Category Archives: Instrument Series

Instruments {17} ~ Kalimba

The kalimba (or thumb piano) is a modern take on the African mbira variety of instruments. It was popularized internationally in the 1960’s by a man named Hugh Tracey. Hugh Tracey was an English ethnomusicologist who traveled to Rhodesisa (now known as Zimbabwe) to help his brother run a tobacco farm. While in Rhodesia, he became fascinated by the local music culture. Because of encouragement from composers and friends alike he decided to study African music, and eventually created the International Library of African Music.

After being popularized in the 1960’s by mister Tracey, the kalimba was sought after for it’s compact size and versatility. Performers in the Soul and R&B genres started to incorporate the thumb piano into their music.

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Instruments {16} ~ Flute

“Transverse flutes made out of animal bones were used in Europe in the Paleolithic era. These instruments can certainly be regarded as the ancestor of the flute. However, it was not until the sixteenth century during the Renaissance period that the prototype of the flute that plays such a prominent role in the modern orchestra first emerged and came into widespread use.

The term “flute” was originally applied both to pipe instruments held sideways and pipe instruments held vertically. Thus, the vertically held recorder was also called a “flute.” Indeed, up until around the middle of the eighteenth century (the era of Baroque music), the word “flute” was commonly used to describe the recorder. To distinguish the transverse flute from the recorder, it was referred to in Italian as the flauto traverso, in German as the Querflöte, and in French as the flûte traversière-all of which mean “sideways held flute.”

Early flutes did not feature keys. Flutes in the Renaissance period were of extremely simple construction, consisting of a cylindrical body with an embouchure hole (mouthpiece) and seven finger holes. They could also only produce certain semitones.
In the latter half of the seventeenth century, flutes with a conical body and a single key attached began to appear. With this mechanism, for the first time virtually all semitones could be played on the flute. Today this instrument is known as the “baroque flute.”

Theobald Boehm, the German wind instrument manufacturer, demonstrated a revolutionary new type of flute at the Paris Exhibition of 1847. This flute had a metal tube with numerous keys attached. With earlier flutes, it had been difficult to even get a note out of them, and the intervals between the notes had been variable. Boehm’s instrument was a dramatic improvement, however, and overcame these shortcomings.
With his major refinements, Boehm essentially created the modern-day flute.”

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Instruments {15} ~ Euphonium

Euphonium, German baryton, brass wind instrument with valves, pitched in C or B♭ an octave below the trumpet; it is the leading instrument in the tenor-bass range in military bands. It was invented in 1843 by Sommer of Weimar and derived from the valved bugle (flügelhorn) and cornet. It has a wide conical bore resembling that of the tuba and is held vertically with the bell upward (in the United States the bell is often positioned to face forward on the instrument). It normally carries a fourth valve in addition to the essential three, in order to take the compass continuously down to the fundamental pitches below the bass staff. (Without the fourth valve there would be a gap between the two lowest notes producible.) The total compass rises from the third B♭ below middle C to about the C above it. Its notation is generally in the bass clef at actual pitch in military bands and treble clef a ninth above the actual sound in brass bands. In duplex, or double, euphoniums, there is an alternative bell and a tubing that may be switched in by a valve to supply a lighter tone quality.”

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Instruments {14} ~ Guitar

The English word “guitar” comes from the Spanish word guitarra. Prior to that, it likely was formed from the Latin word “cithara” and an ancient Sanskrit “tar”, which meant string. The oldest surviving guitar-like instrument comes from Ancient Egypt. It was used by a singer to the Egyptian queen Hatshepsut named Har-Mose. You can see this guitar today in Cairo, Egypt at the Archaeological Museum. The Lute came to Europe between the 6th and the 9th century in many forms. It was brought to the Byzantine Empire as the Barbat. Later it showed up in Spain from the Moors who brought the Oud. These instruments became the Lute which was a popular instrument in the European Middle Ages. One of the predecessors to the modern day classical guitar was the Baroque guitar. It was played during the European Renaissance in the 1600s. The Baroque guitar had 9 or 10 strings with 2 strings generally tuned to the same course or note. A lower E string was added later as the form moved toward the modern guitar. Antonio Torres Jurado started building guitars in a similar fashion to the modern classical and acoustic guitars. Most of today’s guitars are derivatives, or alterations, of guitars that Torres designed and built. He is often called the Stradivari of guitars (Antonio Stradivari being the world famous violin maker). The electric guitar was invented in the United States in the 1930s. The first patent for the electric guitar was awarded to George Beauchamp for a guitar he made with partner Adolph Rickenbacker in 1931. A lot of other inventors and guitar makers were working on electric guitars at the same time. Famous electric guitar makers included Les Paul who pioneered the solid body guitar made by Gibson Guitar. In 1951 Leo Fender invented the Fender Telecaster. This guitar, together with the Gibson Les Paul, the Fender Telecaster, and the Gibson SG would make solid-body electric guitars hugely popular. These are still the most popular styles and models made today.

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Instruments {13} ~ Gongs

“It is presumed by historians that gongs were made and used before the second millennium B.C. They are the oldest and most genuine musical instruments of South Eastern Asia. But they are not noted in Chinese history until about 500 A.D. Chinese history attributes gongs to the HSI YU nation, located between Burma and Tibet.

It is believed by historians that Java, Annam, Burma, and China were the main gong producing centers. It is known that these centers produced at least seven gong forms and corresponding sound-structures. Therefore, Gongs have for a long time been at the center of thoughtful system of sound and music.

Gong making in Asia, like bell making in Medieval Russia, was a true ancient family secret. Gong makers’ knowledge was considered so set-apart, that they believed the making of a successful gong requires the assistance of higher powers. Indeed, this is true – whether it was the higher power of the universe, it’s Creator or both, creating a gong requires forces and powers that human beings did not invent. The process of gong making is so intense that gong artisans understood they were expose to powerful forces that most people are never exposed to.

For centuries, a gong was a symbol of success and status among Asian families – and still is to a degree.

Gongs and gong bowls in the Tibetan spiritual tradition have the deepest links with the cosmos and the spiritual world. It was not unusual for monks to use gongs to invoke spirits, maybe bad spirits (this is not recommended but, nonetheless, part of gong history).

Gongs Uses

There are many uses for a gong. Both in ancient times and today gongs have been used for essentially the same purposes: to communicate; make announcements; make music; accompany life’s events; meditate and heal.

For centuries or longer gongs have been an essential element in celebrations, funerals, theatre & songs. The gong was an orchestral instrument in the palaces and Asian high society. People enjoyed the rich musical vibrations of gongs in private concerts, residences and orchestras. As European orchestras have a violin section it was not uncommon for Asian Orchestras to have set-ups with eighteen different gongs.

Gongs are no longer in Asia alone. They have been travelling around the world for centuries. In Europe, gongs have been used in orchestras since around 1790 (Mozart was about 35). European orchestras often called flat gongs “Tam Tam” and bossed gongs “Gong”.

Gongs, a Timeless Art-Drum

Gongs are a true & timeless art-drum. The testament of the greatness of gongs are the facts that they have been around so long and that they are more popular today than ever before. A gong is no hulahoop! rather it is a masterful work of art that proves it’s quality across many lifetimes. A gong is an heirloom.”

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Instruments {12} ~ Bongo Drums

“The modern bongos, or bongó as they are called in Spanish, are a set of two drums with shells typically constructed of a hardwood such as oak or mahogany, or of fiberglass. The larger of the two drums, referred to as the “hembra,” is typically between 8-10’’ in diameter, while the smaller drum, the “macho” is generally 6-8” in diameter. The two drums are held together by a small bridge normally made up of a composite wood, regardless of the material of the shells. Bongos may be mounted on a metal stand for a standing or sitting player, but are traditionally played by being held between the player’s knees. Learning to hold the bongos between one’s knees securely, can prove to be a tricky but essential step for the beginner learning how to play bongos. As with its cousins the congas, the bongos can also be fitted with either animal or synthetic heads. The very first bongos used mainly cow or mule hide for the heads, which was tacked on to the shell. Today’s bongos still use cow skins, as well as water buffalo, steer, and other animals, in addition to synthetic heads.

As with most hand drums that evolved in the colonies of North and South America, the bongo has deep African roots, specifically from central African regions populated by Bantu tribes. The earliest documentation of bongos as know them today comes from the eastern parts of Cuba, an area heavily populated by Bantu slaves from Congo and Angola, and their descendants, in the 19th century. Ethnomusicologists have theorized that the origin of the word “bongo” comes from the Bantu words ngoma or mgombo, meaning drum.

Traditionally, bongo drums were non-mechanically tuned percussion instruments. Just as with conga drums, up until the 1950s, the drumheads were secured to the wooden shells with tacks or nails. So in order to change the pitch, the skin needed to be either moistened or heated. Moistening the drumhead lowered the pitch, and heating it allowed the drum to be tuned to a higher pitch.

In the 1950s, the construction of the bongo drums was altered to include a mechanical tuning system made up of a securable rim, lugs, and adjustable lug nuts that allowed the bongo player to tune the drums with much more precision. This allowed the bongos to be tuned much higher and with more consistency.”

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Instruments {11} ~ Lyre

“The lyre is a musical instrument from the string family that dates back to the Ancient Greek world. In Greek mythology the lyre, chelys, phorminx, and kithara (all string instruments) were created by Hermes. Hermes made the lyre from a tortoise shell, and used it to steel cattle from Apollo. Hermes gave Apollo the lyre when the theft was discovered. In Ancient Greece the lyre was either played as a solo instrument or along with poetry or singing. It was played at most important events in Greece and is depicted in much of the early art dating back as far as 2000 BC to the Middle Bronze Age, but the lyre existed for at least 1000 years prior to this.

Lyre Facts:
~The word lyre is derived from an Ancient Greek word ‘lura’ which means a ‘stringed instrument with sounding board made of a tortoise shell’.
~The first lyres in Ancient Greece were made of tortoise shells. They had two fixed upright arms and a cross bar. There were tuning pegs often made of bone, ivory, wood or even bronze. Strings were usually made of sheep gut.
~The lyre in Ancient Greece was one of the most popular string instruments of its time.
~Lyres have had a variety of numbers of strings throughout history. The most common configurations have included lyres with 4, 7, and 10 strings.
~Playing the lyre involved a plucking motion, usually with a plectrum (pic).
~The classic lyre has a hollow body with two raised arms curved outward and forward and connected by a crossbar.
~Most lyre players were male but some art dating back to 1300 BCE shows female lyre players.
~Lyres were often depicted on ancient coins.
~A lyre believed to be 2300 years old was discovered in Scotland in 2010. This makes it the oldest surviving stringed musical instrument in Europe.
~Some people classify the lyre as an instrument of the zither family while others do not.
~In Europe the lyre was known by a variety of names (with variations), including the gue or cruit in Scotland; the rote or crowd in England; the crwth in Wales; the giga in Norway; the talharpa in Estonia; the jouhikko in Finland; the Lira in Poland; the chorus in Latin; and the rotte, crotte, or Anglo-Saxon lyre in Continental Europe.
~In Africa the lyre was known by a variety of names such as: the kisser, tanbura, or simsimiyya in Egypt; the tanbura or kisser in Sudan; the begena, dita, or krar in Ethiopia; the ntongoli or endongo in Uganda; the litungu in Tanzania; and the obokano, nyatiti, litungu, or kibugander in Kenya.
~The lyre is mentioned in Beowulf – the Old English 3182 line epic poem written between 975 and 1010 AD.
~In some places in north-east Africa the lyre is still played.
~Lyres are sometimes confused with harps, but the strings on a lyre pass over a bridge and the strings on a harp enter through the instrument’s body. The lyre is more similar to a guitar in that the strings passing over the bridge create the vibrations to the body.”

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Instruments {10} ~ Accordion

“The accordion is a relative newcomer to the music scene, having been invented in the early 1800s in Europe—drawing from the concept of older Chinese instruments—and only taking shape in its modern form later in that century. Because the accordion was able to make such a loud sound (remember, amplification hadn’t come around yet), it became quite popular, especially for dance music.

Accordions in America
It is believed that most accordions came to America with traveling German merchants, and gained popularity in various communities, including Germanic regions of the northern midwest, French Louisiana, and the Texas/Mexico border area. The legacy of the accordion’s arrival is still evident in the genres of folk music that remain in those regions.

Types of Accordions
There are three main styles of accordion: diatonic, chromatic and keyboard. Diatonic and chromatic accordions have buttons for keys and keyboard accordions have a piano keyboard for keys. In a standard instrument, the keys are on the player’s right-hand side of the instrument. The left-hand side has chord or bass notes, used to play rhythm.

How Accordions Work
Accordions make noise when the bellows fill with air and this air is forced out of holes which have a small reed over them. Accordion makers tune these reeds by hand, and each note may trigger anywhere from one to four reeds—the more reeds, the more volume.”

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Instruments {9} ~ Harmonica

“The harmonica is a wind instrument which has existed for millennia and has undergone many modifications to evolve into the instrument that we know today.

The first form of the harmonica, known as the sheng, was invented in China in 3000 B.C. The Sheng was a free reed instrument with metal or bamboo reeds which used bamboo shoots to amplify the sound.

In the West, Friedrich L. Buschmann, in 1821 Germany, was searching for a simpler way to tune pianos, as the small devices currently in use, known as terpodians, were fragile and unreliable. But he took inspiration from this small instrument, modernized and improved it, and named it the Aura. The Aura was a chromatically tuned instrument composed of 21 metallic blades positioned on a wood cover.

The diatonic harmonica was first constructed in 1826 by Joseph Richter, a Bohemian instrument maker. He created an instrument with both blow and draw notes and named it Mund Harmonika, or mouth organ. At this time, the harmonica was not really considered a musical instrument, but more as piece of jewelry. Just as women might wear a diamond necklace around their neck, men often wore harmonicas as a type of hand bracelet.

Finally, in 1827 the German watchmaker Matthias Hohner was inspired by this musical jewel and decided to improve it. He made further refinements and founded the Hohner Company in 1857. The instruments began to be exported to the United States and became very popular as folk instruments.

Today, the harmonica has spread everywhere and has become the top selling instrument in the world. It is particularly valued for its’ portability and ease of playing. Harmonicas are available in many different keys and tunings which greatly expands their musical repertoire.

Thanks to continued modernization and the innovations of modern players, the harmonica has gone beyond its’ roots as primarily a folk instrument, (folk, blues, jazz) into an instrument that can be used to express virtually every style of music.

The younger generation is also beginning to rediscover the harmonica and is adapting it to current musical styles, reinvigorating this ancient instrument and bringing new delight to harmonica players everywhere.”

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Instruments {8} ~ Handpan Drum

“Handpan is a musical instrument that captivates the listener with a strong hypnotic draw and has a unique vibe to its tone. This instrument remains elusive in its acquisition. It drew its origins from the steel drum family emulating the traditional steel pans of the Caribbean Islands.

Initially, the handpan was recognized as the “Hang” – a word that means “hand” in Bernese German dialect due to the fact that the instrument was played by hand. In other terms, it can be referred as a term used for a group of unique musical instruments that has resulted from a growing worldwide interest in the Hang.

The heritage of this instrument originates in Bern, Switzerland where Felix Rohner and Sabina Schårer constructed this multifaceted instrument called Hang. Felix Rohner was the first prominent player of a musical instrument called the Trinidad Steel drum which received its first recognition in Europe in the early 70s. With a clear understanding of steel drum, he and his business partner Sabrina Scharer established PANArt, a company well known for creating dented musical instruments in the year 1990. It was not until the year 2001, when Felix and Sabrina officially introduced Hang in Musikmesse Frankfurt in Germany.

This presentation led to the popularization of the Hang as a musical instrument for its mysterious and beautiful tone as well as its unique scales. However, the creators did not mass produce it and as a result it was only available in a limited number each year. The reason for this is the creators thought of the instrument as an artistic and imaginative creation and not something that can be easily sold around the world. It was for this reason that different versions began to erupt from Europe and United States by other instrument makers around 2007. These models were referred to as the “handpan” and not “Hang” as initially recognised. There are now over 100 makers of handpan in the world with varying degrees of objective ad subjective quality.

In order to maintain the originality of this unique instrument, Felix and Sabrina made a policy where potential customers who wanted to purchase the instrument had to present a hand-written letter explaining why they needed it. In the year 2013, PanArt stopped producing Hang in order to preserve the value, mystique and elusiveness of this distinctive musical instrument.

What makes the handpan and the hang different?
Hang inventors trademarked the name Hang and took legal rights over it under PANArt. After some time, the instrument became popular among certain musicians, and other people started making these instruments as well. Due to the legal rights, other makers had to name their instruments differently. That’s when they came up with a word “handpan” The name “Hang” is only limited to instruments created by PANArt whereas the name “handpan” refers to any other type of hang drum type or steel pan created by instrument makers other than the PanArt.

Although “hangdrum” is term commonly used by most people verbally to refer to this instrument, the original makers maintain that the title of the musical instrument should be Hang.

There are a lot more commonly used names other than handpan: Pantam, hand drum, hang drum (which is an incorrect term) and many more.

This instrument is often described with a mystical woody sound with hearable overtones. Hang is considered to be one of the most advanced and unique acoustic musical instruments invented in the 21st century, as well as one of the greatest gifts to the musical (especially percussion) community.

The most exciting part about the instrument is that anybody can play it. Thanks to that, more and more people choose handpans as a way to relax and calm themselves. It’s also gaining popularity among yoga teachers and sound healers.

And, since it’s a new instrument, there are no strict rules or routines of how you should play; You are free to choose any way and style of playing. That’s a philosophy we’re trying to share, too: you don’t have to be a musician, you don’t have to stick to certain rules, just be yourself and do you.”

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