84 votes
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Do advanced musicians still practice scales every day?

My father was a French horn player for the New York Phil and later the Pittsburgh Symphony. It was a rare day when he didn’t go down to the basement and play a series of scales and arpeggios, ...
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  • 1,092
83 votes
Accepted

Have orchestras included any modern instrument lately?

The biggest thing to understand about an Orchestra is that they operate "at a loss". To have a successful orchestra, you need to be able to have donors, ticket sales, and subscriptions. Donors make ...
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  • 1,413
80 votes

Can wind instruments be played out of tune?

Yes, all wind instruments can be played out of tune. Very out of tune. Source: I work with junior concert bands. To elaborate, the frequency produced by a given wind instrument is a function of the ...
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  • 9,479
68 votes
Accepted

Why can't drums produce melody?

Instruments don't just produce one frequency at a time. When you play a single note on a melodic instruments (like piano, wind instruments, string instruments, etc.), you produce many different ...
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  • 11k
64 votes

Why aren't there attempts to evolve classical musical instruments so that they're easier to play?

Instruments are easier to play than they used to be. Take intonation, for example. Wind instruments don't play in tune by default. This is not a surprise to any player, or any parent of a junior-...
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  • 9,479
57 votes

Why do pianos not need to be tuned every time you play?

Piano strings are attached to a cast iron frame, also known as harp. Cast iron is much less sensitive to humidity and temperature changes than wood. This is the main reason why they stay in tune ...
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  • 1,756
56 votes

Do advanced musicians still practice scales every day?

I'm told that my great-grandmother, a professional pianist, practiced her scales for some hours each day. I don't think that you're "ever done," unless you've decided to quit playing. As with any ...
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  • 8,936
55 votes

What is the difference between a xylophone, a glockenspiel, a marimba, a xylorimba and a marimbaphone?

There are actually quite major differences: The Xylophone has a series of wooden bars, tuned to the relevant notes The marimba has similar wooden bars with resonators (originally gourds, now tubes) ...
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  • 36.3k
51 votes

Why can't drums produce melody?

The drums CAN play melodies, but the number of pitches and notes you have available are limited by the number of drums you have (not counting creative applications of "bending" the drum head to ...
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  • 2,578
50 votes
Accepted

Can wind instruments be played out of tune?

Yes, wind instruments can play out of tune, even when the instrument is "tuned properly" (which isn't as well-defined as it seems). In fact, the same can be said for fretted string instruments as well....
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40 votes

How can horns, most of which have only three buttons, play all their notes?

Put as simply as possible, horns are tubes. Blowing in special ways makes certain notes sound from those tubes. By changing one's embouchure, those notes start at a fundamental, then gradually go up ...
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  • 173k
39 votes

Do advanced musicians still practice scales every day?

Supposedly Heifetz said, "If I skip practicing one day, I notice the difference. If I skip two days, the critics notice. If I skip three, the public notices."
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  • 23k
39 votes

Why don't "classical" stringed instruments mark their note positions?

With many string instruments, it's seen as a bad thing to need to look at the fingerboard - often, it's desirable to be able to play the instrument by feel. This is essential if you're reading music ...
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36 votes
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How to minimize the pain for a beginning guitar student so they won’t give up before they develop calluses?

Learning the guitar as a beginner has many inherent challenges from the very start. For one, you are asking the new guitar student to teach their brain how to tell their fingers to contort in very ...
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34 votes
Accepted

Can one tell by ear whether a bowed instrument is being played up or down?

It's easiest for the player to put downward pressure on the instrument string when the bow is making contact with the string near the end that the player holds (the 'frog' end). This means that on a ...
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34 votes
Accepted

Which instruments to physically familiarize with to become a better orchestrator?

I would strongly advise you NOT to buy any instruments. You don't need to. Do you imagine composers play lots of instruments? They don't. The only instrument Berlioz played was a guitar - tolerably - ...
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33 votes
Accepted

Are there any instruments that don't produce overtones?

A tuning fork comes close, though amplifying it by placing it on some resonating object - a wooden table, piano case, or try your head :-) - will add some harmonics. The sound-producing element of a ...
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32 votes
Accepted

The loudest acoustic instrument

Under a strict definition of "instrument": pipe organ -- they'll shake your bones like a rock concert. The claim is that the Atlantic City Music Hall organ is the world's loudest instrument, with one ...
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  • 17.5k
30 votes
Accepted

Why do instruments have a key?

There are two concepts and ideas that happen in music which, when combined, explain why this happens. The first is that the way certain instruments are constructed affects what sounds they can ...
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  • 46.1k
29 votes
Accepted

Why is music for strings more likely to be in keys with sharps?

Sharp-keys are in some ways nicer to play than flat ones. The preference for these keys is perhaps most extreme in folk styles: going through two collections of celtic-style fiddle music[978-1-85720-...
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28 votes

Are very cheap cellos acceptable for a beginner?

I'm going to suggest an alternative route. Get him an electric cello. The weak point in cheap instruments is the acoustics, and to meet the price point they have to be constructed in a more rough-...
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  • 4,364
28 votes

Why do music directors use keyboard (or similar) instruments for composing music?

A piano/keyboard with its usual 88 notes covers the range of most other instruments put together. A lot of instruments have a range of two or three octaves only. A lot of instruments can (usually) ...
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  • 173k
28 votes
Accepted

Is there a broader term for instruments, like the gong, whose volume briefly increases after being sounded instead of immediately decaying?

That's weird... apparently there's no English term for this exact phenomenon, but there is one in German: Einschwingvorgang (pronounced eyn-shving-fore-gung). Wikipedia wants to have it translated ...
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25 votes
Accepted

What is the oldest instrument ever?

It's probably not possible to tell. Wood and bone can often be inherently musical when struck, so some kind of proto-claves likely existed before recorded history. Rocks may have also been used for ...
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24 votes

Have orchestras included any modern instrument lately?

coteyr has already accounted for why it's hard to add permanent new instruments to an orchestra in general. Let me give a slightly different perspective on short-term additions to the orchestra: As ...
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  • 401
24 votes
Accepted

What is the difference between a Bandoneon and an Accordion?

Both are hand bellows operated free-reed instruments. Accordion is typically unisonoric (same note on push and draw) and the left hand usually has a system of bass and chord buttons with unspecific ...
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  • 256
23 votes
Accepted

Can I play pipe organ as a pianist?

The black and white bits are the same, except you will probably only get 49/61 of them instead of the 88 you're probably used to. The action will be rather different, too. No matter how loudly or ...
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  • 173k
23 votes
Accepted

Why are double staff pieces of music not properly aligned for Middle C?

Relative to the Grand Staff, it's important to think of "Middle C" as a concept more than a literal visual expression. Here's why: Let's say you have a "grand" staff using 11 lines (5 for each staff +...
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  • 25.1k
22 votes

How to minimize the pain for a beginning guitar student so they won’t give up before they develop calluses?

To add to these great answers, I only have one suggestion - climbers chalk Moisture in the hands leads to blisters. Chalk alleviates moisture build up in the hands and helps to build callouses. Some ...
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  • 1,802

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