The Notes Behind Well-Known Musical Instruments

Music is an integral part of Rectory School. We have music in chapel, songs in our plays, music class during the academic day, and students who take private music lessons after school. However, the importance of knowing the origin of musical instruments seems less crucial to the average person. Yet, I view the history that comes along with each instrument to be very intriguing and beneficial. As a result of my curiosity, I decided to interview the music teachers and private instructors at Rectory School to learn more about some well-known instruments that contribute to the beautiful music we enjoy all around us.

There are four major instrument families in an orchestra: brass, woodwinds, strings, and percussion. The following interviews highlight instruments from each of these families, except for the percussion family. Perhaps I will address the percussion instruments in a future article.

Interview with Mr. Stephen Lyons, Rectory private-lesson brass teacher:

There are five types of instruments in the brass family. From highest pitch to lowest pitch, they are trumpet, horn, trombone, baritone, and tuba. Originally, the trumpet was not used as a musical instrument, but rather as a means of communication. A soldier would blow a trumpet at the sentry to tell the king that enemies were approaching. Different notes and pitches conveyed different meanings. Along the line, a Sackbut (the first trombone) was invented, which brought brass into the musical world, since it was able to play every note that other instruments at that time could play. John D. Rojak is one of the best bass trombone players in history. Today, he is also a member of the American Brass Quintet.

Interview with Ms. Krista Lindell, Rectory private-lesson flute teacher:

The flute is one of the oldest instruments and belongs to the woodwind family. It works very well with soloists, chamber music, and orchestras. You blow into the body of the flute just like you blow into a bottle. Then you close the holes with your fingers to make the pitch go up and down. The more keys you press, the higher pitch you will produce.

There are many types of flutes, but they all belong in just two categories, side-down or end-down. Side-down is when the player blows air into the flute from the side. An end-down flute is when the player blows air horizontally, like an oboe. There is a flute that looks like a recorder that has either one key or none. Then we have the classical flute that has more keys. The modern flute has twelve to sixteen keys. The piccolo flute has a higher pitch than a modern flute; and there are alto flutes that start in G, bass flutes that start in C, and contra flutes that start in B. There is also the sub contra flute and the sub contra bass flute, which is the largest-sized and lowest-pitched flute.

James Galway is one of the most famous flute players alive today. He is a soloist, but he also works with orchestras. He is the person who played the flute on the sound track of the movie “Titanic.” The flutist whom I am aiming to emulate is named Jean-Pierre Rampal. He is definitely one of the best flute players in history.

Interview with Ms. Christa Conway, Rectory private-lesson violin teacher:

There are four members of the string family. From big to small, they are the string bass, cello, viola and the violin. The bigger they are, the more vibration they produce and the lower the notes they can create. The string bass is the most difficult to play of the four, since it has thick strings and requires strong fingers to press the strings down. The structures of these four instruments are the same; they are just different in size. The bow hair, which is made out of horsetail with sticky rosin on it, is pulled over the strings to make them vibrate. Then you use your finger to adjust the notes; the closer your finger is to the bridge of the violin (see picture in attached photo gallery), the higher the notes you produce. Then the vibration goes through the bridge and resonates the whole body of the instrument.

Some violins are more expensive than others because they are not mass-produced. The violin maker’s craftsmanship is also crucial in determining the price. Expensive violins focus on small details, such as the wood that is used to make them.

The violin has been in existence for a long time. The first violin was made very differently from the modern one. Its strings were made out of cat guts, so the note range was quite limited. Paganini and Kreisler are two famous violin composers who composed difficult, yet famous show-off violin pieces. (A show-off violin piece is a music selection created and used specifically to showcase the skill level of the violinist.) Paganini basically combined all violin techniques into one piece.

Interview with Mr. Derek Joly, Rectory private-lesson saxophone teacher:

The saxophone is a woodwind instrument. The sound from woodwind instruments comes from the reed that is put in the musician’s mouth. The reed vibrates while air goes through it. The number of keys that you close controls the pitch; the more keys you close the higher the pitch is.

There are four primary types of saxophones: baritone, tenor, alto, and soprano. The alto and tenor are two very common types used for beginning players. The baritone requires more air capacity to produce the low notes, which makes it more difficult to play. The soprano is equally as challenging, since you need to produce higher-pitched notes using a smaller mouthpiece.

A flute player named Adolphe Sax invented the first saxophone in 1847.The first edition of the saxophone is remarkably quite similar to the modern saxophone. Later, people began making small changes to its size and key positions.

Benefit of Writing This Article:

I have learned a lot about musical instruments from writing this article, though there is still so much more to learn about all of these amazing instruments. I hope my article has piqued your curiosity about the history of these well-known instruments, and I hope it has also broadened your perspective of musical instruments and enhanced your appreciation of music.