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Creating musical sounds

Introduction

Unit image

This unit is concerned with the tools required to perform music, namely musical instruments. When you see the term musical instrument, you probably automatically think of the instruments found in an orchestra such as the violins, trumpets and flutes. Maybe you think of keyboard instruments like the piano or the organ. Or perhaps you visualise more modern instruments such as the electric guitar or the electronic synthesiser. You may even think of the human voice. These are all certainly examples of what we traditionally consider to be musical instruments (Figure 1). But what is it about these examples that makes us classify them as musical instruments?

On the face of it, they all seem bewilderingly different. Some involve plucking or bowing a string, others involve blowing air through a tube, and still others involve pressing keys. As if this weren't enough, consider the difference in size between some of these instruments. A flute is small enough to be able to be carried comfortably in one hand, while a pipe organ may be so large that it has to be permanently installed in a spacious building like a church or concert hall. However, despite all these differences, there are some features that are common to all musical instruments. Here we shall examine the general principles of sound production that apply to all instruments.

Please note that Activity 21 and Activity 22 are optional and require additional materials and software.

This free course is an adapted extract relevant to The Open University course TA212 The technology of music, which is no longer taught by the University. If you want to study formally with us, you may wish to explore other courses we offer in this subject area [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] .

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