1. Broadly speaking, musical instruments may be divided into two classes, viz.: (1) those that have a keyboard and are therefore capable of sounding several tones simultaneously; (2) those that (as a rule) sound only one tone at a time, as the violin and trumpet. The piano is of course the most familiar example of the first class, and a brief description is therefore given.
The piano was invented about two hundred years ago by Cristofori (1651-1731), an Italian. It was an enormous improvement over the types of keyboard instrument that were in use at that time (clavichord, harpsichord, spinet, virginal) and has resulted in an entirely different style of composition. See note on embellishments, .
2. The most characteristic things about the piano as contrasted with its immediate predecessors are: (1) that on it the loudness and softness of the tone can be regulated by the force with which the keys are struck (hence the name pianoforte meaning literally the soft-loud); (2) the fact that the piano is capable of sustaining tone to a much greater extent than its predecessors. In other words the tone continues sounding for some little time after the key is struck, while on the earlier instruments it stopped almost instantly after being sounded.
The essentials of the piano mechanism are:
1. Felt hammers controlled by keys, each hammer striking two or three strings (which are tuned in unison) and immediately rebounding from these strings, allowing them to vibrate as long as the key is held down. The mechanism that allows the hammers to rebound from the strings and fall into position for another blow is called the escapement.
2. A damper (made of softer felt) pressing against each string and preventing it from vibrating until it is wanted.
3. A keyboard action that controls both hammers and dampers, causing the damper to leave the string at the same instant that the hammer strikes it.
4. A pedal (damper pedal) controlling all of the dampers, so that at any moment all the strings may be released so as to be free to vibrate.
Other interesting details are:
1. The strings are stretched over a thin sheet of wood called the sound-board. This aids greatly in intensifying the tone.
2. The soft pedal (the one at the left) in an upright piano causes the hammers to move up nearer the strings, and the shorter swing thus afforded causes a less violent blow and consequently a softer tone. In the grand piano this same pedal shifts the mechanism to one side so that the hammers strike only one or two of the strings, this resulting in a softer tone of somewhat modified quality.
These details regarding the mechanism of the piano can easily be verified by removing the front of any ordinary upright piano and observing what takes place when the keys are struck or the pedals depressed.
3. There are two familiar types of organ in use at the present time, (1) the reed organ, (2) the pipe-organ.
The reed organ is very simple in construction, the tone being produced by the vibration of metal reeds (fixed in little cells), through which air is forced (or sucked) from the bellows, the latter being usually worked by the feet of the player. More power may be secured either by drawing additional stops, thus throwing on more sets of reeds, or by opening the knee swells which either throw on more reeds (sometimes octave couplers) or else open a swell box in which some of the reeds are enclosed, the tone being louder when the box is open than when closed. More tone may also be secured by pumping harder.
4. The essential characteristic of the pipe-organ is a number of sets or registers of pipes called stops, each set being capable (usually) of sounding the entire chromatic scale through a range of five or six octaves. Thus for example when the stop melodia is drawn (by pulling out a stop-knob or tilting a tablet), one set of pipes only, sounds when the keyboard is played on: but if the stop flute is drawn with melodia, two pipes speak every time a key is depressed. Thus if an organ has forty speaking stops, all running through the entire keyboard, then each time one key is depressed forty pipes will speak, and if a chord of five tones is played, two hundred pipes will speak. The object of having so many pipes is not merely to make possible a very powerful tone, but, rather, to give greater variety of tone-color.
The pipe-organ usually has a pedal keyboard on which the feet of the performer play a bass part, this part often sounding an octave (or more) lower than the notes indicate.
An eight-foot stop on the organ produces tones of the same pitches as the piano when corresponding keys are struck: A four-foot stop sounds tones an octave higher and a two-foot stop tones two octaves higher. A sixteen-foot stop sounds tones an octave lower than the piano, and a thirty-two foot stop, tones two octaves lower, while some organs have also a sixty-four foot stop which sounds three octaves lower. This gives the organ an exceedingly wide range, its compass being greater than that of any other single instrument, and comparable in both range of pitches and variety of color only with the modern orchestra.
Modern pipe-organs always have a number of combination pedals or pistons (usually both), by means of which the organist is enabled to throw on a number of stops with one movement. The selection and use of suitable stops, couplers, combinations, etc., is called registration.
5. The instruments mentioned at the beginning of this appendix as belonging to the second class are more familiar in connection with ensemble playing, being commonly associated with either band or orchestra.
6. A band is a company of musicians all of whom play upon either wind or percussion instruments, the main body of tone being produced by the brass and wood-wind divisions.
Sousa's band is usually made up in somewhat the following manner: 4 flutes and piccolos, 12 B♭ clarinets, 1 E♭ clarinet, 1 alto clarinet, 1 bass clarinet, 2 oboes, 2 bassoons, 2 sarrusophones, 4 saxophones, 4 cornets, 2 trumpets, 1 soprano saxhorn (fluegelhorn), 4 French horns, 4 trombones, 2 contra-bass tubas, 4 tubas, 1 snare drum, 1 bass drum, 2 kettle drums, cymbals, triangle, bells, castanets, xylophone, etc.
7. An orchestra is a company of musicians performing upon stringed instruments as well as upon wind and percussion. It is differentiated from the band by the fact that the main body of tone is produced by the strings.
There are four classes of instruments in the orchestra, viz., strings, wood-wind, brass (wind) and percussion. In addition to these four classes, there is the harp, which although a stringed instrument, does not belong in the same group as the other strings because the manner of producing the tone is altogether different.
8. In the first group (the strings) are found the first and second violins, viola, violoncello (usually spelled cello), and double-bass. The first and second violins are identical in every way (but play different parts), while the other members of the family merely represent larger examples of the same type of instrument.
9. In the second group (the wood-wind) are found the flute, piccolo, oboe, bassoon, English horn, double-bassoon, clarinet, and bass clarinet. The English horn, double-bassoon, bass clarinet, and piccolo are not called for in the older compositions, hence are not always present in the orchestra.
10. In the third group (the brass choir) are found the French horn, (usually referred to as the horn), trumpet (sometimes replaced by the cornet) trombone, and tuba.
11. The fourth group (percussion) consists of kettle drums, bass drum, cymbals, snare drum, triangle, bells, etc.
12. In an orchestra of about 100 players the proportion of instruments is as about as follows, although it varies somewhat according to the taste of the conductor, the style of composition to be performed, etc.:
18 first violins, 16 second violins, 14 violas, 12 cellos, 10 basses, 1 harp, 3 flutes, 1 piccolo, 3 oboes, 1 English horn, 3 clarinets, 1 bass clarinet, 3 bassoons, 1 contra (or double) bassoon, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, 1 tuba, 3 kettle drums, 1 bass drum, 1 snare drum, 1 each of triangle, cymbals, bells, and other instruments of percussion, several of which are often manipulated by one performer.
14. The violin has four strings, tuned thus
For certain special effects the player is directed to pluck the string (pizzicato), this method of playing giving rise to a dry, detached tone instead of the smooth, flowing one that is so characteristic of the violin as commonly played.
Violins in the orchestra are divided into firsts and seconds, the first violins being always seated at the left of the audience and the seconds at the right.
15. The viola has four strings, also tuned in fifths, thus
18. The flute has a range of three octaves.
19. The piccolo is a flute playing an octave higher than the one described above. The notes are printed as for the flute, but the player understands that the tone is to sound an octave higher. The piccolo is used widely in band music and quite often in orchestral music also, but since the tone is so brilliant and penetrating and is incapable of any great variation, it is not suitable for solo performance.
20. The next four instruments to be described (oboe, bassoon, English horn, and contra bassoon) are often referred to as the oboe family since the principle of tone production and general manipulation is the same in all four. The tone in these instruments is produced by the vibration of two very thin pieces of cane, which are called together a double-reed.
The bassoon and contra-bassoon are used mostly to provide a bass part for the harmony of the wood-wind group, but they are also sometimes employed (especially the bassoon) to depict comic or grotesque effects.
21. The next two types of instruments to be described (clarinet and saxophone) are alike in that the tone is produced by the vibration of a single strip of cane (called single reed) which is held against the lower lip of the player. The clarinet and bass clarinet are made of wood and are used in both bands and orchestras, but the saxophone is usually made of metal, and, the tone being more strident and penetrating, the instrument is ordinarily used only in combination with other wind instruments, i.e., in bands.
Since the fingering of the clarinet is excessively difficult the
performer can play in only certain keys on the same instrument, hence to
play in different keys clarinets in several keys must be provided,
there being usually three in all. The music is written as though it were
to be played in the key of C, but the tones produced are actually in
other keys. For this reason the clarinet is called a transposing
instrument. The range of the clarinet is the greatest possessed by
any of the wind instruments, that of the clarinet in C being from
23. The range of the trumpet is
The range of the cornet in B♭ is from
27. The kettle-drum is the most important member of the percussion
family and is always used either in pairs or in threes. The size of
these instruments varies somewhat with the make, but when two drums are
used the diameter is approximately that given under the illustration.
The range of a pair of drums is one octave
The other important members of the percussion family are shown on this and the following page, their use being so obvious as to require no detailed explanation.
The modern double-action harp has forty-six strings, which are tuned in half-steps and whole-steps so as to sound the scale of C♭ major. It has a series of seven pedals around its base, each pedal having two notches below it, into either of which the pedal may be lowered and held fast. The first pedal shortens the F♭ string so that it now sounds F, (giving the key of G♭); the second one shortens the C♭ string so that it sounds C (giving the key of D♭); the third pedal shortens the G♭ string so that it sounds G (giving the key of A♭); the fourth changes D♭ to D (giving the key of E♭), and so on until, when all the pedals are fixed in their first notches, the scale of C is sounded instead of C♭ as was the case before any of the pedals were depressed. But if the first pedal is now pushed down into the second notch the original F♭ string is still further shortened and now sounds the pitch F♯ (giving us the key of G), and if all the other pedals are likewise successively lowered to the second notch we get in turn all the sharp keys—D, A, E, B, F♯ and C♯, the last-named key being obtained as the result of having all the pedals fixed in their second notches, thus making all the tones of the original C♭ scale a whole-step higher so that they now sound the C♯ scale.
Chords of not more than four tones for each hand may be played simultaneously on the harp, but arpeggio and scale passages are the rule, and are more successful than simultaneous chords. The notation of harp music is essentially like that of piano music.