DESKTOP
TABLET (max. 1024px)
MOBILE (max. 640px)
Return to Top
Ludwig Van
Toronto Montreal

Classical Music 101: A musical instrument's sound is greater than the sum of its parts

By John Terauds on January 8, 2013

tunerAn instrument’s materials, bore, length, string diameter, thickness of reed, quality of bow, not to mention steadiness of breath and sensitivity of fingers all work together to produce what we think of as its typical sound. Modify any one element and things change quickly.

John Terauds

John Terauds

John Terauds, the founder of Musical Toronto, is currently a Divinity student at University of Toronto and a church music director. He joined the Toronto Star in 1988, was the classical music critic from 2005 to 2012, and continues as a freelance critic for the paper. He is the co-author of Roy Thomson Hall: A Portrait, a book written with Toronto Star Colleague, William Littler.
John Terauds

Change a modern violin’s metal strings for gut, and the quality of the tone changes. This is one of the (several) things that makes a period-instrument orchestra sound so different.

Tune the strings differently, and the resulting harmonics are different than the modified intervals between each string might suggest. Here is an explanation of this process, called scordatura, as it applies to Heinrich Bieber’s wonderful Mystery Sonatas:

Add a mute to a string instrument, and the dynamics change:

Stick a mute into the bell of a horn, and it sounds like a different instrument.

All of these modifications are used every day. But I’ve just seen something a lot less common.

Pianist John Kameel Farah this morning posted a video of him trying out an upright piano that has been tuned an octave down. You would think that everything would just sound an octave lower. But the complex mix of harmonics that we perceive as a, say, treble C, when the hammer strikes the three strings for that note changes so much that, even though the theoretical tuning of the note is middle C now, it doesn’t sound anything like it:

It has to do with the length of the strings and their diameter as well as the tension that each set is meant to be under from the tuning pin.

In this instance, the technician has changed the tension. But if we changed the string length or some other aspect of how the metal resonates, the results would also be crazy-sounding — as when a piano gets “prepared” with the insertion of objects that change the way strings vibrate.

With any musical instrument, no single element of its design exists in isolation.

John Terauds

John Terauds

John Terauds

John Terauds, the founder of Musical Toronto, is currently a Divinity student at University of Toronto and a church music director. He joined the Toronto Star in 1988, was the classical music critic from 2005 to 2012, and continues as a freelance critic for the paper. He is the co-author of Roy Thomson Hall: A Portrait, a book written with Toronto Star Colleague, William Littler.
John Terauds
Share this article
lv_toronto_banner_high_590x300
comments powered by Disqus

Ludwig Van Toronto

LEBRECHT LISTENS | Before There Was Purcell, There Was John Blow

By Norman Lebrecht on December 1, 2017

John Blow's touching ode to Henry Purcell (his former student) reminds the world of what it lost.
Read the full story Comments
Share this article
lv_toronto_banner_high_590x300

SCRUTINY | Mariinsky Orchestra Invades Toronto In A Night To Remember

By Stephan Bonfield on November 12, 2017

Gergiev and the finely-toned, muscular Mariinsky Orchestra buzzed into town for a program of Russian music backed by powerhouse Russian pianist Denis Matsuev.
Read the full story Comments
Share this article

THE SCOOP | Canada Council Award Three Artists With Major Awards

By Michael Vincent on November 21, 2017

The Canada Council has awarded three of their most prestigious music-related awards yesterday, each with a cash prize of between $7,500 and $50,000.
Read the full story Comments
Share this article
lv_toronto_banner_low_590x300
lv_toronto_ssb_atf_300x300
lv_toronto_ssb_high_300x300
lv_toronto_ssb_mid_300x300
lv_toronto_ssb_low_300x300
lv_toronto_tsb_high_300x700
lv_toronto_tsb_low_300x700
lv_toronto_ssb_atf_300x300
lv_toronto_ssb_high_300x300
lv_toronto_ssb_mid_300x300
lv_toronto_ssb_low_300x300
lv_toronto_tsb_high_300x700
lv_toronto_tsb_low_300x700

We have detected that you are using an adblocking plugin in your browser.

The revenue we earn by the advertisements is used to manage this website. Please whitelist our website in your adblocking plugin.