About the Instruments We Teach

PIANO

stringed instrument

Among the earliest stringed instruments with a keyboard in Europe was the dulcimer, a closed, shallow box over which stretched wires were struck with two wooden hammers. The dulcimer led to the development of the clavichord, which also appeared in the 14th century. These were followed by the spinet, virginal, clavecin, gravicembalo, and finally, the harpsichord in the 15th century.

The harpsichord, however, was limited to one, unvarying volume. The artistic desire for more controlled expression led directly to the invention of the piano, on which the artist could alter the loudness and tone with the force of one’s fingers.

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The earliest piano, or pianoforte as it was called at the time, was invented by expert harpsichord maker Bartolomeo Cristofori (1655–1731) of Padua about 1698-1700. (Historians are not in total agreement as to the exact date.) Cristofori was able to solve the fundamental mechanical problem of piano design: the hammer must strike the key but not remain in contact with it. This way volume could be controlled and the same note could be hit multiple times in succession. Cristofori’s new instrument was known as the pianoforte because it allowed players to produce notes at different dynamic levels by controlling the inertia with which the hammers hit the strings.

 

During the late 18th century, piano-making flourished in the Viennese school which included the likes of Johann Andreas Stein and the Viennese makers Nannette Streicher and Anton Walter. Viennese-style pianos featured wood frames, two strings per note, and leather-covered hammers. Some of these pianos came with black natural keys and white accidental keys, the opposite of modern day pianos and keyboards. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart composed his concertos and sonatas for such instruments.

 

The piano is at the center of Western musical history in every style of music, from classical to jazz and rock/pop. Well-known pianists in the 20th and 21st century include Ling Ling, Yuja Wang, Elton John, Billy Joel, Art Tatum, Ray Charles, Mary Lou Williams, and Marian McPartland.

VOICE

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VOICE

You could argue that the voice is man’s first musical instrument! If you can speak, you can sing. Vocalizing / singing has been a part of every culture for hundreds of years, with styles that often reflect the individual language and dialect of the culture from which it springs. Sung text seems to elevate both the singer and the audience in a way that is completely unique.

Singing has been used to tell stories, to worship, to woo, and, we believe, to heal the soul. Singing with a group can reduce loneliness by bringing together like-minded people engaged in the same activity. It can reduce stress and anxiety, boost confidence, and possibly even strengthen the immune system and cardiovascular health.

Bel Canto Academy offers both private and group lessons for children and private lessons for adults.

GUITAR

GUITAR

stringed instrument

The guitar is a plucked stringed musical instrument that probably originated in Spain early in the 16th century, deriving from the guitarra latina, a late-medieval instrument with a waisted body and four strings. The early guitar was narrower and deeper than the modern guitar, with a less pronounced waist. It was closely related to the vihuela, the guitar-shaped instrument played in Spain in place of the lute.

The guitar originally had four courses of strings - three double, the top course single, that ran from a violin-like pegbox to a tension bridge glued to the soundboard, or belly; the bridge thus sustained the direct pull of the strings. In the belly was a circular sound hole, often ornamented with a carved wooden rose. The 16th-century guitar was tuned C–F–A–D′, the tuning of the centre four courses of the lute and of the vihuela.

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From the 16th to the 19th century several changes occurred in the instrument. A fifth course of strings was added before 1600; by the late 18th century a sixth course was added. Before 1800 the double courses were replaced by single strings tuned E–A–D–G–B–E′, still the standard tuning.

By the early 19th century, guitars looked very close to the six-stringed instruments of today but were smaller in size. In the mid-1800’s, Antonio de Torres Jurado, a Spanish musician and luthier, began creating the style of guitar that would give rise to all modern guitars. Though in modern times he doesn’t get quite as much credit as he deserves, he is in many ways the grandfather figure in the history of the guitar.

With a broadened body, increased waist curve, thinned belly, and machined head which replaced wooden tuning pegs, his creations became particularly notable thanks to an innovative form of fan bracing and body design, which give classical guitars their distinct voicing and thick, heavy sound. Andres Segovia, another influential Spanish guitarist, took the classic guitar that Torres had created and established it as a concert instrument. He also transcribed early polyphonic music and created complex musical compositions that we now think of as ‘classical’ guitar music.

Meanwhile, European immigrants carried a steel-stringed version of the reshaped Spanish instrument with them to America, where the history of the guitar really started to take shape—and where the flat top, the archtop, and eventually, the modern electric guitar would be created.

Guitar in the United States is generally associated with folk, jazz, and rock music. Influential rock and blues guitarists include Jimi Hendrix, Robert Johnson, and Jimmy Page.

VIOLIN

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VIOLIN

stringed instrument

Perhaps the most well-known string instrument in the orchestra, the violin is also considered one of the most expressive. The instrument evolved from a variety of other stringed instruments, including the lira (9th century Europe), the rabab, an Arabian 2-stringed fiddle, and Spain’s three-stringed rebec. The French vielle, like the rebec, was usually supported on the chest or under the chin and was widely used by troubadours in the 13th to 15th centuries to accompany singing and dancing. Stringed instruments have a long history in folk music, but the violin became more standardized after it went to court.

Most historians agree that today’s violin emerged in the early 16th century in northern Italy, an area which would maintain the violin-making tradition over the coming centuries. Maple and spruce, the two types of wood most favored by violin makers then and since, were readily available in the Lombardy region. The city of Brescia, located at the foot of the Alps, was the earliest to excel in the crafting of violins, but Cremona, home to the world’s most famous luthiers, Giuseppe Guarneri, Antonio Stradivari, and the Amati family, became synonymous with the art of violin making.

Around 1786, François Tourte created the modern bow, standardizing its length and weight. The invention of the chin rest around 1820 made the instrument easier to hold and increased its range of play. The neck and fingerboard were both lengthened and tilted in the 19th century, allowing the violinist to play the highest notes, and the bass bar was made heavier to produce a bigger, more brilliant sound.

Many composers have written for the violin, and it is an instrument that appears in nearly all forms of Western music. Some of the most well-known classical violinists today include Joshua Bell, Sarah Chang, Itzhak Perlman, and Hilary Hahn.

CELLO

CELLO

stringed instrument

The violoncello or cello is the tenor voice in the string family tuned one octave lower than the viola and one octave higher than the cello bass. Although shaped like a violin, the cello is much larger and is held between the player’s knees. It is said to be the instrument that most resembles the human voice with its deep, rich tone. Like all the members of the violin family, the cello first emerged in Northern Italy in the first half of the 16th century in the workshops of famous instrument makers like Andrea Amati and Gasparo da Salo.

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The cello is primarily an orchestral and chamber music instrument, but it is also heard in jazz, folk, rock, and pop music as well. Famous classical cello players include Yo-Yo Ma, Jacqueline du Pre, Zara Nelsova, Johann Sebastian Paetsch, Mstislav Rostropovich, Janos Starker, and Maurice Gendron, to name just a few. Well-known jazz cello players include Oscar Pettiford, Harry Babasin, Dave Holland, Abdul Wadud, Ron Carter, Oscar Pettiford, and many others. Rock/pop bands that have used the cello include Led Zeppelin, the Beatles, ELO, Genesis, Pink Floyd, and Aerosmith.

viola

VIOLA

string instrument

Before the start of the 16th Century, the term “viola” was already in use to describe string instruments that bore similar characteristics of the violin family: the viola da braccio, which was played on the arms, had low ribs, four strings across a curved bridge and a round back; and the viola da gamba, which was played at the legs, had high ribs, five to seven strings across a flatter bridge and a flat back. The first actual visual evidence that we have of the viola is one that is painted into a famous fresco in the Santuario di Saronno's dome near Milan, along with a number of period instruments that fit the criteria for the violin family.

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In 1597, a Venetian composer, Giovanni Gabrieli, wrote Sonata pian’e forte, a chamber piece wherein one part was specifically assigned to the viola. During the 16th and 17th centuries, the viola was mainly used in the orchestra and the opera. In the later period of the 17th Century came another form of composition – the Concerto Grosso. It was a form of Baroque concerto that consisted of a small group of solo instruments (called “concertino”) and a string orchestra (called “ripieno”) which included the viola. Famous Concerto Grossi composers included Vivaldi and Corelli.

The first known viola sonatas published in England in 1770 were written by William Flackton, a bookseller, publisher, organist and violist. Mozart wrote an entire Sinfonia Concertante for Violin and Viola in 1775. Joseph Schubert, another violist, penned a Viola Concerto in E-flat Major, which debuted in Dresden around 1800.

The viola is generally considered to have reached something close to its modern form in the 1600s and early 1700s, but experimentation continued into the 20th century. In the 1930s luthier Arthur Richardson and player Lionel Tertis set out to consolidate all the best parts of their favorite viola designs into an instrument that was ideal in every way, including a full tone and a smaller size. The Tertis viola is still highly respected today.

The viola often plays the alto voice in string quartets and symphonic writing. Viola soloistic roles in orchestral music include the symphonic poem Don Quixote by Richard Strauss and the symphony Harold en Italie, by Hector Berlioz. In the earlier part of the 20th century, more composers began to write for the viola, encouraged by the emergence of specialized soloists such as Lionel Tertis and William Primrose. English composers Benjamin Britten, Rebecca Clarke, Ralph Vaughan Williams, among others, wrote chamber and concert works featuring the viola. Paul Hindemith, who was a violist, wrote a substantial amount of music for the instrument, including the concerto Der Schwanendreher. The concerti by Béla Bartók, Carl Stamitz, Georg Philipp Telemann, and William Walton are considered major works in the viola repertoire.

The viola is primarily an orchestral and chamber music instrument, but it is also heard in jazz, folk, rock and pop music as well.

Famous classical viola players include Lionel Tertis, Paul Hindemith, Walter Trampler, Theophile Laforge, Vadim Borisovsky, Maurice Vieux, Lillian Fuchs, William Primrose, Frederick Riddle and Ernst Wallfisch. Well known jazz viola players include Leroy Jenkins, Mat Maneri and Will Taylor.

Rock/pop bands that have used the viola include The Who, The Cure, The Beatles, Van Morrison, and the 10,000 Maniacs. Folk musicians Mary Ramsey, Helen Bell, and Nancy Kerr have used the viola in their work.

FLUTE

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FLUTE

woodwind instrument

The flute is the oldest woodwind instrument, dating to 900 B.C. or earlier. The first likely flute was called the "ch-ie" and emerged in China. Early flutes were played in two different positions: vertically, like a recorder, or horizontally, in what was called the transverse position. The transverse flute first arrived in Europe with traders from the Byzantine Empire during the Middle Ages and flowered in Germany, so much so that it became known as the German flute.

During the 1100s and 1200s, the flute was widely used in courtly music and saw use as a military signaling and marching tool. Swiss mercenaries helped popularize it in the 1300s. During the Renaissance, it became fashionable for amateur flute players to practice and play together with what was known as consort music in cultured homes. By 1600, plucked and bowed instruments were combined with flute in mixed consort music.

The late 1600s and 1700s saw solo flute repertoire emerge, giving players music that featured a range extended below the usual high register melodies. It also called for the player to add more individual character to each part. Composers like Vivaldi, Bach, Handel, Telemann and Blavet wrote extensively for the solo flute and professional players such as J.J. Quantz began to find success traveling from area to area performing concerts on the baroque flute.

 

Around 1750, London instrument makers took the baroque flute and added a system of flute keys, while also increasing the taper of its bore. The result was an even stronger lower register and more solid tuning. By the end of the century, the keyed flute was almost universally adopted. Every country had its own style of keyed flute and hosted visiting artists from other countries to show off their repertoire, instrument, and skill. J.G. Tromlitz, a German flautist, was well known at the time as a virtuoso who performed on a keyed flute of his own personal design.

 

Flute design flourished through the first half of the 19th century, with significant design variations found in Austria, England, America, France and Germany, among others. Theobald Boehm of Bavaria began to attract attention with a key design that used a system of complex interlocked rods to allow accurate, fast fingering in a more natural hand position.

Today's flute is based on Boehm's innovations, with modifications that vary somewhat depending on the instrument maker. The flute is primarily thought of as a classical and jazz instrument, but it has made some notable appearances in pop music as well.

 

Famous classical flute players include James Galway, Jeanne Baxtresser, and Jean-Pierre Rampal.  Well known jazz flute players include Herbie Mann and Bobbi Humphries.

DRUMS

DRUMS

percussion instrument

Drums consist of a membrane (also known as a skin) stretched over an open-ended cylinder (also known as a shell) and struck with a mallet or stick, or by using the hand or fingers. In jazz, some drummers will use brushes for a smoother, quieter sound. In many traditional cultures, drums have a symbolic function and are used in religious ceremonies. They are often used in music therapy, especially hand drums, because of their tactile nature and ease of use by a wide variety of people.

Along with the voice, the drum is perhaps the oldest instrument known to humans. Drums first appeared as far back as 6000 B.C. Mesopotamian excavations have unearthed small cylindrical drums dated 3000 B.C..

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Drums may be played individually, with the player using a single drum or in a set of two or more all played by the one player, such as bongo drums and timpani. A number of different drums together with cymbals form the basic modern drum kit. Several factors determine the sound a drum produces, including the type, shape and construction of the drum shell, the type of drum heads it has, and the tension of these drumheads. Different drum sounds have different uses in music.

 

Famous drummers include Buddy Rich and Max Roach (jazz), and Phil Collins, Keith Moon, Meg White, and Neil Peart (rock).