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Advice on instruments

Sandy 13 Mar 98 - 10:40 AM
murray@mpce.mq.edu.au 14 Mar 98 - 02:06 AM
Will 14 Mar 98 - 02:11 PM
alison 15 Mar 98 - 05:44 AM
16 Mar 98 - 12:14 PM
Jon W. 16 Mar 98 - 12:22 PM
Will 17 Mar 98 - 12:25 AM
murray@mpce.mq.edu.au 17 Mar 98 - 08:13 AM
Whippoorwill 17 Mar 98 - 11:42 AM
17 Mar 98 - 10:48 PM
steve t 18 Mar 98 - 04:36 AM
alison 18 Mar 98 - 05:18 AM
Sandy 18 Mar 98 - 06:41 AM
Sandy 18 Mar 98 - 06:51 AM
Bill D 18 Mar 98 - 10:53 AM
alison 18 Mar 98 - 06:18 PM
Dan Mulligan 19 Mar 98 - 06:24 PM
murray@mpce.mq.edu.au 19 Mar 98 - 06:48 PM
KickyC 21 Mar 98 - 09:43 AM
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Subject: Advice on instruments
From: Sandy
Date: 13 Mar 98 - 10:40 AM

I'm considering learning a new instrument and can't decide what. I play the Great Highland Bagpipes and Scottish small pipes and (trying not to be conceited or arrogant) I play to a pretty high standard. I've thought of a fiddlle/violin (what's the difference?) or a piano (have piano will travel doesn't quite work) or a clarinet or Uilean pipes.

Type of music doesn't really matter though I'm mostly into folk, classical and Jazz.

Has anyone got any ideas or advice regarding difficulty to play, types and cost of instrument and how long it will take to get to a reasonable high standard.

I can't make up my mind. Help would be appreciated.

Sandy


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Subject: RE: Advice on instruments
From: murray@mpce.mq.edu.au
Date: 14 Mar 98 - 02:06 AM

Please don't take this as advice, Sandy, but as information. It doesn't take into account what your tastes might be, for example.

My experience, and that of others is that the violin is by far the hardest to learn if you never have played any other (unfretted) string instrument. It takes years to get the intonation and the tone to make it a pleasure for people to listen to you--even your own relatives :)

I have found the woodwinds the easiest to learn. Because the clarinet is a transposing instrument, and because there isn't much folk music written directly for it, I suspect you will have to allow some time and effort to learn to transpose, before you can play folk music.

In my opinion, the flute is the easiest to learn. It is fairly straighforward to finger. Once you get the fingering and sound production down you can play almost any folk melody. It is also the easiest instrument to sight read with. But Jazz, well there is (or was) Herbie Man, but the flute isn't a mainline jazz instrument. It has lots of good classical music written for it, and you can play the recorder repetoire as well. You probably have a good feel for controlling your breathing and phrasing a wind instrument.

I think it is easy to get started on the keyboard. There are books that teach you how get playing chords so that you can accompany singing in a short time. Becoming another Theloneous Monk might take a bit longer. It has a great repetoire from classical through ragtime and blues, and then into popular music. The piano fingering is standard throughout keyboards. If you play the piano, you can, of course, play an electric keyboard which is quite portable. I find their touch unpleasant, but you can hole up in a hotel room and play one with earphones while you are on the road.

There are also some ancient keyboards (virginal, clavichord) that are somewhat portable. Most of them are not designed to be turned upside down though. There used to be kits for building them. There probably still are.

The advantage of a keyboard (and a guitar, mandolin, etc.) is that you can play harmony. You are not dependent upon other musicians to hear what a complete piece sounds like.

The guitar finds a place in jazz as well as folk and classical music.

The mandolin has a good feature. Its strings are tuned the same way as a violin. Fiddle tunes would probably be comfortable to play on it. I suspect Bill Bolick of the Blue Sky Boys takes advantage of that.

Murray

Disclaimers: I used to play flute/recorders and I still play a keyboard. I gave a pair of parents some grey hairs with a violin many years ago, and gave my wife a few in the same way less years ago. I never did master it, but my wife is a professional violinist and so I know a lot of them. I draw from their experience.

I am learning to play the guitar at the moment, I find it a finger-twister compared to a keyboard--especially when changing chords. On the other hand, you can learn a few chords and use a capo to play all the others with the same finger motion, so you can be accompanying yourself and others in a relatively short time. You have to accept having caluses on your left fingers. You have to keep your left nails well filed down, and if you play the classical guitar, you have to maintain the nails on your right hand too. That can interfere with other activities. I don't have calouses yet, but my left fingertips are getting less sensitive, and that is interfering with clavichord playing. I suspect I will adjust to that but it would more seriously interfere with recorder playing.

I don't know enough about the various pipes, but if you have to directly stop a hole with your fingepads, then caluses, or even insensitivity might interfere.

Murray


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Subject: RE: Advice on instruments
From: Will
Date: 14 Mar 98 - 02:11 PM

Murray makes good sense, as usual. One note about the fiddle, though. My cohabitant started playing about two years ago. She plays piano and has a good ear, but has never played any stringed instrument before. Within a day, she was enjoying herself and within a week, I was enjoying listening to her. She is still playing and I am still enjoying.

Now, I'm both biased about the player and have eclectic tastes in the music that I like (some of which is quite tasteless), so take this for what its worth. But if you pick up a fiddle and it seems to fit, then do it. (And if the fiddle doesn't seem to fit, try calling it a violin and see if it fits better).


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Subject: RE: Advice on instruments
From: alison
Date: 15 Mar 98 - 05:44 AM

Hi,

I was sure I answered this yesterday but my reply doesn't appear to have arrived, so here goes again.....

Tin whistle..... cheap (under $10 Aussie), portable and easy to play.

I've been teaching myself the uillean pipes for 3 years and it's very hard work. I play heaps of other instruments most of which I learnt (self-taught) with no trouble at all. It would probably help that you have experience on other sets of pipes. Also they are very expensive (Approx $5000 Aussie for a full set.) I only bought a practice set to see if I could master the thing before I'd think of spending so much.

Flute is also easy, once you've mastered how to blow across the hole, and bodhran is good fun, (but not necessarily for anyone living with you.

electronic keyboards are portable and some of them actually give quite a good piano sound.

Slainte

alison


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Subject: RE: Advice on instruments
From:
Date: 16 Mar 98 - 12:14 PM

Cheers folks. I'm wiser though still undecided. From what I can gather, keyboard seems the easiest and suitable for the widest range of music types. Murray, what is a transposing instrument?

Alison, I've loads of whistles. I didn't think they counted.

Cheers,

Sandy


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Subject: RE: Advice on instruments
From: Jon W.
Date: 16 Mar 98 - 12:22 PM

I certainly don't consider myself expert at any instrument but I play guitar, some tin whistle, and beginning banjo. I've got pretty good callouses on my left hand fingertips from guitar, and I have never noticed any problem with them when it comes to stopping holes on my tin whistles. The callouses are on the very tips of my fingers, whereas I use my fingerprint area to stop the tin whistle holes.

What Murray says about fingernails is important, even for folk guitar I think (at least for me) that they are the best things to pick with. I've tried my banjo fingerpicks and they just throw me off terribly. I spent years picking with just my bare fingers and avoiding the finger nails completely (cut very short) and the sound is too muddy and too quiet. But it's tough to keep those right hand fingernails in good shape, especially since I'm doing a lot of remodeling and stuff right now and they tend to get caught and broken.

Alison, I've been interested in Uillean pipes for a while (but not enough to plunk down the money), and I'd like to know more about why you consider them to be so difficult. Is the chanter fingering the same as tin whistle, recorder, or different from either? Or is it physically hard to keep the bag inflated etc?

Anyone out there a hammered dulcimer player? How hard is it to learn that one?


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Subject: RE: Advice on instruments
From: Will
Date: 17 Mar 98 - 12:25 AM

Jon, a friend bought a hammer dulcimer a year or so ago and picked it up pretty quickly, as did his son. Sounds great.


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Subject: RE: Advice on instruments
From: murray@mpce.mq.edu.au
Date: 17 Mar 98 - 08:13 AM

Sandy, a transposing instrument is one that doesn't play the notes as written. That is, when you see a "C" written, you finger it like a "C" but, a different note, say a "G" comes out, and all the other notes are offset by the same amount--a "D" will produce an "A", and so on. It has the great advantage that all instruments of the family are fingered the same. So if something is written with no accidentals, you just play it that way. If the instrument was really in "G" the "F#" would be "built in". If you play something with no accidentals that is written for an instrument that doesn't transpose, you will be playing in G while everyone else is playing in C. To play in tune with everyone else you would have to move up a fourth and mentally add a flat to B--not easy with a snappy jig. (I wouldn't even like to do it with the Dead March from Saul.)

As far as I know it is only the single reed and the horn family instruments that transpose. Although, someone told me classical guitar music is written an octave higher than is played.

Jon, I haven't reached the stage of having callouses on my fingers. The area that is sore at the moment interferes with fingering the recorder, and with my touch on the clavichord (probably the only keyboard that is highly sensitive to touch,) so I assumed the callouses would do the same. I suppose the soreness tends to spread over a larger area than where the callouses will be.

Murray


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Subject: RE: Advice on instruments
From: Whippoorwill
Date: 17 Mar 98 - 11:42 AM

Interesting that nobody has mentioned the old tried and true "french harp." Well played, a harmonica, especially a chromatic, is a delight to hear. They're very easy to play poorly, and not too much harder to play well.


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Subject: RE: Advice on instruments
From:
Date: 17 Mar 98 - 10:48 PM

My Significant Bother teaches violin, if you're interested, call a few teachers, one should be able to rent you an instrument for a month or so, that way you can find out if you wanna go on with it without shelling out too much money.

Frank in the Swamps.


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Subject: RE: Advice on instruments
From: steve t
Date: 18 Mar 98 - 04:36 AM

Are the Uilean pipes also called Irish pipes? They're incedible. If I was set up well enough to practice bagpipes without receiving death threats, I'd still pass 'em up in a second to learn the Irish pipes. Not much good at most sing-alongs but oh, what a sound, what a sound.


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Subject: RE: Advice on instruments
From: alison
Date: 18 Mar 98 - 05:18 AM

Hi,

OK can you pat your head while rubbing your tummy, while tap dancing and making changing the tyre on your car?.... if so then you are ready for the uillean pipes.

The bellows are pumped with your right arm, which inflates the bag under your left arm, so you have to pump with one while trying to keep a constant pressure with the one on the bag. so far so good but you haven't even tried to get a note out yet!

Unlike the whistle where you only cover the holes you need, on the pipes you cover the ones you want, leave the next one open (uncovered) and then cover all the remaining ones as well.

On top of this fingering..... when you play a low D (pipes are in D usually) you have to lift the chanter off your leg. (Sorry... forgot to mention this... up until this point the chanter has been pushed into your thigh.)

so far you are squeezing, pumping, fingering and lifting the thing off and on your leg...... Now as I have mentioned before I only have a practice set if you go for a full set you also get drones which you play with your right wrist(!!!) whilst still concentrating on doing all the other stuff.

It is a lovely sounding instrument and I have tremendous respect for anyone who can play it.

Of course the whistle is a ligitimate instrument I never fail to get comments when I play mine, (usually good).

Slainte

Alison


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Subject: RE: Advice on instruments
From: Sandy
Date: 18 Mar 98 - 06:41 AM

Alison,

Just to clarify the fingering on the Uilean pipes, are you saying that you close down the chanter, i.e. all holes covered and only uncover the one you want? If this is the case is there not a lot of scope for crossing noises, i.e. not cleanly closing down one note while opening the other simultaneously which, if done incorrectly, results in a momentary closing down of the chanter and a horrible noise (called a blooter in piping circles)?

How many holes are there? The highland pipes and Scottish small pipes have the same fingering; eight holes in all. The top hand highest note is a high A and is located at the back of the chanter and covered by the left thumb. The next three fingers close down on the front of the chanter through high G, F and E. The bottom hand starts through D, C, low A and low G where the right pinky covers the lowest hole. Is this similar?

The Scottish small pipes are belows blown so I'm used to that (there's a knack to it). The drones on the Uilean pipes should be straight forward. I believe you are referring to the regulators which change the note of the drones and are played by the wrist. Are these not optional?

The greatest attraction of the Uilean pipes is that, as with a whistle, you can blow them up an octave giving greater scope.

Do they take a lot of air?

Cheers

Sandy


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Subject: RE: Advice on instruments
From: Sandy
Date: 18 Mar 98 - 06:51 AM

Some questions on other instruments. The highland pipes require retuning in, say, the first ten minutes of playing until the reeds reach a temperature and moistness from your breath. In certain weather conditions they can be difficult to tune since the chanter reed may be running cooler and therefore needs rebalancing (they high A is exactly one octave above the low A). When playing with other pipers, given that every reed is different, copious use is made of black electricians isulating tape to partially cover the holes of the top hand so that all instruments are in tune.

Question; do you experience the same problems with other wind instruments such as the clarinet for example? Are those instruments susceptible to wet or dry blowing? Do you have to raise and lower reeds to get in tune with everyone else?

I've played the guitar as a teenager and remember the problems of having to retune if your bending notes e.t.c.

I guess the most stable instument (and hassle free) is in fact the electric keyboard.

Cheers,

Sandy


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Subject: RE: Advice on instruments
From: Bill D
Date: 18 Mar 98 - 10:53 AM

many years ago, when I first moved here to the 'big city', I got several chances to see Joe & Antoinette McKenna...she on harp and he with Uillean pipes...I would go sit in the front center just to be able to watch Joe's hands and arms etc. as he played!! And Joe is one of the few Uillean piper who really' played 'seriously' on the 'registers' (as I think the wrist keys are called). I really love the feeling & sound that comes from that instrument!


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Subject: RE: Advice on instruments
From: alison
Date: 18 Mar 98 - 06:18 PM

Hi

Yes the wrist things are called the regulators.

There are 7 holes on the front of the chanter, and one on the back for your left thumb. It uses closed fingering eg if you were playing A... the top two fingers and thumb would be down, the finger which covers the G hole (3rd finger) would be up, and all the other fingers on the right hand would be down, plus the chanter pressed against your leg.

Please remember I am only a novice at this... others will know a lot more

Yes drones are optional depending on how much you want to pay.

Practice set (mine) =bag, bellows & chanter. Half set = as above plus ? one drone. Full set = as above + couple of drones and regulators.

Slainte

alison


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Subject: RE: Advice on instruments
From: Dan Mulligan
Date: 19 Mar 98 - 06:24 PM

Sandy, Few instruments are as "organic" as the pipes, and are less fussy about climate and humidity. My wife is also an accomplished piper, but she has not had much problem with piano. I play whistles and bohdran. Most of our friends that play pipes say that playing fretted instruments is the most difficult transition for them. I think that most woodwinds and flageolettes would be an easy transtion for you. If you try flute you will probably find that the most difficult part is learning the embrouchure. There is a pennywhistle being manufacture with pipe chanter fingering called the "chanter whistle". It is in key of "a",I think , and sounds good. A great way to play a new instrument without learning a new instrument. It is available for around $30 at the "song of the seas" web site catalog.

Dan Mulligan


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Subject: RE: Advice on instruments
From: murray@mpce.mq.edu.au
Date: 19 Mar 98 - 06:48 PM

Woodwinds and horns do change a little as they are played. There is usually no way to tune them except by subtly changing the way you are blowing into them. The detuning is usually not excruciating.

It's been a long time since I lived in Pa, so I forget the name of the town, but it is where Lehigh University is. There was a church there that had a Bach festival around Xmas time. When each session was over you were escorted out of the church by a trombone quartette. That is four different sized trombones playing soprano, alto, tenor and base. Needless to say, it is usually cold there at that time of the year, while the church is warm. Boy is there a change in pitch when those four guys hit the outdoors! It lasts for about five minutes and then settles down.

Murray


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Subject: RE: Advice on instruments
From: KickyC
Date: 21 Mar 98 - 09:43 AM

Well, I have another suggestion to add to the confusion. Have you ever thought of the mountain dulcimer. It is really easy to learn and simple for a beginner, yet a really accomplished player can do wonderful things with it. I have been playing one for about 2 and a half years now and I just love it. You can play anything from folk to classical on it. For as simple as it is, it is very versitile. I had played piano before and some guitar, but only chords. After learning the dulcimer, I started to move on. I was able to pick up enough from that to start picking out more tunes on the guitar, then my husband bought me a banjo and then made me one. My dad had played harmonica when I was a kid, so that was just natural to move on to that. Dulcimer festivals got me hooked on tin whisltes which are just delightful and I just recently bought a mandolin. Once you get one of them down, the rest seem to come a lot easier. There are so many similarities. I guess my question is, why just decide on one? There are so many wonderful instuments and so little time!


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