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Sheng

The Sheng ( 笙 pronounced "sung" and also called "Chinese mouth organ" in western culture)  is one of the oldest Chinese instruments whose manufacture and use were documented in ancient history. It first appears in 551 BC during the Zhou Dynasty (1111 to 222 BC) but there are records of similar ones back to 3000 years ago

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The Sheng

The instrument is a mouth blown free reed instrument. In fact, the Sheng is the first musical instrument in the world utilizing a "coupled acoustical system," between an air column and a free reed.The traditional Sheng is made up of 13 or 14 pieces of vertical pipes of different lenghts mounted together on to a base, but the number of reeds of the modern Sheng varies from 21 to 32 being 17 rather popular. As the Sheng can produce chords as well as single notes, it is used as both a solo and accompanying instrument. Its pleasingThe base is traditionally a gourd-shaped, wooden wind-chest. Each bamboo pipe has a free reed made of brass. Music is produced by blowing and sucking the air through a metal tube connected to the base the air then rushes through the other pipes.

 sheng pipe

Above: detail of Sheng pipe 

A player determines the notes to play by allowing the air to rush through selected pipes while pressing on selected keys near the base. By covering two or more holes on various pipes, chords are possible, being a typical technique used in most regional orchestras of China.

 

Example of live solo in concert. he SHENG is used as both a solo and accompaniment instrument.

    

How to play and fingering charts

Traditional ones often has 17 pipes tuned like this:

a′ b′ c″ c♯″ d″ e″ (2 pipes), f♯″ g″ a″ b″ c♯″′ d″′ or
A4, B4, C5, C♯5, D5, E5 (2 pipes), F♯5, G5, A5, B5, C♯6, D6

Chromatic keyed ones appeared half XX century.

Fingering charts for Sheng

(charts from Melody of China website)

 

Some links you may find interesting

Sometimes you can find inexpensive shengs in ebay, but I wonder if they are playable... I'll update this article once I found this and other stores you could find one. It's a pretty popular item in chinese instrument trading :)

sheng ebay

Above: example of inexpensive sheng found in ebay


 

Jonathan Wilson playing his bowed guitar

Above: Johathan Wilson playing his "Guitar Viol" or bowed guitar that you can purchase at Togaman Guitars

Above: Impromptu on Guitar Viol  and improvisation by the maker himself. You can see more videos in his  official channel youtube channel

A bit  of history about the bowed guitar

Jimmy Page. Sigur Ros. Julio Revueltas. These are just a few contemporary examples of modern electric guitar players who are noted for weilding a bow to the guitar. The fact is, however, that "guitar bowing" has been going on for centuries. Bowed guitars have their predecessors in the early instrument called "Viol" also known as Viola de Gamba,  however, by the 1700's, these heavenly sounding bowed string instruments all but died off due to the modern violin family's greater volume and ability to fill a concert hall with sound.

viols 

There was a six string instrument with frets and tuning  like the guitar but bowed like a cello called the Arpeggione  invented in 1823 by the Viennese guitar maker Johan Georg Staufer. Franz Schubert wrote a fine sonata for it. Today, Schubert's "Arpeggione Sonata" is commonly played on the Cello

 arpeggione 

Above: Arpeggione

As we know guitars  the bridge of the guitar is flat  and traditionally flat string plane will not allow for effective bowing. I know this.. and if you're thinking about tuning your guitar and add a viola bridge... warning! unless you're an instrument maker with expertise all you will get is your strings burst with the tension and probably bend the neck and spoil your instrument...! Though it's always fun to experiment with a violin bow on a guitar, on one of the strings at the edge, and a few experimental sounds this way, the possibilities are really limited. But then   there are the "guitar viols" that will solve this problem.

 

The Guitar Viol
 bowed guitar 

Above: Toga Man Bowed guitar detail  with curved bridge


And here is when Jonathan Wilson  came up with the dream  of  having a truly bow-able guitar  and he ended up designing his own guitar-formatted bowed string instrument that has captivated the imagination of sonic artists, composers and guitar players around the world and been included even in some movie scores  in popular films (300, Clash of the Titans, Day the Earth stood still, True Blood (HBO), CSI Miami (CBS) to name a few).

It has two series of instruments, the electroaccoustic (costing about 5000 dollars) and the accoustic. The second models are closer to a classical instrument (rather similar to the viola da Gamba) and rather much more pricy (around 7500-9000 dollars) but also with the quality sound of a good Viola (and now ask the prices of good classical instruments and you'll even consider it's cheap!)

Jonathan is a micro builder, that creates one of a kind pieces in his studio. Thus if you're thinking to order one consider there´s a time wait of four months up. For sure it will worth. I wish I could afford one at least.. I'd be happily waiting for it! :)

But though it's a bit out of my reach you may consider and find it interesting and you can read more about them at Togaman guitars

Also you can network with the Jonathan self or like her facebook group and connect with other players.

And here you can play some examples

You may need: Adobe Flash Player.

You may need: Adobe Flash Player.

koshi chimes logo

Kabir is a crafter that have been developing the art of Shanti chimes for over two decades.

I have a previous model also crafted by Kabir that were known as "shanti" chimes that are now currently out of stock but were really popular. They were already lovely and heavenly sound. I have in particular the model "echoes of silence" and it delivers a moody eerie haunting combination of notes that I have featured in a few of my new songs.

 shanti chime

Above: me with previous Kabir chimes with the  model "shanti" chimes! 

But now  a new generation called Koshi Chimes have arrived

  koshi chimes       koshi chimes  

But now the chimes have been renamed as Koshi chimes and  have renewed their look being considerably longer than their predecesors , with the clean finish of the bamboo they look more refined and elegant, and the combination of notes have been divided into the four elements Earth, Water, Air and Fire. Below you can listen to some samples, and also see how the sounds mingle together to render an even more outstanding result. I am super happy with my Shanti Chime (a light and portable companion for the stage), but already craving for these.  He does assure they sound better, and I only have the previous ones to compare with so I can tell you better has to mean "awesome". Nothing you need to learn to play them, all you have to do move the chime gently holding it by its cord: the crystalline, relaxing sound may leave you in quiet wonder. Outside, as it plays with the wind it will carry you away on an unexpected melody. I've featured mine in a song called "the wind song" and can´t be more fitting, and soothing.

Koshi chimes come in four tunings (click to her MP3 Samples)

Terra
Aqua
Aria
Ignis

The 4 Elements together

And you can purchase them here in KOSHi.FR. You can read their site in English and French

 

For healing, for meditating, for relaxing, for composing, for chanting... I can´t recommend them enough! If oil protected they can be used also as outdoors wind chimes but  I suggest you actively play them, it will render some lovely haunting melodies on their own! Hand made at the foot of the Pyrenees mountains, each chime is the result of meticulous craftsmanship.

Sure we´ve all seen a "Glass harp" which is set up with  glasses and cups of wine filled with water so they pitch to different notes and they can be player with your wet fingers. This has been done since the Renaissance times. Have you ever tried it? Probably in a wedding you've seen people doing it for fun! and It does really sound heavently! We´ll make an article about setting up a glass harp in your home with glasses of wine soon, but now we´re about to talk about a haunted (and somehow cursed instrument) called the "Glass arrmonica"

glass armonica

The glass harmonica is an instrument invented by Benjamin Franklin in the XVIII century who  using the same principle invented this haunting instrument that consists of a set of glass vases  conveniently arranged like a keyboard. Initially Franklin named it the 'glassychord', but soon settled on  "armonica" due to the armonious angelic sound of the instrument which became an instant hit. Mozart and Bethoven both composed pieces for this odd instrument that was inded played by some historical characters like George Washington and Marie Antoinette.

You can read a bit of the story of this instrument in the wikipedia entry

Here you can read a pdf with the story of the glass harmonica and also its "cursed" story that made it almost disappear from the concert Halls due to the rumors that said its ghostly tones could cause  damage in the nerves of the player. Finally banished the bad reputation and idea that the sound of bowed glass can be unhealthy stays alive as an urban legend even nowadays. In fact there are around a dozen of professional players of the instrument in the world.

There´s been a modern revival of this instrument.Among the contemporary players we have to highlight Thomas Bloch one of the most skilled among the few performers left in the world of this wonderful instrument.

Glass armonica
low notes on left and high notes on right like in a piano

The only place i've found where you can purchase a glass harmonica is Finkenbeiner

glass armonica manufacture

Above: Glass harmonica manufacture at Finkenbeiner´s

Read more about glass armonica story at their site

Here you can see a bit of the story and the instrument in action in a little documentary aired in "The History Channel"

I have myself two bamboo flutes from this maker, they´re really not very expensive and are really rich in tone. I've tried some cheap bansuris in local music stores and they were like crazy out of tune or were way too much hard to blow. I have a G concert pitch (doesn't mean that the others are not in tune but he sells a model concert-pitch if you need to make sure it's 440 and perfectly balanced) and I have also a minor flute (from the exotic scales he also makes). I've successfully recorded both, and they were my first transverse flutes, and first training to learn to blow the flute (coming from a whistle/recorder playing) they were really very good training, but still i'm really hapy with the sound they have themselves.

Erik the flutemaker site

bamboo flutes and saxes (xaphoon)

also bamboo pennywhistles made of bamboo

He also makes some exotic scales, like minor or oriental... that gives to your easy playing a total different "air"

You will see that our flutes and Bamboo Saxes are finished in different styles: Natural, Starry Night and Dark and Carved.

 erik flutemaker 

Above: some of the products you'll find in Erik´s store

 

By the way in this exclusive photoshoot  taken by Sebastià Pagarolas and wearing a moth dress designed by El Costurero Real  for FAE MAGAZINE autumn 2010 issue I'm playing a bansuri  bamboo flute by Erik The Flutemaker.

fae magazine costurero real ad

He also makes double flutes using two whistles (I have like a bit of obsession about double flutes). By the way I shamelessly confess I copy this technique with two whistles myself.. and it worked... though it took me a lot of work!! :) by the way it's the flute that my friend in the picture is holding.

I leave you with his tutorial  cos it gives tons of ideas about how this "double whistle work"

The Array Mbira is a glorious hand-crafted custom made modern musical instrument with a harp or bell-like sound. It is made in  USA by their inventors Bill Wesley and manufactured by Wesley with Patrick Hadley in San Diego, California, United States. It is based upon the African mbira or thumb piano (also called kalimba or  which is native to Zimbabwe but the array mbira is bigger in size and meant to play with all the fingers of your both hands like a "piano". It reminds me very much to the sound of a music box.

Array mbira

You can read the wikipedia article about the array mbira  to get an idea about how the notes are arranged

Bill Wesley, musicologist, performer and author, invented  and developed the array system, following a logical tone configuration based on the circle of fifths.The Array system of organizing the notes is similar to the system for arranging the buttons of the stradella bass system on an accordion. Here you can download in PDF the array of notes. Octaves are in the same column, and it has a top guide to tell you the notes too, so seems quite gentle for the newcomer.And in the official site they encourage it as very easy to get started with. On their words no other instrument may be learned so easily initially or be subsequently pursued to such an advanced level of performance.

Most of array Mbiras are made to order though you can find some already to ship instrument with a "buy now" buttom. If not available it takes 3 to 4 months for completion. There are models from 3 to 5 octaves.If you want something to custom they're also welcome you to contact them for so. To purchase one visit the Official site here at The Array Mbira

 

Here you can see "Carol of the Bells" performed by an Array Mbira. Sweet! Don´t you want one? I DO!

Here you can see some offficial uploads into youtube they have as tutorials in their site. they also have some small videos and a DVD to learn to play the Mbira on sale.

 

As I always say, there´s nothing like the real instrument but on the waiting or while you can´t afford it, there´s a company that has sampled a 5 octave Array Mbira VST (Virtual Instrument) at Soniccouture for  69 Eur. It won't sound the same or look the same on stage but might kill the craving for the instrument till you become able to grab one ! :)

 soniccouture array mbira vst  

Above:Soniccouture Array Mbira VST

Yes, you've listened to it... but  most of you don't know how it's called, or how it looks.

waterphone

strange isn't it?

I used to be a soundtrack  collector and the waterphone eerie spooky haunted moan has always been used in  horror and mysterious  movie scores... I can recall right now for example "Poltergeist" by Jerry Goldsmith (+). Goldsmith used to include it a lot in moments of suspense and tension.

The Waterphone was invented and is patented by Richard Waters (pat.#3896696). Each instrument is unique and made to order. Richard personally makes, tunes, signs and dates each Waterphone. The sound of the Waterphone has been compared to the haunting melodies of the Humpback Whale and voices from inner/outer space. Waterphones have been described as acoustic synthesizers, Waterharps, a musical “Aladdin's Lamp”, and “Whalephones”. Waterphones are in fact stainless steel and bronze monolithic, one-of-a-kind, acoustic, tonal-friction instruments that utilize water in the interior of their resonators to bend tones and create water echos. In the world family of musical instruments, the Waterphone is between a Tibetian Water Drum, an African Kalimba (thumb piano) and a 16th century Peg or Nail Violin.He custom makes each one using a hot metal process developed over the past 40 years. The tonal rods are tuned to a combination of micro-tonal and diatonic relationships presented in two distinct but intergrated scales having both even and uneven increments.. Read the "history of the waterphone" from its inventor.

Video demonstratoin of the MEGABASS WATERPHONE. I fell in love with the possibilities of sounds it can create with the bow, with mallets or simply rubbing the base of the instrument... It's haunting.

 
 

One beautiful way to see all the possibilities this instrument can create is to purchase a CD from Richard´s site (which by the way also list other rare instrumnents he crafts). I have

So I want badly a Waterphone, Richard has a waiting list, my recommendation is IF YOU HAVE THE MONEY, don't trick yourself, go for the REAL THING, there´s nothing like a REAL WATERPHONE, and Richard´s the owner of the patent of the instrument, the other are "imitations". Still the standard waterphone production is discontinued and the basic waterphone now on sale is the megabass that costs around 1500 dollars plus shipping. And he has also two more advanced and expensive models. Does it worth? I tell you if I had the money I wouldn't consider to get anything but an original, after all Richard is the inventor of the instrument and he won't  make them forever so they will have in the future an artistic and historical value... but well if you can't wait, let´s´face the fact also that for a real waterphone you'll have to wait quite a while, as each one is handcrafted. Still be in tune for some sales he may have of already to ship or second hands (make sure you're not tricked!!)

 

So I want badly a Waterphone, Richard usually has a waiting list, and my recommendation is IF YOU HAVE THE MONEY, don't trick yourself, go for the REAL THING, there´s nothing like a REAL WATERPHONE, and Richard´s the owner of the patent of the instrument, the other are "imitations". Still the old Standard waterphone production has been discontinued and the new advanced waterphone now on sale is the Megabass that costs around 1500 dollars plus shipping. And he has also two more smaller and less expensive models. Is it worth it? I tell you if I had the money I wouldn't consider to get anything but an original, after all Richard is the inventor of the instrument and he won't  make them forever so they will have in the future an artistic and historical value... but well if you can't wait, let´s´face the fact also that for a real waterphone you may have to wait a while, as each one is handcrafted by Richard.  But check him out as he may have one ready to ship or a second hand (make sure you're not tricked!!) as the imitations do not sound nearly as good

There are similar things to the waterphone, one was the Ocean Harp that sells in Lark in the Morning  but it´s currently sold out and I ignore when it will be back in stock. Still it was an "inspired by the waterphone" not real waterphone in Ebay you can also find a company that sells two models of an instrument similar to the  waterphone  called the Aquasonic Standard and Aquasonic supermondo. They're not cheap, but around half of the price of the waterphone. I don't know what to say. Though I'd love to have one of this, I feel it would be like a lovely item while you "wait" for one of Richard´s or if you use it to travel a lot for stage use. Still you can find them here in Ebay.

aquasonic supermondo

Above: Aquasonic Standard, and Aquasonic supermondo.

 

It this isn´t an option for you and you happen to be a synthetizer there is one last option which is to purchase the VIRTUAL INSTRUMENT samples. Tonehammer have made this for just 69$ (we´ll be covering VSTs individual entries soon) in a collection called WATER HARP VST. with 2,903 samples and 59 different articulations, divided into two main categories and also the instrument recorded in different ambiences. Of course this is not as cool on stage...!! and waterphones are indeed  strange pieces of art, but might do for you, and I think it's the most valuable and cheapest option. Maybe go for this rather than purchasing a fake non tuned waterphone as there are a lot of replicas that are no good.

tonehammer waterharp

Richard Waters also recently added a SAMPLER option for Kontakt too in his site  called "Uncharted Waters" for only 15$ which by the way helps Richard to keep his site.

 

But I tell you one thing... one day. I'll have a REAL waterphone!....

I was introduced myself to the sweet sound of ocarinas by my friend Charlie Hind from Hind Ocarinas... He makes ocarinas in wood and  since I've developed a love for its sweet mellow sound...  Maybe you might be familiar with this instrument  with origins in Africa more than 30000 years ago due to the videogame "Legend of Zelda" that made it more popular and demanded.

Today we´re covering another crafter of this wind instrument Song bird Ocarina that makes them in ceramic.

Since 1989, Darryn Songbird has been refining the craft, to create pieces that are visually pleasing, feel good in the hands, rewarding to play, and most importantly, sound exquisite.  He has evolved his mouthpiece to convey a wide range of blowing styles, providing a rich tone throughout, from a soft whispery breath to vigorous firey breath.  The tuning is precise, and provides for a fully chromatic 12 tone scale.

One of the good things of the company is the affordability of the instruments... also aside of the standard models they have made some models a bit more fantasy oriented

Dragon tooth ocarina

Above: One of the most popular and pretty designs "Dragon Tooth Ocarina"  alto 12 hole ocarina with a range  C to F

 

One of the highlights of Songbird ocarina are the lovely  ceramic sculpted "Muse" Ocarinas... these ones stand out  isn't "she" pretty? In the website you can watch it in ·3D so you can see the sculpture made by artist. The ocarinas have 10 hole (one entire octave+ 4 notes)

muse ocarina

You can see how it looks and how it sounds here

 

 

The website includes also some song books, and some lovely bags and pouches to carry the ocarinas.  They're really cute looking specially this pointy ones

 ocarina pouch 

They have also an inexpensive collection of pendant ocarinas, my favourite is this one, because of its "tribal" look. I really like the simplicity of this one shaped like a bone.

 eagle bone ocarina 

Above: Eagle bone ocarina

For lovers of "Legend of Zelda" they keep a sister site more focused in the love of this videogame called Zelda Ocarina where you can read more about their ocarina crafting.

You can also connect in Songbird Ocarina at FACEBOOK and TWITTER for latest updates on this company.

The kantele is the Finnish version of an instrument known throughout the world as either a zither or lap harp.

The Finnish kantele is basically a triangular shaped sound box with strings running across the top of the instrument. When the strings - usually tuned to a diatonic scale - are plucked, a kantele will produce ringing bell-like tones. It is similar to a harp in some ways, but because of the way in which it is built and the way in which the strings are attached, a compelling and unique sound is produced as it is played.

Kanteles are often divided into two categories: small ones and big ones. Small ones rarely have more than two octaves. The big ones usually have at least 32 strings and three to four octaves. Kanteles, especially the smaller 5 and 10 string instruments, are relatively easy instruments to learn to play. The larger kanteles of up to 36 strings require more effort to learn to play, but allow the player to perform more complex pieces of music.

Baritones are larger mountain or appalachian dulcimers with 29 1/2" scales, typically tuned AEA' or GDG' below a standard dulcimer, with a correspondingly bigger, deeper sound - really majestic on slow tunes, and ballsy like an Irish octave mandolin on flat-picked reels and jigs. A true baritone is not just a standard dulcimer with heavy strings - you really need the longer string length, bigger body, and altered bracing and bridge to optimize the sound. They come in 3, 4, 6, and 8 string varieties, with average dimensions about 2" longer than a standard dulcimer. With a 1 1/2 fret they also have a larger variety of chords for backup work than a typical DAD' instrument. An interesting equidistant 4 or 8 string option is ADAD and variations tuning (from low to high) that gives you more range, mirroring an octave mandolin - a baritone and standard combined in one instrument, with the ability to remove one outside course or the other, if you wish to play only 3 at a time. I can also build DAD' instruments with this scale length for a fuller sound and more sustain.


Above: Baritone Dulcimer by our endorser Ron Ewing dulcimers. As you can appreciate, it has some extra frets that are not commonly found in standard mountain dulcimers, Ron installed the half and one and a half fret and this has brought a wealth of new possibilities making it more chromatic.

I'm the happy owner of one Baritone dulcimer myself. Videos and audio samples coming soon, though now I leave you with a video from a more accomplished player than I am or will be for a while.

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