* INTRO Playing a musical instrument - taking a simpler approach

Musical Instruments

Playing a musical instrument - taking a simpler approach - why are we doing it ?

© 2003 Mike Irwin (UTLM)

Just my humble view but I hope it helps those reading this :)

What motivates us to play a musical instrument?

"The state of creation is not the
creation of a few gifted people - the painters, musicians, writers, architects".(from Krishnamurti )

Beauty achieved when playing an instrument, apart from technical prowess, which can only "finish " the music, but the beauty , the soul quality is even not the instrument, though that too contributes to the "polish" and ease of playing. What is central is the emotional state of the player ...that provides the core of the upliftment ..and its beginners and amateurs who have this inborn, just as much as professionals. Being "musical"

Every sound. melody or riff or chord a beginner first leaarns to produce, because of a fresh ear and mind is often appreciated more than a pro does , who might take some sounds ,but for beginners and amateurs sounds all newly produced become little treasures and the player loves repeating newly aquired skills and sounds over and over as well they should enjoy..,,,and that"soul" kind of quality or exitement and pleasure infuses itself with the the music sounds and really, this is what people hear , the soul of the player. This explains why some professionals only seem to intimidate us with their playing , while others the ones who have retained a child like joy for music despite the commercialism of it and despite trying to make their art survive in world where sounds are now measured by the money it makes, some professionals/ amateurs retain that childlike quality and inspire us to want to play too.

Though also for pros understandably the more one plays one wants to make newer sounds and "basics "become less appealing.

But its the beginner and amateur player that really carries the spiritual tradition of music forward, in a society where success is not measured by beauty but by material gain. Without beginners and amateurs, music could never continue, just consider that - it is you and you only who really carry the tradition of playing music forward.

A famous violinist was asked....... please can I see your Stradivarius ,,I only wish I could own one so I could sound so wonderful . He replied, holding it up, " Why ? Its just a piece of wood ?

And this is the simple truth because a wonderful violinist, electric guitarist or flutist ( or on any instrument) can make just about instrument sound wonderful , with both their technical skill, but also far more importantly, by Infusion of emotion and state of mind ...imagination all born of just feeling and allowing oneself to feel the happiness and sadness that the music might be trying to convey - just as we do when we listen to music - the same when we play. Some just feel it more deeply ...but not because they are "musicians "but because they spend more time doing it ..........

Just as important and often the most successful are those who want develop their expressive side more which they might feel a little suppressed by life's pressures. Amateurs have become some of the most skilled musicians ...just because they decided to pursue a dream - not to become a great famous musician, but to just play music.

Having said that, a quality musical instrument , not necessarily an outrageously superbly crafted onebut still good until one progresses, nand with care in the making of it but definitely not poor in quality(which are just "hard to play: and cause a speedy end to ones en devours , as well as the patience required to develop technical skill are still the foundations before one can express fully at least ones creativity. But the fact that remains that that creativity is simply ...inborn ...to Everyone who can feel happiness or sadness...and that every one is creative ..creative is just word for "letting it all come out" when we listen to and get carried away by music, or when we play it. Playing though brings us closer often though as we commit a little more time to that part of yourself

When one thinks about learning a musical instrument for the first time, it can be quite daunting. We have been exposed to so many professional instrumental players through media which is both inspiring as well as daunting. The daunting part of learning to play an instrument that is unnecessarily self created, is perhaps a sad reflection of how quickly we create too high ( if I don't sound GREAT SOON it wont be worth it ) ( some of us ) expectations for ourselves that are impossible to fulfill. However a simple melody or riff is often the source of the most enjoyment ! its not all about great skill, all the time

Music is that part of our heart that simply feels and simply listens and absorbs. Sound is beautiful and our feelings tell us that. To me the sound of the flute is beautiful whether it's a few notes or a complex melody. The instrument takes our breath and makes something magical with it. Something musical, and that's interesting because what is musical? To us it's become some highly developed skill which it indeed is, but I think of musical too as something inside us that is touched when we hear the sound of a musical instrument. Each musical instrument touches different parts of us.


Which musical instrument should we choose ?

A guitar makes me feel a sense of peaceful clarity and lightness perhaps. The instrument just seems to in an instant, as we hear a few notes, take us inside and feel different to how we were a moment before. More relaxed and at ease but in a special kind of way that words can't really describe. In a way that a guitar will do differently to a flute. I'd just go with my gut feeling. If you have a real longing to play a musical instrument that might be technically more difficult than others ( see more about individual instruments here ) you or your child is likely to have the motivation also to overcome the difficulties involved in learning to play the musical instrument

Is a musical instrument difficult to play?

So are these the kind of reasons people long to play a musical instrument? Because instruments make us feel better when we hear them? Perhaps when some start playing a musical instrument they forget day by day why they started playing? Goals like how well our fingers are coordinating, how quickly we are playing, which piece of music we are capable of playing, perhaps all this starts to slowly override the sense of magic we feel when we first play even one note and then join a few together.

Of course it's a lot more complex than that as well but that original satisfaction just of letting the instrument speak with a few simple movements of the fingers caneasily get lost if we don't make a conscious effort to maintain that simplicity but start expecting too much of ourselves. of course its also It's natural day by day to want to hear new feelings to feel we can hear the instrument say different things to us too. The same view of the mountain at the same time of day soon becomes monotonous. We need to move around the instrument in different ways. Playing different styles of music, trying all sorts of things. But there is a secret to keeping balance between aspiring to play music better and keeping in touch with the simple sense of hearing and appreciating the musical process.

I remember when I learnt blues first. That was an amazing time for me. I had played for years and already been awarded my teachers licentiate and I had mastered a musical instrument, the flute, to a pretty high degree. Yet I had also slowly become caught up in the "never satisfied" part of playing a musical instrument. I didn't really know what it was. I had played classical music for years and had loved it. Yet slowly I felt sense of repetition and monotony creep in.

I had let my initial love of the instrument become replaced with professionalism, and it was hard to shake off. There was just this sense of boredom, not complete boredom, but definitely a sense of something lacking when I played my instrument. ( continue to second column above)

Piano/Keyboard musical instruments

Artolomeo Cristofori (1655-1731) Is noted for various innovations in harpsichord construction and especially for the invention of the piano. The "acoustic" piano is the traditional acoustic piano producing sounds by means of hammers which strike strings.



I started playing a little keyboards, this time not trying to read and become as good as I couldn't but just letting myself enjoy the instrument. Also I started playing only 5 notes pretty notes following the blues scale.

The instrument was fun and the funny thing was because I wasn't comparing my playing to some exam syllabus standard and also perhaps because I hadn't really been a big blues expert or listened to a lot of blues, everything I played took on a musical quality again.

The little melodies I played felt unique, even though they weren't. But that didn't matter. It was how it felt to me playing the musical instrument. The keyboard I had back then wasn't so great but that didn't matter either. It was a new sound and that was enough. I remember how I loved the sound of the electric piano. It reminded me of the guitar but more feminine. I'm glad I'm writing this now because it's reminding me too that I need to never stop trying new musical instruments. The first few months of trying an instrument is really magical if you allow yourself a sense of freedom to explore musically and just meander around the instrument as well as learning proper skills. Do both. Don't get too serious.

Musical instrument playing cultural / community support

I also don't want to say to anyone "don't take your teacher too seriously", but at the same time I think that that was what made it such a lot of fun for me. I didn't have a teacher and I didn't have to live up to what someone else wanted me to learn on the instrument. Sometimes that just takes the musical part away I think because we are musical. It's our nature. I've often said to students, how can you say you're not musical when you enjoy so many songs, the sounds of so many different types of musical instruments? They always say "yes but I can't play them, it would be too hard!" And this is the sad part of what our modernized society has done to us. In Africa in the south the north and the west and the east everyone a while back felt capable of playing the drums in a society that hadn't yet measured everything by what a teacher had told them too. If there had been flutes trumpets and other instruments as sophisticated as today's instruments I'm sure it would have been the same. people would have just "found a way" to play all the musical instruments.
Yet why is that so scary today for people to just pick up an instrument and play? Well there just isn't the support. In the emotional fun light relaxed kind of way I think that there was when sitting round the fire and laughing about it. So I always recommend to practice with candles (joking )

But seriously, in a more formal technical way, because I am a qualified music teacher I could try to persuade you of the same thing. I wouldn't say don't get help, don't find a teacher to help you learn a musical instrument, but I would tell you this. The moments a teacher remembers vividly are when a child plays, within a few days, twinkle twinkle little star. The child just feels this sense of amazement and accomplishment and that's what gets to the teacher! As a teacher you are reminded of the true meaning of the word musical. Perhaps the closest word to the world musical would be "touched inside beautifully" and there is just something about when you own fingers do the touching that makes it so special to play a musical instrument .
The best teachers have an intangible quality. It's hard to put one's finger on it. But there is something about them having a balance between giving you a clear sense of direction and on the other hand letting you find your own way to experiment with your musical instrument and just have fun. Perhaps that all I can say. Both are necessary. Without direction confusion sets in pretty quickly. What kind of direction is obviously a big subject too. Yet without encouraging your own sense of experimenting to try different things no matter how informal, when learning your musical instrument, a teacher takes away or represses that part of you that is definitely musical.

keyboard is a musical instrument with a keyboard like a piano with sampled sounds but without a piano type hammer action like the digital piano The can be very sophisticated instruments which can sample and play back any sound from a voice to a orchestra and use USB SDi card and floppy disk technology to arrange music in conjunction with PCs

A digital piano is a musical instrument duplicating by digital samples ( actual samples of piano and many other sounds) which replicate with amazing accuracy these days the sound and feel of playing an acoustic piano.

Some digital pianos are fixed cabinet piano looks fixed digiital piano and some are portablesdigital piano portable with optional wooden or metal stands

An electric piano ( rhodes piano would be one in these types) has a real action, lighter than a piano or digital piano, some sort of metal tine or string which vibrates though now these sounds have also been sampled into digital pianos and keyboards. Electric pianos are now being replaced by digital pianos and keyboards. Beginners buy keyboards as a first step to learn the piano or more advanced keyboards with multi track recording and advanced sampled tones, are known as synthesizers.



String musical instruments

The violin violinis the musical instrument that supports most of the sound in an orchestra . It is also the smallest instruments out of the string family with the highest pitch. Being cheaper as well as the instrument that plays in more musical setting than the other string instruments, as well as easier to learn the fingering due to the instruments smaller distance between frets, the violin is usually a first choice for a beginner wishing to buy and play a string instrument.

The viola is a slightly larger instrument than the violin and has a deeper pitch in comparison.viola It is also in the "middle register" of the string musical instruments. The viola is most often played in string quartet and orchestra musical settings.

The cello is still a bigger musical instrument in the strings family than the violin and viola. celloIt has a warm, rich beautiful, mellow sound. The cello rests on the floor because it is too big to be held like the violin or viola.

The double bass is the biggest musical instrument in the string section. double bassIt plays a wide assortment of music usually in the musical genres of classical to broadway and jazz.

Woodwind musical instruments

Of all the musical instruments. woodwinds have the advantage in learning that the fingering positions are simpler for the most part. Some more than others.

The Flute has the easiest fingering positions woodwind instrument to play.

To make a sound at first takes a little longer than other woodwind instruments. No longer strictly a "woodwind" instrument, it is made from nickel silver usually with silver plating, or instrument makers create solid silver models that professionals generally buy. It produces very bright and joyful notes. the opening musical notes of the "Afternoon of a faun " by debussy is a flute solo.

The piccolo is the smaller relative of the flute. piccolo

It is basically the same musical instrument but is a lot smaller than the flute and it has a higher pitch than the flute

The clarinet is a single reed musical instrument. clarinetIt plays a wide range of musical styles from classical to jazz. It plays over a wider range of notes than the flute but the fingering is a lot more complex than a flute. Blowing and controlling the reed to make the instrument sound is easier than for a flute at first.

The oboe looks very similar to the clarinet except for the fact that it has a double reed-


more difficult to control than the single reed of the clarinet. The oboe has a haunting exquisitely beautiful sound. the opening musical notes of the musical soundtrack to the film "the mission" are an oboe solo

The bassoon is a double reed musical instrument like the oboe. Because of its size, it plays very low notes and helps the cello and double bass create the lower notes in an orchestra.


Percussion musical instruments

The cymbals provide a crashing sound heightening the drama in the music. This done is by hitting them together.

The snare drum is the musical instrument used mostly for rolls in a classical music or for adding accents together with other drums in popular music styles

Timpani's are also used by musicians to play rolls. They can also be tuned to a certain note to produce a deeper sound.

The bass drum is mainly used to keep the steady beat in music as well as to add to the bass sound of the musical group

Musical instruments plucked strummed picked - guitars

Telecastertelecaster guitar

Double cutawaydouble cutaway guitar

The saxophonesaxophones

is a single reed musical instrument but slightly easier to play at first than the clarinet. It has a wide range of sounds depending on how played. Strong and extroverted. Mellow and almost sweet in the hands of a good musician. It has some wonderful classical musical compositions created for it as well as is best known for it being the most popular instrument in jazz.

Alto range saxophones

are the most popular buy of the saxophone music instruments .


Tenor saxophones sound lower and have an easier kind of embouchure ( lip pressure and position to handle but are more pricey than altos.

Baritones even lower

Soprano saxophones sound the highest


The bassoon is a double reed musical instrument like the oboe. Because of its size, it plays very low notes and helps the cello and double bass create the lower notes in an orchestra.


Brass musical instruments

The French Horn depends to some extent on how well the sound is controlled by a musician changing hand positions inside the the bell of the instrument.

Naturally this makes it one of the most difficult musical instruments to play, as like the violin where the actual note position on the fret have to be memorized , the positions of the hand inside the bell also have to be memorized.

The trumpet player is the musician amongst brass instrument players who plays the high brassy notes. An optional mute can make the trumpet sound completely different. Many great jazz players like Louis armstrong have been trumpet players.

The tuba is the lowest sounding musical instrument in the brass section. The tuba is the backbone of the musical marching band most often the musician playing notes on strong beats and enabling others to hear and keep in time with the beat.

The trombone because of its slide which is used in conjunction with lip positions has a huge range of musical notes it can play . The trombone is played in orchestras as well as big band groups


Acoustic or steel string guitars come from the tradition worldwide of folk music. These are steel stringed musical instruments and best to use a plectrum to play when starting as it takes time for the fingers to harden and adjust to longer periods of playing this music instrument. These instruments often have bigger bodies ( jumbo size) to achieve a louder sound than classic guitars

Electric guitars ( solid body guitars) all of which come in many "styles" with distinctive shapes including:

Les Paul les paul style

Strat ( stratocaster) strat style


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