Wednesday, November 8, 2017

The Cost of Musical Instruments

Just ran across a fun little video with Amelie for the Flute Channel trying out different-priced flutes at Twigg Musique in Montreal.

Most student and lower-priced flutes are "closed hole" meaning that the valves are solid. Professional flutes are often "open hole" meaning that each valve has a hole in the middle. The open hole flutes allow the player more control and more options with alternative fingerings and micro-tones. It is interesting to hear the different flutes, from a few hundred to tens of thousands of dollars. The flute player I used to play with a lot had a flute with a solid gold head joint and he even cut his own embrochure holes to customize them.

One comment on the above video over at Slipped Disc baldly says that you usually sound like yourself on different instruments. There is a lot of truth to this, but it takes time. I had a gig for a while where I had to go into different environments and play amplified through a small amplifier. I used a contact microphone stuck onto the soundboard. I did not want to use my $10,000 concert guitar in these environments so I played on my teaching guitar, a student Yamaha worth a few hundred dollars. What I discovered, after a few months, was that I learned to "play" the combination of Yamaha guitar and small amplifier so that I could get a sound that was more pleasing to me. What this involved was a quite different "touch" with the right hand fingers and nails. Essentially, within the limits of the instrument, you create the sound that your ear wants to hear. Much of this process is quite unconscious. It is also something you do in different concert halls: you experiment with different touches and attacks to find what sounds best in that particular acoustic environment. Again, much of this is unconscious.

This is one of those unnamed skills that go into being a musician. Your ear has a particular sensitivity to the subtleties of tone color. Many people don't have it. I had a student who was quite accomplished except for the fact that she just could not seem to make a good sound. Every lesson I would work with her, adjusting her hand position and touch and by the end of the lesson, she was making a pretty good sound. But the next week she would come back making the same lousy sound as before. She just didn't have the "ear" for it. Yes, this is just another in a long list of reasons why Malcolm Gladwell's silly theory that with 10,000 hours of work nearly everyone can learn a craft is just wrong. Not unless you have these mysterious abilities...

Here is one of the pieces we used to work on. It was that slow middle section that she just couldn't find the right sound for.

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