Musical instruments evolved from several sources of vibration such as
stretched skins, metal surfaces, reeds and tubes that vibrate to human breath,
and strings that vibrate when stretched and plucked. All you need to begin a
music composition is your own voice and body movements. Rhythm is essential to
music and originates in nature before and aside from musical sounds.
Ancient humans made wood and stones tools, hitting objects against each
other, creating rhythmic sounds. Sticks, logs and animal skins came together as
percussion instruments. Early music consisted of drumming, singing and dancing.
Musical instruments produce sounds and permit control of pitch, loudness, and
timbre. A combination of sounds of different pitches produces harmony and a
sequence of pitches becomes melody. Timbre describes the harmonics in a sound
that give it recognizable qualities. You can identify a trumpet, an oboe or a
violin by recognizing its timbre. Music performance involves many agreements
about instrument design, pitch assignment, the meaning of notation so that
groups of people can produce harmonious sounds with compatible rhythms.
Vibrating strings produce musical sounds. The octave interval sounds like the
same note is being played, but at a higher pitch. When the string is stretched
over a smooth surface, finger pressure shortens the string and produces sounds
with different pitches. The Greek philosopher, Pythagoras, determined that if
you divided a vibrating string in half, you would hear an octave at double the
fundamental vibration frequency. Adding resonating surfaces changes the
timbre. A Stradivarius violin produces pleasing sounds because of the resonating
characteristics of the wood in the body of the instrument. An additional
advantage of Stradivarius violins is that they are rare and expensive -- only
the most skilled violinists play them.
While classical music written in Europe is appreciated as high art and
performed by skilled musicians, musical styles and forms in the 20th century
proliferated and incorporated sounds from all over the planet. At the same time
electronics advanced so that recorded music became the most popular way to
experience music. The science and technology of sound physics and the
neuroscience of sound perception advanced remarkably. I have enjoyed many
different expressions of this technology and continue to learn about sound
synthesis, instrument modeling, recording and editing sound. All these
activities inform about the way our brain processes sound. The main distinction
in the world of sound is between music which is intelligent and pleasing and
noise which is neither.
Some Instrument Topics