender. 12-string guitars usually have steel strings and are widely used in folk music and rock and roll. Rather than having only six strings, the 12-string guitar has (logically enough) twelve. Each pair of strings is tuned either in unison (the two highest) or an octave apart (the others). They are made both in acoustic and electric forms. Hybrids of acoustic and electric guitars are also common. There are also more exotic varieties, such as "double-headed" electric guitars, all manner of alternate string arrangements, and such.

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  • A Hammered Dulcimer is a stringed musical instrument with the strings stretched over a trapezoidal sounding board, typically struck with hammers. Considered to be a member of the Zither family. The instrument is typically set at an angle on a stand in front of the musician, who holds a hammer in either hand with which to strike the strings.

    Versions of this instrument are recorded in Europe and the Middle East throughout recorded history. In Eastern Europe a larger descendant of the hammered dulcimer called the cimbalom is also played which has been used by a number of classical composers, including Zoltan Kodaly and Igor Stravinsky.

    The instrument has seen somewhat of a revival in America in the Americal Folk music and Bluegrass traditions. It is also still played in Wales, Northumbria, and the Middle East.

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  • Harp is one of the oldest string-percussion instruments, found in various forms all over the world.

    It may have been invented when people found that the sound of a plucked bow string sounded nice, and added extra strings to the bow. The oldest documented reference to the harp is as long ago as 3000 BCE, in Mesopotamia and Egypt. The harp is mentioned in the Bible, ancient epics, even in Egyptian wall paintings. Today, there are two main types of modern harps: folk and concert. Different kinds of folk harps are found all over the world. The European harp first appeared in Ireland and is the national instrument, even appearing on its coins.

    Harps are triangular and have nylon, gut, wire, and/or copper wound nylon strings. Harpists can tell which notes they are playing because all F strings are black and all C strings are red or orange. The instrument rests between the knees of the harpist and along their right shoulder. The first four fingers on each hand are used to pluck the strings: the pinky fingers are too short and cannot reach the correct position without distorting the position of the other fingers. Plucking with various degrees of forcefulness creates dynamics. Depending on finger position, different sounds can be produced: a "fleshy" pluck (near the middle of the first finger joint) will make a warm tone, and a pluck near the end of the finger will make a loud, bright sound.

    There are two main methods of harp technique: the French (or Grandjany) method and the Salzedo method. Neither method has a definite majority among harpists, but the issue of which is better is a source of friction and debate. The distinguishing features of the Salzedo method are the encouragement of expressive gestures, elbows remain parallel to the ground, wrists are comparatively stiff, and neither arm ever touches the soundboard. The French method advocates lowered elbows, fluid wrists, and the right arm resting lightly on the soundboard. In both methods, the shoulders, neck, and back are relaxed. Some harpists combine the two methods into their own version that works best for them.

    The pedal harp has six and a half octaves (47 strings), weighs about 80 pounds, and is approximately 6 feet high and 4 feet wide at the widest. The notes range from three octaves below middle C to three and a half octaves above (landing on G). The pressure of the strings on the sound board is rougly equal to a ton. The lowest strings are made of copper wound nylon, the middle strings of gut, and the highest of nylon. The pedal harp uses pedals to change the pitches of the strings. There are seven pedals, one for each note. When a pedal is raised, all the strings of that note are lengthened a half-step, resulting in a flat. When it is lowered, the strings are shortened to make a sharp. This mechanism is called the double-action pedal system, invented by Sebastian Erard in 1810.

    The folk harp ranges in size from two octaves to about six octaves, and uses levers to change the pitches. The most common form is 33 strings: two octaves below middle C and two and a half above (landing on G). The strings are made of nylon or gut, except for a few special kinds strung with wire and played with the fingernails. At the top of each string is a lever; when it is switched down, it shortens the string so its pitch is raised a half-step, resulting in a sharp if the string was in natural.

    In South America, there are Mexican, Peruvian, Venezuelan, and Paraguayan harps. They are similar to Spanish harps: wide on the bottom and narrow at the top, with perfect balance when being played but unable to stand independently for lack of a base. The Paraguayan harp is the most popular, and is Paraguay's national instrument. It has about 36 strings with narrower spacing and lighter tension than other harps, and so has a slightly (four to five notes) lower pitch. This harp is also played mostly with the fingernails.

    Almost every other culture has a form of the harp. In Asia, the koto is a kind of lyre, a close relative of the harp. Africa has the kora. Ireland also has triple-strung harps, with three parallel rows of strings. In these harps, the left hand plays the left row of strings, the right hand the right row, and the middle row is simply there to reverberate. Spain has the chromatic harp, with two rows of strings crossed (but not touching) near the bottom of each pair of strings. Ancient Rome and Greece played lyres, similar to harps but not triangular. The Aeolian harp is played by wind blowing through the strings.

    The harp is used sparingly in most classical music, usually for special effects such as the glissando, arpeggios, and bisbigliando. Italian and German opera uses harp for romantic arias and dances, an example of which is Musetta's Waltz from La Boheme. French composers such as Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel composed harp concertos and chamber music widely played today. Henriette Renie and Marcel Grandjany have composed many lesser-known solo pieces and chamber music. Modern composers the harp frequently because the pedals on a concert harp allow many sorts of non-diatonic scales and strange accidentals to be played (although many modern pieces call for extremely impractical pedal manipulations).

    Lyon and Healy has developed an electric harp. It is a concert harp, but with pickups at the bottom of each string and an amplifier. The electric harp is significantly heavier than an acoustic harp, but looks the same.

    Harps are a part of the mythologies of many cultures. In Irish mythology, a magical harp is possessed by The Dagda. In the Bible King David is a harpist, and angels sometimes play harps.

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  • A Harpsichord is the general term for a family of European keyboard instruments which generate sound by plucking (rather than striking, as in a piano) a string. It is thought to have originated when a keyboard was affixed to the end of a psaltery, providing a mechanical means to pluck the strings.

    The action is fairly similar between all harpsichords:

    The keylever is a simple pivot which rocks on a pin passing through a hole drilled through it. The jack is a thin rectangular piece of wood which sits upright on the end of the keylever, held in place by the guides - upper and lower - which are two long pieces of wood with holes through with the jacks can pass. In the jack, a plectrum made just out almost horizontally, (normally the plectrum is angled upwards a tiny amount) and passes just under the string. Historically, plectra were normally made of crow quill, though most modern harpsichords use a plastic called delrin or celcon instead. When the front of the key is pressed, the back is lifted up, the jack is raised, and the plectrum plucks the string. Upon lowering the key, the jack falls back down under its own weight, and the plectrum pivots backwards to allow it past the string. This is made possible by having the plectrum held in a tongue which is attached with a hinge and a spring to the body of the jack. At the top of the jack, a damper of felt sticks out and keeps the string from vibrating when the key is not depressed. While the terms used to denote various members of the family are relatively standardized today, in the harpsichord's heyday, this was not the case.

    In modern usage, a harpsichord can mean all the members of the family, or more specifically, the grand-piano-shaped member, with a vaguely triangular case accommodating long bass strings at the left and short treble strings at the right; characteristically, the profile is more elongated than that of a modern piano, with a sharper curve to the bentside. A harpsichord can have from one to three, and occasionally even more, strings per note. Often one is at four-foot pitch, an octave higher than the normal eight-foot pitch. Single manuals, or keyboards are common, especially in Italian harpichords, though many other countries tended to produce double-manuals.

    The virginal is a smaller and simpler rectangular form of the harpsichord, with only one string per note running parallel to the keyboard on the long side of the case. The origin of the word virginal is obscure but it is usually linked to the fact that the instrument was frequently played by young women.

    Finally, a harpsichord with the strings set at an angle to the keyboard (usually of about 30 degree is called a spinet.

    Unsurprisingly, for an instrument that was produced in large numbers for over three centuries, there is a lot of variation between different harpsichords. In addition to the varied forms that the instrument can take, and the different dispositions, or registrations, that can be fitted to a harpsichord, as mentioned above, the range can vary greatly. Generally, earlier harpsichords have smaller ranges, and later ones larger, though there are frequent exceptions. In general, the largest harpsichords have a range of just over five octaves, and the smallest have under 4.

    The first music written specifically for solo harpsichord came to be published around the middle of the sixteenth century. Well into the eighteenth century, the harpsichord was considered to have advantages and disadvantages with respect to the piano. Besides solo works, the harpsichord is also well-suited to accompaniment in the basso continuo style (a function it maintained in opera even into the nineteenth century). In the early twentieth century, the harpsichord came to be revived, first in crude "modernizations" of antique instruments, then by closer approximations of historical models.

    Composers of notable solo harpsichord music include:

    • Johann Sebastian Bach
    • George Friderich Handel
    • Domenico Scarlatti
    • Francois Couperin
    • Girolamo Frescobaldi
    • William Byrd
    • Jean-Henri D'Anglebert

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  • Lute is a round-backed plucked-string instrument, developed in the Middle East and related to the Arabic oud.

    The lute (its name a corruption of the Arabic) was brought to Europe in the Middle Ages, but its heyday was the European Renaissance. The lute at that time had a variable number of strings, tuned in a pattern of fourths and fifths. It was particularly suited for the harmonies of the period, and was used as a solo instrument no less than as an accompaniment to singers or other instruments (sometimes as a basso continuo instrument). Lutes were made larger and more complex (see archlute, theorbo) into the eighteenth century, when musical tastes changed and the instrument was abandoned.

    Notable composers of lute music include Francesco da Milano, John Dowland, Denis Gaultier, Johann Sebastian Bach, Sylvius Leopold Weiss, Philip Rossiter ,Thomas Campion, Frederick the Great.

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  • Mandolin is a stringed musical instrument. Mandolins have 8 strings, in 4 pairs. Each pair of strings is tuned in unison, and are a fifth apart from adjacent pairs, giving an identical tuning to a violin (G-D-A-E low-to-high). Unlike a violin, the neck of a mandolin is fretted and it is typically played with a plectrum.

    Like the guitar, the mandolin is a poorly sustaining instrument --- a note cannot be maintained for an arbitrary time as with a violin. Its higher pitch makes this problem more severe than with the guitar, and as a result use of tremolo (rapid picking on a single note) is commonplace.

    Mandolins come in a few forms. The more traditional roundback has a vaulted back made of a number of strips of wood in a bowl formation, similar to a lute. The flatback mandolin derives from the cittern. The carved top instrument was introduced by the Gibson company. These use the best of violin making techniques and guitar making production.

    Larger versions of the mandolin are the mandola (a fifth below the mandolin, as the viola is below the violin) and the octave mandolin (an octave below the mandolin).

    Mandolins have a long history and much early music was written for them. However they are now mainly heard in country, bluegrass and folk music.

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  • Oboe A musical instrument of the woodwind family. It is a descendant of the shawm. In the 17th century Jean Hotteterre and Michel Danican Philidor modified the shawm, so that the new oboe had a narrower bore and a reed which is held by the player's lips near the end. The oboe is usually made from wood, with an extremely narrow conical bore, and double-reed mouthpiece. This leads to overblowing at the octave (compare to the clarinet which overblows a twelfth). Together with the flute/recorder it is one of the older woodwind instruments. The oboe has several sibling instruments. The most widely known today is the cor anglais (English Horn), which evolved from the Baroque oboe da caccia. Both are pitched a perfect fifth lower than the standard oboe. The oboe d'amore, also popular during the Baroque period, is pitched a minor third lower than the oboe. Johann Sebastian Bach used the oboe d'amore extensively.

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  • Piano is a common abbreviation for pianoforte, a musical instrument with a keyboard. Sound is produced by strings stretched on an iron frame. These vibrate when struck by felt-covered hammers, which are activated by the keyboard.

    It is said to have been invented by Bartolomeo Cristofori, who originally called it a "gravicembalo col piano e forte": a large harpsichord with soft and loud. "Pianoforte" stuck as the name for the instrument.


    Early pianos had wooden frames, two strings per note, and deerskin-covered hammers. The development of the modern piano owes much to the collaboration between Beethoven and the English firm of Broadwood: as Beethoven grew progressively more deaf, the instruments that Broadwood sent him grew progressively larger, louder, and more robustly constructed -- iron frames, three strings per note, the modern felt-covered hammer. Throughout the 19th century, Steinway patented many innovations on piano technology, notably the middle selective sustain pedal and advances in hammer action allowing cleaner repeated notes. Other manufacturers added features such as supplementary resonating strings, unstruck and undampened, which add harmonics to the sound.

    The modern instrument

    Pianos come in two basic types and several sizes: Upright pianos are more compact due to the frame and strings being placed vertically. The sound quality is adversely affected by several factors: firstly (the shortened distance the hammers travel -- need to check). To fit in the full length of the bass strings, these are sharply angled diagonally across the body of the piano. This also affects sound quality as the hammers do not strike parallel to the string, and causes problems in tuning due to the stresses on the frame at the transition point between string groups. Furthermore, the left-hand pedal's una corda function -- the moving of the entire action, thereby making the hammers strike one string instead of three -- isn't possible, because the differences in string angle would not allow a consistent reduction in tone quality ly across the range of notes. The workaround, moving the hammers' resting position close to the strings is reasonably effective in reducing volume, but the tone obtained is weak rather than expressive.

    The average piano has 88 keys (7 octaves and a bit, A to C). Many older pianos only have 85 (from A to A), and some manufacturers (Bosendorfer), extend further in both directions.

    The keys for a piano are white and black. The keys are ordered so the notes ascend in pitch, from left to right.

    Typically piano music is written with a treble clef and a bass clef. Each group of 12 semitones is an octave (so called, because there are eight whole notes, or white keys per octave). There are four black notes for the half-steps within an octave.

    The pattern for black and white keys is White-Black-White-Black-White-White-Black-White-Black-White-Black-White. (ie: C C# D D# E F F# G G# A A# B )

    Much great music has been written for the piano...

    A person who plays a piano is known as a pianist.

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  • The snare drum is essentially a simple frame drum. The body is a wood or metal hoop with skins stretched over the top and the bottom, and tightened by lugs.

    The particular sounds of the snare comes from the snare wires, which are a series of wound wires tensioned across the bottom skin. They produce a distinctive buzz sound.

    The snare is often used in styles like rock and folk to provide a loud accented beat. Alternatively in samba music, ghost notes are played continuously, with accented beats outlining the rhythm. In this style snare provides drive to the music.

    For reasons that are not entirely clear kit drummers tend to be religiously protective of their snare. Whilst they are often quite happy to share kits, a "bring your own snare" rule is often applied.

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  • Timpani or kettledrums, are percussion musical instruments. A type of drum, they consist of a skin stretched over a large, usually hemispherical, bowl generally made of copper. Unlike most drums, they have a definite pitch when struck.

    Timpani is an Italian plural, the singular of which is timpano. This is rarely used in English, however, with timpani serving as both singular and plural.

    The origins of the instrument can be traced back to the 15th century, when they were played by Turkish soldiers on horseback.

    Timpani are the most common percussion instruments in the orchestra, with most large scale orchestral pieces since the 19th century using them. They were first introduced into classical music around the beginning of the 17th century.

    The drums are usually struck with wooden sticks with felt-covered ends. Using different sticks can cause different sounds to be produced.

    The tuning of timpani is changed by tightening or loosening the skin. On older instruments, this is done by turning screws located around the edge of the skin. On modern pedal timpani, however, a pedal mechanism connects to rods which pull the skin around the top of the bowl. This allows the player to tune the instrument while playing, making a glissando possible. One of the first composers to call for a timpani glissando was Bela Bartok.

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  • Trombone is a musical instrument of the brass family. It has its origins in the sackbut. It is pitched lower than the trumpet, and higher than the tuba. A person who plays the trombone is called a trombonist.

    The trombone consists of a cylindrical tube bent into an elongated "S" shape. Most trombones are slide trombones; the section immediately following the mouthpiece, called the "slide", allows the player to extend the length of the instrument, lowering the pitch. Some trombones have valves instead: see valve trombone, below.

    Trombones come in three sizes: alto, tenor, and bass. The soprano trombone does also exists, but is very rare and difficult to play.

    The standard tenor trombone, built in Bb though usually played in C, allows for seven semitones of pitch lowering, called slide positions, taking the lowest note of the standard instrument to E natural below the bass clef. Trombones often come with an extra piece of tubing attached, allowing the player to lower the pitch by a fourth by pulling a trigger, making faster passages and legato playing easier, and extending the range downwards of the basic tenor trombone. Playing with this trigger down modifies the set of positions; the distance between each is longer due to the lowered pitch. In fact, there are only six real positions available to the player, since the slide is too short for what is now really a trombone in F.

    The bass trombone is also built in Bb and played in C. It is basically the same length as the tenor trombone but has a larger bore size, and has two valves which change the key of the instrument, making it easier to play lower notes. This also allows the player to bridge the entire gap between the second harmonic and the fundamental. The notes on the bass trombone are played in the same position on the slide as the tenor trombone (until you start using the valves). There is usually one bass trombone player in a standard symphony orchestra, and they are also often seen in swing bands, wind ensembles, and a variety of brass groups. Wagner's Ring Cycle also calls for a contrabass trombone, pitched an octave lower than the bass trombone.

    The alto trombone is pitched in E-flat, and is smaller than the tenor trombone. Since it is pitched in E-flat, the slide positions are different than on the tenor and bass trombones.

    There are also valve trombones, which have the same tonal range as the tenor trombone but a somewhat different attack, as they are set up like very large trumpets. Valve trombones are relatively rare. Some musicians concider them difficult to play in tune, although a small minority prefer them to the more common slide trombone. Other instruments with similar range and tone quality are the baritone horn and euphonium. Wagner also wrote a part for a bass trumpet in his Ring Cycle; this part is normally be played by a trombonist. There are also a handful of other works in the classical repertoire which use this instrument.

    The trombone (unlike most brass instruments) is not normally a transposing instrument and reads off of the bass clef (especially bass trombones), although it is not uncommon for trombone music to be written in tenor clef, or sometimes even alto clef. In brass band music, however, the trombone is treated as a transposing instrument in Bb and reads off the treble clef. By happy coincidence, this puts the notes in exactly the same stave position as they would be if the music were written in a (non-transposing) tenor clef, though obviously the key signature will be different.

    As with all brass instruments, progressive tightening of the lips allows the player to jump to a different partial, up the harmonic series. In the lower range, significant movement of the slide is required, but for higher notes the player need only use four or less positions of the slide, since the partials are closer together. However, the higher notes may also be played in alternate positions; for example, F natural (at the bottom of the treble clef) may be played in both first, fourth and sixth positions.

    The trombone is commonly found in symphony orchestras and military and other brass ensembles. It is also common in jazz and ska.

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  • Trumpet is a brass instrument. It is the highest in register, above the tuba, euphonium, trombone, and french horn, respectively.

    The trumpet is a cylindrical instrument, made of brass bent into a rough spiral, with valves to assist in changing the pitch, or frequency. Sound is produced by vibrating the lips, which vibrates the column of air in the trumpet. The sound is projected outward by the bell.

    The trumpet is closely related to the cornet and flugelhorn, both of which are conical in shape rather than cylindrical, and have more mellow tones, but are in the same pitch range. The piccolo trumpet is a trumpet that plays one octave above the regular trumpet. There are also rotary-valve, or German, trumpets, as well as bass and Baroque trumpets. The trumpet evolved from non-valved horns, such as the bugle.

    The trumpet is a transposing instrument, and comes in many keys. The most common is the B-Flat trumpet, followed by the C, E-Flat, D, and A trumpets. In many countries, including the United States and much of Europe, the C trumpet is nowadays the standard orchestral instrument.

    The piccolo trumpet is built usually in either B-Flat or A, with G, F and even high C piccolos possible but much less common: its tone is metallic and clean. There is also a bass trumpet, but this is usually played by a trombone player.

    The trumpet was originally used for military purposes, like the bugle as we still know it, and different tunes corresponded to different instructions. In medieval times, trumpet playing was a guarded craft, its instruction occurring only within highly selective guilds. The trumpet players were often among the most heavily guarded members of a troop, as they were relied upon to relay instructions to other sections of the army. Eventually the trumpet's value for musical production was seen, particularly after the addition of valves, and its use and instruction became much more widespread.

    Today, the trumpet is used in nearly all forms of music, including classical, jazz, blues, pop, ska, and funk. Among the great trumpet players are Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, Doc Severinsen, Jon Faddis, Maynard Ferguson, Phillip Smith, Wynton Marsalis, Paolo Fresu, and on flugelhorn, Chuck Mangione.

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  • The Tuba is the largest of the low-brass instruments and is one of the most recent additions to the modern symphony orchestra, first appearing in the mid 19th century where it largely replaced the ophicleide. There is usually only one tuba in an orchestra, and is used as the bass of the brass section, though its versatility means that it can be used to reinforce the strings and woodwind, or increasingly as a solo instrument.

    Tubas are also used in wind and concert bands and in brass bands, although they are referred to as Eb and Bb basses, there being 2 of each.

    In the hands of a skilled player, it has the largest range (some 4 1/2 octaves) of any brass instrument, and can be remarkably agile.

    Tubas are found in various pitches, most commonly in F, Eb, C, or Bb. They can have rotary or piston valves, numbering up to 6, although 4 is by far the most common number. Most piston valved tubas have a compensating system to allow accurate tuning when using several valves in combination to play low notes.

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  • The Viola is a stringed musical instrument which is part of the violin family. In this family it serves as the middle voice, between the upper lines played by the violin and the lower lines played by the cello and double_bass.

    The viola is approximately 2 inches longer than the violin (and wider proportionally). Compared to the violin, the viola has a more resonant and mellower sound, especially in the lower registers. The viola is held horizontally beneath the chin and played in much the same way as the violin.

    The viola reads music in the alto clef, and has 4 strings tuned in fifths: the C an octave below middle C is the lowest, with G, D and A above it - these are tuned exactly one fifth below the violin, and so one octave above the cello.

    Use of the viola is almost completely limited to classical music, and even in that field it is not nearly so popular an instrument for solo pieces and sonatas as its cousins the violin and the cello. In orchestral music the viola part is frequently limited to the filling in of harmonies with little melodic material assigned to it. There are also very few viola concertos compared to the violin or cello. A rare example of a piece written before the 20th century which features a solo viola part is Hector Berlioz's Harold In Italy, though there are also a few Baroque and Classical concerti, for example those by Telemann and Stamitz respectively.

    In the 20th century, more composers began to write for the viola, encouraged by the emergence of specialised solo violists such as Lionel Tertis. William Walton and Bela Bartok have both written well-known viola concertos. One of the few composers to write a substantial amount of music for the viola was Paul Hindemith, who was a violist himself. However, the amount of music in the viola reperoire remains quite small, and violists often play arrangements of other pieces.

    For some reason, violas and violists bear the brunt of the musical world's humorous derision, being the target of the musical equivalent of the blonde joke. There is a commonly held (mostly erroneous) belief that one only becomes a violist when one has tried and failed to master the violin.

    There are very few viola virtuosi, owing to the shortage of music for the instrument. Among the better known violists, from earlier in the twentieth century, as well as Tertis are Paul Hindemith, William Primrose and Walter Trampler, and from more recently, Yuri Bashmet, Kim Kashkashian and Tabea Zimmermann.

    The term violist is not universally used in English, some players preferring viola player. This may be a US/UK divide or something more complex.

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  • Violin (or fiddle when used in the context of folk music) is a stringed musical instrument comprising 4 strings, each tuned a fifth apart from each other. The lowest string is a G just below middle C, then D, A and E (in that order). Occasionally other tunings are employed (for example, tuning the G string up to A) both in classical music (where the technique is known as scordatura) and in some folk styles.

    Sheet music for a violin almost always uses a G clef (or treble clef). The lowest attainable note using normal tuning is the G just below middle C.

    The violin has some similarities to the earlier viol family of instruments.


    The highest note apparently available on a violin is all four fingers pressed down on the E-string (sounding a B). However this is only the highest note in 1st-position. A higher note can be achieved by sliding the hand up the neck of the violin and presssing the fingers down at this new position. In 1st position, the first finger on the E string gives an F or F#. Pressing the first finger on a G is called going in to 2nd-position. 3rd position is achieved when the first finger presses down on an A, and so on. The upper limit of the violin's range is largely determined by the skill of the player, and a good player could easily get more than 2 octaves out of each string. Violinists often change positions on the lower strings even though this seems unnecessary. This is done to produce a clearer tone or to handle a piece which would otherwise require fast switching of strings.


    Double stopping is playing two strings simultaneously, producing a chord. This is much harder than normal single-string playing as more than one finger has to be coordinated on to different strings simultaneously. Sometimes going in to higher positions is necessary in order for it to be physically possible for the fingers to be placed in the correct places. Double stopping is also used to mean playing on three or all four strings at once, although such practices are more properly called triple or quadruple stopping. Collectively, double, triple and quadruple stopping is called multiple stopping. The style of bow used until around the end of the 18th century, particularly in Germany, had the wood curved outwards, which made it somewhat easier to play three notes at the same time. However, most treatises written around the time make it clear that composers did not expect three notes to be played at once, even though the notes may be written in a way as to suggest this, and playing four notes at once is almost impossible even with older bows. The normal way of playing three or four note chords is to briefly sound the lower notes and allow them to ring while the bow plays the upper notes. This gives the illusion of a true triple or quadruple stop.

    A twentieth century invention by Emil Telmányi called the Bach bow makes use of a system of levers to temporarily slacken the bow hair and allow sustained three or four note chords; this design has no historical precedent and is less authentic than an ordinary modern bow for playing baroque (or any other) music.

    As well as the style of bow, the curvature of the bridge (over which the violin strings are stretched) is an important factor in the ease of multiple stopping. On most classical instruments, the bridge is curved enough to make it difficult to play three strings at once, but on some fiddles the bridge is shaved down until almost flat, making it far easier to triple stop, as well as to alternate double stopping on different pairs of strings (D-A to A-E for example).

    Emotional devices Vibrato is a very common device used by violinists, which causes the pitch of a note to vary up and down quickly. This is achieved by moving the finger pressing on the string slightly forwards and backwards. Vibrato is often perceived to add much emotion to a piece. A useful side effect is that it can disguise an out of tune note. Pressing the finger very lightly on the string can create harmonics. This means that instead of the normal solid tone a wispy-sounding note of a higher pitch is heard. This is caused by the light finger blocking the string's fundamental; the position of the finger determines the first note of that string's harmonic series which is allowed to sound.

    The tone of the violin can also be altered by attaching a small device called a mute to the bridge of the instrument. This stops the bridge itself from vibrating so much, and causes a more mellow tone, with fewer audible harmonics above the note being played.


    Violins are tuned by twisting the pegs present in the head of a violin. The A-string is tuned first, typically to A440. The other strings are then tuned in comparison to it in intervals of perfect fifths using double-stopping. Some violins also have adjustors. These can adjust the tension of the string and are positioned behind the bridge. These are more convenient when a not a lot of adjustment is necessary. They are also much easier to use, as the pegs in the head have the nasty habit of slipping, and need to be set in a turning and pushing method. Adjustors are recommended for younger players. Small tuning adjustments can also be made by stretching a string. Strings are relatively cheap to buy and are usually replaced after about a year or when they break. It is said that Paganini purposefully weakened some of his strings so that in performance they would snap. He would then play the rest of the piece on the remaining strings, sometimes going in to impossibly high positions in order to impress the audience.

    The hair of the bow is traditionally made out of horse-hair, although many cheaper instruments are made from synthetic material. It has to be frequently rubbed with rosin (yes, that is spelt right) so it can gain enough grip on the metal strings of the violin.

    Violins typically make up the bulk of an orchestra, and are usually divided into two sections, known as the first and second violins.

    Other members of the violin family are the viola, cello and double bass.

    Famous violin makers

    • Amati family of Italian violin makers
    • Stradivarius
    • "Virtuosi"

    Famous Violinists

    • Niccolo Paganini
    • Isaac Stern
    • Yehudi Menuhin
    • Gilles Apap
    • Salvatore Accardo
    • Stephane Grappelli (jazz)

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  • Vibraphone is a musical instrument in the percussion family. It is similar to the xylophone; the vibraphone uses metal bars instead of the wooden bars on the xylophone. Below each bar is a resonating tube with small metal disc located at the top; the discs in each tube are connected via a rod which can be made to rotate with a motor. When the motor is on and a note is struck, The notes acquire a tremolo sound. With the motor off, the vibraphone has a mellow, bell-like sound.

    Some famous jazz vibraphonists:

    • Roy Ayers
    • Lionel Hampton
    • Milt Jackson

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  • Xylophone is a musical instrument. It is a percussion instrument.

    The xylophone is made up of wooden bars of various lengths, which are struck by a mallet. Each bar is tuned to a specific pitch of the chromatic scale. The arrangement of the bars is similar to the layout of the piano keyboard.

    The xylophone has a brighter tone than its cousin the marimba, and the notes have less sustain. Modern xylophones include resonating tubes below the bars.

    Some Classical Music Categories:

    From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
    This article licensed under GFDL.

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