Have you heard that older violins are better? Or modern ones? There is no perfect instrument out there, despite all the known ideas out there.
According to MTMS instructor Nitin Sharma, age is one consideration of a stringed instrument’s sound. Vibrations of the wood cause the grain to loosen and expand over time. “Matured” instruments can sound so full and loud, but this is only true of a well-loved instrument, not one that is simply displayed.
The understanding is that this is all stringed instruments, including guitars and piano. There is a limit to how much this changes the sound, and the limits are more about the craftsmanship of the instrument and the quality of the wood used to create it. Some very cheap instruments have particleboard, MDF, or plywood, which is terrible due to the way those pieces have been constructed without a uniform wood grain.
Nitin’s teacher in college had a real enthusiasm for violins. “t least once a month he would come in with a different violin, different bow, or different strings and ask me how I perceived his playing. It really teaches you a lot about your instrument when you experiment with it like that and I would suggest, if you play any sort of string instrument, to start experimenting with different strings! It can make a world of difference in your sound. So many people just go with the most popular brand, like Ernie Ball for guitars or Dominant for Violins, but there are so many options out there that can really transform your instrument.”
Stringed instrument users – have you changed your strings? Have you looked into a different brand? I might change my guitar strings today, and try a brand I haven’t before.
We have readily available hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes/spray, and soap everywhere. In each lesson room, we’ve installed a clear shower curtain liner to separate the teacher from the student. We’ve removed a large percentage of our lobby seating and ask parents of independent children to wait in their cars or drop off/pick up. Masks are required of staff, students and clients at all times except where it interferes with the lesson – for example, voice lessons or trumpet lessons – in which case the teacher/student are separated by the curtain or the lesson is conducted in our larger classroom, and they wear masks up until the point where it would interfere. We do have a music lab where students work on independent study under the guidance of a theory teacher, and we’ve reduced capacity in the room from 9 students to 4 students and separated the work stations with plastic divider walls. And most significantly, we offer online lessons, and since approx. 75% of our clients have opted to stay online for the time being, as well as about half our teachers still choosing to teach remotely from their homes, our overall traffic of people is significantly reduced from pre-COVID operations. Some days are busier than others, so if your schedule is flexible, we can find you a time with a minimum of people in the building, if that interests you.
What do you know about vocal registers? Many of us have been taught about chest registers and head registers – the chest register being the deeper of the two and the head register being higher and more airy. Maybe you also were taught about a break between these two, where the notes aren’t as strong or clear or musical.
MTMS teacher Leann Lindsay explains it with a different take: Your voice is more like an infinity symbol. You have low notes and high notes but they all blend together in the middle, like the figure eight or infinity sign. Students need to focus on how it feels and be able to articulate where you are feeling the vibration happening and learn to identify that between registers.
Her techniques work differently for younger and older students to identify and blend these registers for better overall voice control. Research is working on identifying how to gain better control of the muscles that blend between as well as within those registers.
There are also different names for registers, since chest and head can be misleading: pulse, lower, upper, falsetto/flute (men/women), and whistle. It makes sense, then, that the very edges of the vocal range are more pulse and whistle. But allowing each of these ranges to blend together is where we learn to sing incredible music.
Did you know there are major differences between older and newer flutes?
Theobald Böehm invented the modern scale of both the flute and the clarinet in the late 19th century. Scale in this case refers directly to the engineering of the instrument and what pitch it will play. However, pitch hasn’t remained constant. The note A was roughly 430-435 Hz in Böehm’s time. It’s pushing 445-447 Hz in Europe and Japan now. Most flutes in the US are pitched around A-442, and tune between 440 and 444 Hz. (Hz – Hertz is a measurement of sound equaling the number of vibrations per second.)
While older instruments are not impossible to play, it may be a challenge to play in tune and will likely require a sacrifice of a lot of technique to do that. Another issue with older flutes is that the embouchure hole cuts and materials used before the 1970s have changed. The Cooper Scale, invented by Albert Cooper, gave exact positions and sizes for the flute’s current intonation. On top of that, the flute’s pitch changes depending on mouth position to play.
Early in the 20th century, flutes were preferred to have a smaller, sweeter sound in orchestras. As ensembles enlarged, so did the need for a bigger, more resonant sound. This brought the embouchure holes to be cut larger and included more precise undercutting. Risers that attach to lip plates to head joints started being made with gold or platinum to sound more vibrant. Despite the many beautifully crafted older flutes out there, if you want to play in a modern ensemble, you need a modern instrument.
Thanks, Clay Hammond, for this explanation of the flute and its construction.
At Michelle Tuesday Music School, we have a commitment to music and sharing that love with others. There are other values that shape our mission as a music school, and it’s important to highlight our dedication to our purpose.
Collaboration: We appreciate working together. Communication and support are at the top of the list, whether it’s toward clients, students, or each other.
Creativity: Unique expression of each individual is what we strive for – making space for our students and each other to be our own idea of ourselves.
Learning: We love to participate in the growth of our students and ourselves. Perseverance and discipline teach all of us to reach to new heights.
Community: The shared love of music and learning brings us together and keeps us returning every day and every year.
Are you new to MTMS? Give us a call. These are the values that shape our vision for the future, and we can’t wait to see how you’ll fit in with all of us.