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Tag Archives: unique instruments

Part 2 of Our Unique Instruments Feature

Enjoy our continuation of our unique instruments feature. It’s been fun to learn about these rarely seen and heard instruments.


6. Serpent
The Serpent is an ancient wind instrument related to the modern Baritone, Tuba, and Euphonium. The mouthpiece is very similar to that of a trombone or Euphonium/Baritone. When played softly, it has a firm yet serene timbre. At medium volume, the Serpent produces a robust sound that sounds like a mixture of a tuba, bassoon, and French horn. When played loudly, it can produce unpleasant sounds that are similar to animals in distress. The Serpent has a range from C below the bass clef to at least a half octave above middle C. While the Serpent is historically made from wood, modern Serpents often are made from materials such as synthetic foam resins, fiberglass, plastic, and paper maché.


7. Shakuhachi Flute
The Shakuhachi is an end-blown flute tuned to a pentatonic (5-note) scale. The design of the mouthpiece consists of a slanted edge that enables the player to control the pitch produced by altering the angle at which the flute is being blown. This produces a slight change of intonation—a swelling or bending of notes distinctive in the traditional music.
By various fingerings—covering the holes partially—and by controlling the angle of mouthpiece, all twelve tones of the western chromatic scale can be achieved.


8. Surbahar (half size)
A traditional Surbahar is, in essence, a bass sitar. It is tuned anywhere from four steps to an octave lower than a regular sitar. The half size Surbahar plays like a sitar, and because of the shorter neck, it’s tuned like a sitar as well, but it’s about 3/4 the size of a regular sitar. The tiger profile carving on the bottom gourd is a knee-rest, so the Surbahar can be played while sitting in a chair rather than the traditional crossed-legged style.


9. Waterphone
A type of atonal acoustic instrument, the waterphone produces an ethereal, haunting sound that serves to create a mystical or mysterious tone. Richard Waters invented and created the waterphone out of a stainless steel resonator bowl with bronze rods of varying lengths and widths along the rim of the resonator bowl, and a cylindrical neck with a handgrip. The resonator contains a small amount of water to produce the ethereal sound. Many movies have utilized the waterphone because of its strange and beautiful quality of sound. Some of these movies include Star Trek: The Motion Picture, The Matrix, and The First Emperor.
The waterphone can be submerged in water, and has successfully been used on different occasions to call whales. It can be played either with a bow or superball mallets.


10. Windform
The Windform is a playable leather horn that is six meters long. Tasmania’s Garry Greenwood mastered the art of sculpting leather. He uses a wet moulding technique, creating organic forms such as the human form and Tasmanian plants. His love of music has given rise to wind, stringed, and percussion instruments reminiscent of Tasmanian life, medieval music, and theatrical masks and costumes.

Some of these are such beautiful pieces. It is interesting that we have probably all heard the waterphone in a movie and probably didn’t know. The most common of these would be the sitar, a sound that many of us can easily recognize. Have you heard of any of these instruments? Played them?

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10 Most Unique Instruments – Part 1

10 Most Unique Instruments – Part 1


1) Celestial Harp
Built by Robin Armstrong, the Celestial Harp is a 72-string harp based on the circle, square, and spiral. A large instrument, the musician must move around it to play, or multiple musicians must play it. The strings can be played in any manner—plucked, strummed, hammered, played with a slide, etc.
The original idea for the Celestial Harp was to play a person’s horoscope musically. The Celestial Harp embodies the dream of expressing the spirituality of the heavens musically. It brings together the Zodiac, the Pyramid, the stars in the sky, the Solar System, and the I Ching. The sound of the instrument varies greatly due to the styles of the people playing it and its vast musical versatility.


2) Didgeridoo
The didgeridoo is a wind instrument created by the Australian Aborigines 1,500 years ago. Authentic didgeridoos are constructed from hardwood, usually eucalyptus or a natural bamboo, naturally hollowed by termites. They remove the bark, trim the ends, and shape the outside. They then apply beeswax to the mouthpiece to provide a seal when played.
Traditionally, only men can play the didgeridoo. Women do play, but only informally, and it is strongly discouraged. In the South East of Australia, the gender prohibition is most strongly adhered to. The Aborigines of the South East consider the playing of a didgeridoo by a non-indigenous woman “cultural theft.”
In 2005, a study in the British Medical Journal found that regularly playing the didgeridoo strengthens muscles in the upper airway, and so helps to reduce snoring and obstructive sleep apnea. Only after the player learns the circular breathing technique do the muscles begin to strengthen.


3) Fire Organ
The fire organ uses the laws of thermoacoustics to produce sound. The pyrophone, like traditional pipe organs, has one pipe for each note and is activated by a piano keyboard. The sound that originates from the fire organ is created by the temperature difference across a set of channels in extremely close proximity. Propane flames on one end and liquid nitrogen on the other maintain the temperature of the fire organ.


4) Glass Armonica
Benjamin Franklin built the first glass armonica in 1761 after hearing water-filled wine glasses played in 1758 in England. Franklin stacked 37 bowls horizontally along an iron spindle, which a foot pedal turned. The player’s moistened fingers touching the rims of the bowls creates the sound. Franklin recommended using powdered chalk on the fingers to produce a clearer tone. The glass armonica made it possible for ten glasses to be played at once, which is impossible with the standard musical glasses.


5) Kaisatsuko
Invented by Yuichi Onoue of Tokyo, Japan, the Kaisatsuko has two strings with a hand crank that spins a nylon wheel to vibrate the strings. These vibrations produce the constant drone sound of the strings. The wheel operates as mechanical bow. The sound can be altered by different techniques and musical styles. Although there are no frets, slide techniques work well to give the Kaisatsuko the sound of a traditional Asian instrument.

Have you ever heard of any of these? Come back tomorrow to learn about 5 more unique instruments!

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