When you think of wind instruments, the first thing that comes to mind is the flute, which usually means the recorder. The recorder with which musical life often begins at a young age, whether you like it or not. Thus, many are spoiled for the bright, sometimes very penetrating tones of the recorder and thus also the instrument.
Even if the soprano recorder has established itself as the standard wind instrument for musical education, many other flutes are also suitable for entering the world of wind instruments.
Recorders or, more precisely, single wind chamber flutes
Recorders are characterized above all by the fact that they are easy to blow. The mouthpiece is shaped in such a way that you just have to blow it into the mouthpiece to produce a sound.
Recorders are also called core gap flutes. The core or block forms the gap of the wind tunnel to direct the air to the labium, where the air flow breaks and a sound is created. Hence the name nuclear slit flute.
Now not only the standard recorders are core-gap recorders but also many other more or less well-known recorders.
A simple reed recorder with 6 finger holes is common in many cultures on several continents. Whether Indonesia, India, Africa or South America, there is always a kind of recorder that corresponds to the 6-hole pattern. These flutes only have 6 finger holes and no thumb hole (the well-known school recorder has 7 finger holes and one thumb hole).
With the 6 holes all notes of an octave can be played. If you then blow the flute a little harder, it overblows and the higher notes of the second octave sound. Thus, these flutes can usually be played over two octaves.
In contrast to the standard recorder, which can also play the intermediate tones or semitones, this is only possible to a limited extent with the 6-hole recorder. You can grasp some semitones well, so that you can play both major and minor scales with a flute and also two or three different keys. For other keys, additional flutes are needed that are tuned to a different keynote. Therefore these flutes are available in many different tunings.
Even if the 6-hole flutes have been handed down for a long time, one variant made it into a celebrity at the beginning of modern times: the Irish tin whistle. With the beginning of industrialization, the popular small flutes made of sheet metal could be mass-produced and cheaply produced. So anyone could actually afford such a flute for a penny, hence the name “Pennywhistle”, which is why it was very popular. The tin whistle is known with its high notes from traditional Irish music, in lower variants also as low whistle.
In addition to the standard recorders and the 6-hole recorders, there are also many variants of a recorder, regardless of whether they differ in terms of material, e.g. with the bone flute or clay flute, by the tuning, as with the Indian flute or by the number of finger holes as with the one-handed flute or the overtone flute.
The bone flute has become known as the oldest musical instrument known to man through a find in southern Germany. This Stone Age bone flute was not a recorder yet. With the time of the Vikings and especially in the Middle Ages, there were many bone flutes that were worked like a recorder. Bone flutes are also made in this style in our workshop. If you would like to find out more about the bone flutes, visit our website www.knochenfloeten.de
The native Indian flute is the traditional flute of the North American Indians, hence also called the native Indian flute. The tradition of this flute is based on a legend that a great spotted woodpecker showed an Indian how to build a flute from a branch. Even today, the carved bird on these flutes pays homage to the great spotted woodpecker.
But this little bird is not only an ornament but also has a function for sound generation. It is roughly a stake placed on the outside. But not only this construction is extraordinary, the tuning of the tone sequence is traditionally not an octave but a pentatonic tone sequence. In the pentatonic, five (Greek penta = five) tones are selected from the octave, so that there are no semitone steps between the tones. There are of course semitones in the scale between the tones e and f and the tones h and c, as well as intermediate tones such as an f sharp or a b. You are now looking for 5 tones from an octave that do not result in semitones (with c major that would be eg c, d, f, g and a) this creates a very harmonious sound image, there are no dissonances between the tones. That is why you can freely improvise in the pentatonic and there is always a harmonic melody. These improvised, freely harmonious swinging melodies with the soft, mostly deep sound characterize the sound of the Indian flute.
It becomes particularly exciting when the flute is built as a double flute. Two flutes are tied together so that they can be blown at the same time. One flute is completely normal with finger holes, the second flute has no finger holes and always sounds the same tone, a so-called drone tone. This underlines the melody accordingly.
A recorder that differs in both material and shape is the clay flute, also known as the ocarina. As the name clay flute suggests, the ocarina is made of clay. Such clay flutes have been handed down from ancient times. But only about 100 years ago the clay flute got a new impetus and an Italian potter shaped such a flute in a new shape that looks a bit like a duck. This is how the name "Ocarina" (ital. Oca = duck) came about. The special thing about the Ocarina is that it is not an open tube, like other recorders, but rather a spherical vessel. That is why they are also called vessel flutes. Even if the mouthpiece is the same as that of a recorder, the shape of the vessel creates a different vibration and the sound is softer, not as shrill and deeper than one would assume based on the size of the flute.
There are many variations of the ocarina in terms of shape, number of finger holes and playing styles. We have been making clay flutes from white clay for over 40 years. They have 4 finger holes and two thumb holes and play an octave with all semitones. This creates very small flutes with a brighter sound and also large ones with a deep sound.
A special variant of the recorder is the overtone flute. It is built like a recorder, but has no finger holes. However, you can play many different notes on this flute. The overtone flute is usually quite long, which makes it easy to overblow. If you blow very gently into the flute, you get a deep note. If you blow a little harder into the flute, the lower tone blows over and a higher tone, an overtone to the fundamental, is created. This can be continued by increasing the blowing pressure. You can also vary the tones by closing the air column at the lower end with a finger. The result is a bumped flute, basically a vessel flute, and the tone changes. With varying air pressure and a finger on the end of the flute, so many tones can be created on the flute, as well as sound effects such as trills and flageolets.
The one-handed flute or called tabor pipe is an intermediate step to the normal recorder. It has 3 holes, two for the index and middle fingers and one for the thumb. Ring and little fingers are used to hold the flute. With the three holes and different overblown tones, you can play an octave on the flute with one hand, so that you have the second free to play a drum.
The recorder is often first associated with the flute, but in the orchestra the flute always means the flute. While the recorder was still very popular in the early baroque period, the flute soon established itself as "the flute". At that time it wasn't the modern silver flutes with many keys but simple wooden flutes without keys.
The oldest tradition of the flute is from China. Since the origin of many musical instruments lies in early cultures in Mesopotamia, one can guess that the variant of holding a flute across and blowing it through a hole on the side was more developed in the eastern countries.
In principle, a flute is built quite simply. A hollow tube, e.g. a piece of bamboo, closed at one end. A hole is drilled into the side of the tube a little next to the stopper, and a flute is finished. A recorder is more complex but easier to blow, a flute is simple but more difficult to play. You have to blow the air flow over the blow hole so that the air flow hits the opposite edge of the hole and breaks there. This creates the typical flute sound, which is softer and richer in overtones than that of the recorder.
Older traditional flutes follow the 6-hole fingering. They come in many sizes and pitches.
The Chinese trasverse flute Dizi is characterized by a special timbre. Here another hole is drilled between the blow hole and the finger holes, which is masked with thin rice paper. When playing, the thin membrane of the rice paper starts to vibrate and gives the flute its very own timbre.
The kerbflutes or notch flutes are an intermediate form between the recorder and the transverse flute. They are held vertically like a recorder, but only have one notch on the upper edge, which is blown on like the flute. The player has to blow the airflow onto the notch, so that the airflow breaks at the edge of the notch and so the sound is created.
There are notch flutes in many cultures, the South American Quena and the Asian Xiao or Shakuhachi are known.
The blowing technique also makes the sound softer than with a recorder and richer in overtones. Especially with the Shakuhachi, which has a very wide blowing edge, the tone is very soft and can be modulated widely.
Wind instruments that are very different from flutes are the reed instruments. As the name suggests, they are blown over a reed, the reed can be a single reed with one lamella or a double reed with two lamellas.
The simple reed is the principle of the clarinet or saxophone. A simple wooden slat is made to vibrate with air pressure and lip pressure. This creates a relatively deep, typical sound.
In addition to the more modern instruments such as the clarinet or saxophone, there is also the older version of the Chalumeau. The chalumeau is about the size of a recorder, has seven finger holes and one thumb hole and is therefore fingered in exactly the same way. However, the timbre is an octave lower due to the different type of tone generation. A soprano Chalumeau sounds an octave lower than a soprano recorder. And there is another special feature. The chalumeau does not overblow in the octave like the recorder. If you can grasp and play the second octave more or less in the same way as the lower octave on the recorder, this is not possible with the Chalumeau. The Chalumeau blows over in the duodecime, i.e. one and a half octaves. A low C is overblown correspondingly a high g. Since you can only get to the high d with the finger holes, the scale is broken accordingly, the next playable note is then the high g as an overblast tone.
This restriction to a ninth, low c to high d can be compensated for in different ways. You can install a flap mechanism or you can add an eighth finger hole for the second little finger. With these additional holes, for little fingers or keys, the intermediate tones can be played and the range of sounds is expanded accordingly. However, the instruments then lose the charm of simplicity that they can be grasped like a standard recorder and you only have to get used to the blowing technique.
The double reed consists of two wooden lamellas, which are usually tied together on a metal tube. If you take the reed between your lips you can produce a squeaking sound similar to blowing on a blade of grass.
Depending on the design of a shawm, it needs more or less blowing pressure and is accordingly more difficult or easier to play. The playability depends very much on the design of the reed. With the simpler traditional shawms such as the zurna or the shenai, a simple reed leaf is used, which requires appropriate experience to make it playable. More modern shawms have well-engineered reeds made of thin material that are easier to work with. But there are still differences here, too. Reeds made of plastic are also very modern. As a rule, these respond more easily and are easier to care for because they do not swell or tear.
As many different shawms there are, there are so many different reeds. And there the instruments are very stubborn, so that ultimately every instrument wants the right reed so that it plays well. Thus, reed making is an art in itself.
When it comes to bagpipes, the Scottish bagpipes, the Great Highland pipe, are usually associated first as "the" bagpipes. And then you also know the martial "medieval bagpipes" presented at medieval events. From the outside, these do not have much in common with historical models, but are consistently more of a modern appearance. Nevertheless, these two types of bagpipes, the Scottish Great Highland pipe and the Middle Ages, shape the image of the bagpipes today.
But there are many more different bagpipes. Almost every European country and its regions have their own type of bagpipes.
Above all, one can distinguish between two directions, the Eastern European bagpipes and the Western European. The Eastern Europeans found their way from the Orient via the Black Sea region, Turkey, Greece to the Balkans and further north, the Czech Republic, Bohemia, Poland, the Baltic States to Scandinavia. The Western European bagpipes came through the Moors via North Africa to Spain and moved further north, France, Belgium, Holland and finally to Ireland and Scotland.
The Eastern European and Western European bagpipes differ quite significantly in the construction of the chanter. In the east, a reed with a reed is used in the chanter, in the west a double reed. This affects the sound of the instruments accordingly. The simple whip tongue has a softer, slightly more nasal sound, the double reed can produce very loud penetrating tones. But depending on the design, quiet bagpipes like the Hümmelchen can also be created.
I would like to mention the Spanish gaita, a bagpipe from the north of Spain, mainly in Galicia. Since the gaita is still a widespread and popular folk instrument in Galicia, it is also made in large numbers there. The gaita is a relatively loud bagpipe in a higher pitch, usually in c. The traditions here also go with the modern times and so the technology of the Gaitas is very progressive in terms of reeds and materials, so that good, easy-to-play instruments are created here at affordable prices.
And if practicing on the bagpipe is sometimes too loud for you, or is still afraid to buy it, you can also practice on the chanter. The Practice Chanter is a chanter just for practice. In principle, it is built like the bagpipe chanter, but is blown with the mouth and the sound is kept low. So you can first practice finger technique, or even a new melody, without playing the whole sack and without bothering the neighbors and those listening too much.