How To Fashion A Flute Out Of A Hollow Tube Music Then and Now – A Brief History of Music and Woodwind Instruments

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Music Then and Now – A Brief History of Music and Woodwind Instruments

Music is all around us. It is a mainstay of our society and is inherent in the souls of our beings. Even in utero it is said that the fetus is able to respond to music that the mother plays or sings. Music can be found in just about every environment around us: calming or happy music in restaurants, grocery stores, doctor/dentist offices, department stores, elevators, schools, or weddings; majestic music at firework displays or parades; or even serene music at a funeral. It can be heard on almost every television commercial and in the theme of every television show. Some people crave music like a drug and just cannot live without it playing in the car and even singing in the shower.

Every person has the ability to produce music whether vocally or with a music instrument. We may not all have accurate intonation or pitch vocally or may not produce a great sound due to a difference in how we process auditory information, as Simon Cowell so blatantly points out on “American Idol”, but we have the capability of producing music. With some coaching or instruction, like many of the cast members of the television show “Glee” as reported by Emile Menasche’, we can deliver a powerful vocal performance.

Over time, music has developed into an extensively large variety of categories and subclasses. These can include classical, jazz, blues, swing, symphony, opera, rock, rap/hip-hop, country, folk, pop, R n B, theatre, heavy metal, Latin, techno, tango, children’s, electronic, Native American, inspirational, marching band, gospel, romantic, melancholy, or spiritual. Most of these types of music have come about as a part of the changes in the structure and function of our cultures.

Music also serves to be very therapeutic. From my own experience as an occupational therapist, music helps persons with a range of different disabilities to improve function whether it may be for communication or movement purposes. For example, in working with persons who have sustained a stroke and have expressive aphasia (able to understand language, but unable to formulate the words to verbally express it), singing allows them to say what they want since this involves a different part of the brain. In working with children with autism spectrum disorders, I have found music helps develop more coordinated movement and motor planning as it provides the timing and rhythm that these children are not able to access in their brain. Any music instrument can also be therapeutic, whether it is woodwind instruments, brass instruments, or string instruments, or even just dancing to music.

But where and when did woodwind instruments originate? If we look back in history we could find out what the first woodwind instruments were. However, as the late Curt Sachs so intelligently points out, music originates back to pre-instrumental music and primitive man. He states that “all higher creatures express emotion by motion” eg. stamping his foot on the ground, slapping his body, or clapping his hands. These audible actions were the precursors to our first woodwind instruments and most likely man was not even consciously aware of sound as a separate idea.

Through archeological findings, the first true music instrument noted in history was the strung rattle which consisted of nutshells, seeds, teeth, or bones strung in cords or tied in bunches and suspended from a part of the body (ankle, knee, waist, or neck) as a means of adding sound to body movements or dancing. However, this was a delayed sound after the body movement. Later, the sound became more direct, but not exact, as gourd rattles filled with pebbles or small hard objects were shaken in tribal dances. From there, other more direct sounding instruments were developed which used the feet or hands to produce sounds eg. stampers (used stamping sticks or devices to make sound on board or bark covering hole in ground), slit-drums (stamping on hollowed out tree trunk over a pit), drums (used hands or later sticks to hit membrane stretched over opening of hollow body of any shape), friction instruments (using a tortoise shell or rounded piece of hard wood with four notches cut into it and rubbing it on palms to make a humming or squeaking noise), bull roarers (quickly whirling a thin board attached to a cord overhead making a roaring sound), and scrapers (scraping a notched stick, shell, bone, or gourd with a hard object).

The ribbon reed was the first simple music instrument to be played with the mouth like the woodwind instruments. This was just a blade of grass taken from a reed stretched between the two thumbs held side by side and by blowing into the crack the blade would vibrate with a high pitched screeching noise (what young child hasn’t done this even today?). More developed civilizations rolled up a wide blade of grass spirally to form a funnel tube with the thin end of the blade crossing the upper opening. Eventually, the flute was developed which was played like most other woodwind instruments: by blowing into the air column of the tube a vibration was created and produced a specific tone. Flutes and other reed woodwind instruments have been played since the Middle Ages (476-1400) and Renaissance period (1400-1600) as they have undergone various changes in design, however, orchestral woodwind instruments are of more recent origin.

The Baroque period (1600-1750) is noted for its radical revolution in music with the need for novelty in the style of composition. There was an emphasis on strong emotion (“What passion cannot music raise and quell” sung by Dryden) requiring a wide range of sound to express passion and the sudden changes from joy to grief. Just like the Middle Ages, the monodic style of singular parts being emphasized returned to music versus the polyphonic style of the Renaissance period in which equal weight was given to all the string, brass, or woodwind instruments played in concert. To achieve this sound, woodwind instruments underwent a variety of improvements and alterations. Instead of being made from one piece of wood or other material, they were now made of two or more pieces fitting tightly together in order to be able to regulate pitch by adjusting the length. Reed woodwind instruments changed the cut of reed and the bore was changed for a smoother tone. Oboe-like instruments were dismissed and only bassoons, smaller oboes, and flutes made up the woodwind instruments of an orchestra.

Romanticism (1750-1900) created additional transformations for woodwind instruments, although the musical style was reminiscent of the 16th century. The expressive emotional music brought about a significant increase in the quantity of timbres and woodwind instruments were changed to be able to modulate from timbre to timbre with greater ease through a variety of technical enhancements. Woodwind instruments were required to have a stronger, more powerful sound in concurrence to society’s change from an aristocratic to democratic culture. Overall, the arts evolved from aristocratic reserve to unrestrained passion. To advance the woodwind instruments to meet the changing musical style, technical changes were made for improved musical flexibility, fluency of tonalities, accuracy of pitch, and freer modulation. Addition of keys, position of holes, key placement, key mechanisms, key padding, and sizes of bores were altered. This created more efficient woodwind instruments that were easier to play and maneuver through the ranges. The woodwind instruments section of an orchestra now included not just the oboe, flute, and bassoon, but also the saxophone and clarinet. Families of woodwind instruments were also created eg. soprano, alto, tenor, baritone to enhance the melodies and harmonies and create a fuller sound.

The twentieth century brought about many radical changes in musical styles such as jazz, swing, pop, and rock. However, aside from the introduction of electric instruments (eg. piano, organ, stringed instruments), the amount of changes to woodwind instruments were not as great. Woodwind instruments in the twenty first century today still retain their prototype of the nineteenth century, but can be made from different metals, their mouthpieces are made of differing lengths/widths and reed sizes, and some persons prefer varying colors for their woodwind instruments.

Woodwind instruments have certainly made great strides in their evolution as cultures and societal demands have dictated. Luckily, the preference for certain sounds evolved as well. The music emanating from these woodwind instruments has become pleasurable with the ability to affect our well being deep into our hearts and souls versus the screeching and roaring sounds of some primitive instruments. Let us all enjoy the music deep within us by freely singing a song, dancing to music, or playing woodwind instruments! If you would like to pursue your musical passion or aspiration, you will find highly crafted woodwind instruments at very reasonable prices at http://www.djmusicstore.co.

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