minstrel: Period Instruments

Robin Hayes rhayes at powerup.com.au
Fri Sep 19 14:39:11 PDT 1997

At 07:55 19/09/97 +1000, Martin Hungerford wrote:
<Snip of discussion fragment on temperment including a statement by someone
that most people can't tell the difference>
>I find its when you play them against a drone (I play small pipes) that 
>the difference becomes clear. If Robin's playing Hurdi-gurdi he would 
>notice it too.

Well, most people out in the (musicaly untrained) general public probably
can't. But as for musos, sometimes you can tell, but it may not be worth
the trouble, at the time, being pedantic...

Anyway most instruments people are likely to turn up with will be "even".

Actually, since my little crank(y!) box beastie is diatonicly keyed, some
tangents are "missing" for the full 12 chromatic notes. So if I whip open
the lid, and flip a tangent or two around, I can change the mode "on the
fly". I can also change back. The trick is that when you do this, unless
you are very good by eye, it is not easy to put it exact... :-)

But if I consistently "undertune" the tangent whn I do this, then I can
increase the pressure on the tangent slightly to "pull up" the note. (You
can even do little flutters and slide/snaps of pitch if your fingers are
sensitive - Jimi Hendrix, come back all is forgiven!). I can also pull
certain notes to change the key/mode without retuning. (Pedanticly
speaking, I suppose one is "pushing" the note, since you are increasing the

So while I really like the sound if I can take the time to set the box up
"just", usually "even" or often just "close enough" serves well, especially
for solo work. Indeed, resetting the scale partials sufficiently, can
really make the sound with the drones different or exciting for solo
playing. It may be very different for consort work - it may sound
terrible!. And again, different if one is playing consort "chamber" versus
"rough dance" (anything goes, improvised almost jazz).

When playing with others, a competent musician is supposed to be able to
"pull" the notes his/her instrument produces in line with everybody else,
and that goes for singers in consort too.

For "flutes" of all types, you can "blow up" by blowing harder. I can even
"blow down" a bit (depending on the instrument) by changing the shape of
the inside of my mouth/airway. Recorders (from my experience) (and the
fipple flute - whistles) are a little less controllable than "flauto
traverso" with just a hole, or end blown open tubes. 

With just a naked edge and your mouth, you can subconciously manipulate all
of the characteristics of the edge for control.

With fipple type instruments, you are at the mercy of the maker. The whole
construction of the fipple area, how wide and deep, the volume of the air
stream, the shape and size of the fipple edge, how far down into the
diameter of the barrel, and the angle of how the stream attacks the fipple
edge and tube affect the behaviour. 

Eg, a big length to dia ratio gives greater ratios of higher overtones -
you will note that tabor pipes always have a high length to dia ratio,
since the tabor pipe is not played in the first position, but in 2nd, 3rd,
4th and higher if you are good, and it's a good pipe, overtones, like a

Now you know why wooden fipple type (recorder/whistle) instrument makers
(especially low volume hand makers) charge so much... :-)

I have whistles that have lovely sweet sounds for slow playing but are
woeful for speed, and others that will snap/jump even over an octave
cleanly at high speed, but sound terrible when I can't manage superb levels
of breath control at slow speed. Some of the biggest whistles require only
a fraction of the puff that some of the tiny ones take, for greater volume.
Indeed, it took me some months to get the subtle diaphram control to get
the wonderful reedy sounding big low D Overton to work properly... :-) And
to get the superb "swelling sound" without changing pitch on the big low C

And the diameter/length ratio and degree, direction and characteristics of
taper/step affect the control too.

Oh dear! I'm sorry! I won't do it again!
[Picks up soap box, walks away quietly...]


The Wise doth not oft dispute the Foolishness of the Fool,
 But the Fool doth oft abuse the Wisdom of the Wise.
rhayes at powerup.com.au  http://www.powerup.com.au/~rhayes/
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