Have you ever wondered why some musical instruments emit clear sounds, while others play off-key? Lack of tuning may be one reason, and careless handling of the instrument and not taking proper care of it, another. However, one reason that may not have crossed your mind is…varnish. As this very interesting article relates, a Swiss study has shown that (at least for violins), varnish’s chemical composition, thickness, and degree of penetration into the wood affects the acoustics of the instrument.
This made us think of the role materials used in the production of instruments play (no pun intended) on how that instrument sounds.
Do premium materials produce a premium sound? To answer this question, scientists and instrument makers continually test both traditional and new materials. The only consensus seems to be that the effect of the instrument’s material on acoustics varies from instrument to instrument. They have found that while the quality of material has an effect on sound generation in some instruments in others it doesn’t, at least to the same extent. For instance, the material (and not just the varnish) used to build the violin is very important, because its body produces the sound. In the clarinet, on the hand, it is less important because the sound is generated by the inside air column and material plays lesser – if any – role. The same seems to be true of other woodwinds as well.
For obvious reasons, professional musicians like to have instruments built from the best possible materials. But what about “regular” people? We are guessing most can’t afford the very finest instruments, but that shouldn’t stop anyone from learning to play. In fact, what’s important for most students of music is that their instruments – whether brass, strings, woodwinds, or percussions – “feel” and sound right. But beautiful sound doesn’t just happen: as stated above, you must care for and protect your instruments, especially in very hot and cold temperatures. Neglect can damage even the most expensive materials! Whether your instruments are made from the “noble” or just “ordinary” materials, our teachers will come to your Manhattan, Brooklyn, or Riverdale home or office all the same and teach you to play.