Do Instruments Change With Use?

Discussion in 'The Rehearsal Room' started by 2nd tenor, Jan 12, 2019.

  1. 2nd tenor

    2nd tenor Well-Known Member

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    I’m just wondering what other people’s experience has been of the changes in an instrument over time - days, weeks, months. It’s probably not a straight forward link but rather multifactorial but I’ve noticed that instruments that haven’t been played for a while sound dead and that it takes some weeks, months even, for them to produce their best. Whilst I would accept that playing them pushes out the cobwebs and lines them with some helpful moisture I think that there’s more to it than that and it isn’t a (more than partial) function of player skill changes either.

    Of course it’s daft to say that the instrument is somehow energised and develops a memory ‘cause I expect the the typical Physicist would comment rather negatively on that idea. However ideas in Physics have changed markedly over the years in that some of what was once ‘Gospel’ is now regarded as inaccurate, mistaken or incomplete. Just my experience of playing suggests to me instruments do learn from the player and do become energised in some way because, over time, I’ve found that they play better - but as above I accept that the change is likely to be multifaceted.

    What have others found and what do others think, please?
     
    Last edited: Jan 12, 2019
  2. Mesmerist

    Mesmerist Well-Known Member

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    At the risk of sounding seriously weird I agree with you. My flugel was out of action for over 6 years and has taken months to get back to it's best form. It's temperamental and quirky. If I'm feeling pressured or nervous it starts valve sticking. If I'm happy it behaves beautifully, if I'm upset, it becomes unresponsive and awkward. On Christmas Eve my best friend went into hospital for a heart and lung transplant. I was so upset I couldn't play properly and the flugel sounded "growly", hoarse and way out of tune. It wasn't all me or imagination. It's gone away for a complete overhaul and relacquer and I'm apprehensive of it's return and the change to the sound. It's not just me, others have begged me to sell it to them and although they have the same model (new versions) the new ones are not the same. It's 15, a Conn Vintage one. I have a loan flugel, a Yamaha, easy to play, reliable. always the same but without the character of the other.
     
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  3. Tom-King

    Tom-King Well-Known Member

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    Have to disagree about instruments sitting for a while changing...

    ALL instruments are imperfect - over time, as we practice on them, we get used to them and how to get our best out of them.

    It can take us time to re-acclimatise to their idiosyncrasies, and when things don't go quite right we can end up second guessing ourselves and trying to compensate in ways that wind up not helping - especially so if the instrument isn't great and we're used to something better.
    Things that unsettle us can affect our breathing and breath support, leading to a vicious cycle of poor results followed by more apprehension and then further deterioration in techniques.

    Some players are more conscious of this than others and some can do an awful lot right almost entirely subconsciously.


    Over the very long term instruments can and do change in verifiably real ways - with enough use valves and slides can wear and lose compression which will loosen up slots; brass itself can deteriorate, the zinc is leached out leaving pink spots (red rot) which become porous and spoil the playing characteristics.
     
    Last edited: Jan 12, 2019
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  4. Mesmerist

    Mesmerist Well-Known Member

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    Yes, I take your points about the physical alterations emotions have on the player and the translation through to the instrument but other instruments don't react that way with me, it's just this one. (And it's a lovely one!)
     
  5. Tom-King

    Tom-King Well-Known Member

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    My guess would be that something's not quite right with it - the further "off" an instrument is, the greater the impact would be...

    Then again, it might just be that you have some particular hangups with this one already and it'll take longer to relax and learn to trust it again?
     
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  6. Mesmerist

    Mesmerist Well-Known Member

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    Maybe Tom! It went away on Monday so I've obviously got concerns about it. They did phone and say it was in very good condition though so maybe it's just me. Anyway the exciting thing is choosing the new look. They can do anything! Glitter pink through to marble effects and two tones...
     
  7. 2nd tenor

    2nd tenor Well-Known Member

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    Well Tom you won’t be surprised to hear that I disagree with some of your comments but your experience is your experience and I don’t expect it to perfectly match mine, but I’d have thought that on some topics that there would still be a few areas of commonality - and on some other topics I’m sure that there is some commonality.

    The issues are certainly multifaceted and, as such, it’s hard if not impossible to say what’s responsible for what. What I can say is that in my experience instruments that are regularly played do sound better for being played and that instruments that are left idle take time to give of their best. Cranky? Yes. Illogical? Yes, but only by currently held knowledge. Quantifiable? Not really. Empirical? Yes, and for me that’s the important bottom line - what works is what counts. But, as they say, YMMV.
     
    Last edited: Jan 12, 2019
  8. Tom-King

    Tom-King Well-Known Member

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    Thing is though 2T, we KNOW that people adapt to things and that being in-practice with a particular instrument makes for much better results...
    Heck, same goes for mouthpieces as well as instruments, there's nothing controversial about saying we play better on a mouthpiece we've been using regularly, why would it differ with instruments?


    I guess what I'm saying is... I'm not denying that you're noticing a difference using an instrument you haven't used for a while, what I'm saying is that I'd rather attribute the reasons why to factors we know exist than ones we don't know exist until there's good reason to think otherwise.


    If someone laid out 10 instruments and 5 had been regularly played and 5 hadn't been used for a year or two (but all had been serviced)... How confident are you that you'd pick out the 5 that were in regular use?
     
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  9. 2nd tenor

    2nd tenor Well-Known Member

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    Fair point Tom, but that’s why I said that I thought that the issue was multifaceted. I’m inclined to think that a big percentage of any change in performance is down to the player getting used / reused to the instrument and how you feel in yourself might effect how you play - so synergy’s important. However I’m also inclined to think that there is more to it than that, that there are other subtle changes too.

    My experience relates to dissimilar models of instruments (of Trombones and Tubas) so that’s all I can report on. I’d be very interested to try the ten identical instrument challenge, though whether I’m a good judge or not is another but relevant matter. There is also the assumption that ten instruments of the same make and model will be effectively identical, I doubt that that assumption is valid for all manufacturers and certainly hear of people playing every example (of an instrument) in the shop to get the best one .....

    There is yet another factor in the issue, but not one that relates much to me. I’ve notice that stronger players override other factors to make otherwise poor instruments play better (but only for them) than they ‘should’. Overriding ability would diminish or even negate the importance of other issues.
     
    Last edited: Jan 13, 2019
  10. MoominDave

    MoominDave Well-Known Member

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    You won't be surprised that what I've got to say is: listen to Tom, he's got this covered.

    What can happen to instruments with disuse? Over the medium term they can become dusty if left out... Perhaps provide a loving family home for Mr and Mrs Spider. Particles can form and accumulate, though not to any large extent. Instruments will dry out to match the humidity in the storage area - if it is very dry, deposits that were glued to the inside of the tube by moisture may flake off and become loose inside the tubing. But deposits of size able to cause blowing problems when loose would have likely caused blowing problems when fixed for the same reason. But any of these mechanisms for particles getting into the tubing while out of use are fixed by a flush through with water.

    Over the longer term, metal effects can come into play. Valves are likely the first items to see any changes, with their close tolerances of metal-metal movement. Trombone slides too can suffer - a few years back I bought an old trombone that had been sat for 40 years in an area that saw some humidity. The case had dissolved in that time, and the inner slide surface (which had maybe been put away wet all those years before) had deteriorated - or rather it rapidly deteriorated when I applied Slide-O-Mix to it, turning the liquid black with the decaying silver plating. Over decades, metal materials can degrade to the point where the instrument needs major surgery e.g. the famous 'red rot', dread of vintage Conn trombone enthusiasts.

    Hmm, what else? A dried out instrument might open up a little at a joint, maybe, causing minor leakage? That might be noticeable, although I've never experienced it happening with an instrument that I've put down and then picked up again years later.

    Essentially, though - boringly, sorry - experience tells me that in this situation (as always) by far the greatest variable in the player/instrument system is the player. It takes time to acclimatise to the individual quirks and 'features' of an instrument, and that's what's happening when one picks up an instrument one's let sit for a period, it feels a bit unfamiliar, but then after a week or two it feels familiar again - you're adjusting to it without really realising it.
     
    Last edited: Jan 13, 2019
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  11. 2nd tenor

    2nd tenor Well-Known Member

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    Dave, good to get your comments even though they are exactly what I would have predicted. You're Scientist and Mathematican to your core and, to be honest, that’s no bad thing - the World needs logical people.

    I really would like to believe that some of the changes that I’ve seen and heard are actually down to me, ‘cause it would make me a much better player than I actually am. One thing I think is for sure though is that the output of instruments does change with use even though the mechanisms involved are disputed.

    Playing an instrument does warm it and it does line it with moisture, to my mind those both help it play better. Playing an instrument does remind you, or maybe rather your subconscious, of what to do to get the best out of what you got and maybe there is a learning process in there too. That stuffy fourth valve that wouldn’t speak well for you and then eventually does is a mystery, is it down to a minor and unrecognised change in technique or something else? That instrument that now plays more loudly and at a higher pitches than before, well it’s not all me though certainly the player is a factor.

    The whole area or topic of how players interact with their instruments is interesting to me. A few weeks ago I decided that one’s sound isn’t all generated at one’s mouthpiece but rather elements of it are generated somewhere upstream of that. Is that voice something that’s purely physical or is there more to it than that? The instrument is an amplifier and the mouthpiece some form of vibration coupling, shaping and/or filtering device that can assist or impede your ‘voice’. Having developed some better lip control I’m finding that some smaller mouthpieces constrain the voice that is available upstream of the mouthpiece from going further - it’s less rich and/or cantable - but, of course, if you haven’t yet got that lip control then there are no gains and only losses to be found with a bigger piece. All that aside some folk get excellent results from kit that wouldn’t be considered that good so there must surely be some energy and well as skill in the mix.

    Of course some materials are known to have a ‘memory’, I wonder whether there is some unrecognised carry over of that into musical instruments (Google search: ‘material memory’).
     
    Last edited: Jan 13, 2019
  12. Tom-King

    Tom-King Well-Known Member

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    The instrument isn't an amplifier alone though, 2T...

    You can produce most notes (within the generally used range, above the staff it changes) without actually buzzing the lips - if you blow a midrange note and remove the mouthpiece (whilst still blowing) the vibrations often stop (and vice versa if you then reconnect)... Essentially, the standing wave set up comes back at you and sets the buzz.

    The sound is thus not necessarily just an amplification of the sound of the player but a synergy of player and instrument (including mouthpiece).

    If we take a sensible middle of the range mouthpiece, it's a good compromise of everything...
    - If we go shallower and tighter then we gain endurance and projection (especially up the range) at the cost of requiring greater precision and less tonal flexibility.
    - If we go deeper and more open then we gain tonal flexibility and margin for error at the expense of endurance and projection.
    ALL mouthpieces play better when you play precisely in the center of the slots... But some will forgive you more than others....

    Which brings us back on topic:
    If we didn't know better, we might think that the shallower mouthpieces don't like not being played moreso than big ones.... But it aint so, it's just harder to re-acclimatise without poor results.
     
    Last edited: Jan 13, 2019
  13. Slider1

    Slider1 Active Member

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    Is that for you or the Flugel :):):)
     
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  14. Jack E

    Jack E Well-Known Member

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    Interesting thread, 2nd Tenor - and I'm apparently going to go right off topic, but stick with me and see where it ends up.

    About 50 years ago, I worked in a company which had a shop full of automatic lathes, making various sizes of hinge pins. This was long before the days of computer-controlled machines, and all the various settings were done with hand-wheels - and all of the settings interacted with each other, so getting them right, and allowing for the machines warming up in use, which affected the viscosity of the cutting oil, and a bunch of other things, made them quite finicky to get right. The machine setter was in his late teens, but really on top of the job, and everyone agreed that dealing with those apparently simple machines was anything but simple.

    Every morning, when he came into work, he'd walk along the row of lathes, saying 'Good morning' to each one in turn - and he swore that if he came into work in a rush and forgot to do that, they would be giving him trouble all day!

    Now you might say that if he came into work a bit flurried, he made a muck of the settings, and that caused the problems - but what about machines which hadn't been reset since the day before? The woman who loaded the steel rodding into the lathes said that she had noticed it, too - so make of that what you will.

    Some years later, I was working up in the north-east of Scotland, and met a retired ship's engineer, who'd spent his entire working life in the Merchant Navy. He told me that, when he was on watch, and going round in the engine room, he would always talk to his engines. Nobody could hear him, of course, because engine rooms in those day were pretty noisy places.

    A few months before I met him, he and a number of his ex-colleagues had met up, and embarked on a serious bevvying session. By the end of the evening, inhibitions had gone out the window, and tongues loosened, and this engineer said to the others about the way he had talked to the engines. Very much to his surprise, most of the others said that they did the same! But the curious thing was that he noticed a definite pattern, between those who did and those who didn't talk to their engines.

    Those that did (like him) routinely found themselves waking up when they were off shift, and not just knowing that something was wrong with the engine, but knowing where it was - for example "there's something wrong with the exhaust valve on Number 5 cylinder". So he'd go down to the engine room, tell his fitters that there was a problem (even though his fitters had frequently noticed nothing themselves), get them to work, and every time without fail, there was a problem, and it was exactly where he'd told the fitters it was.

    But here's the really curious point; he said, in every case, the engineers who said they didn't talk to their engines were unable to do that - and his friends who had worked with those men said that they never seemed able to pick up on a problem until other stokers could hear it, and - even then - they never seemed to know in advance where the fault was, but had to work their way through a full check-list to find it.

    Make of that what you will. My role model is a very eminent physicist I once saw taking part in a panel discussion on TV. I can't remember what led up to it, or even what he said, but one of the other scientists taking part looked at him with some astonishment, and said:

    "You surely don't believe all that paranormal nonsense, do you?"

    I've never forgotten his response, which - to me - was a masterpiece of unarguable logic:

    "I can't prove that I have fairies at the bottom of my garden - but, equally, I can't prove that I haven't. So, until and unless I get some definite evidence either way, it seems only sensible to keep an open mind on the subject."

    Coming, full circle, back to musical instruments; we can definitely prove that they are carefully shaped pieces of metal, which exhibit certain physical effects. But I've seen no evidence to prove that they are just that, and nothing more. So, like that physicist, I think it sensible to keep an open mind on the subject!

    I remember reading about the way that, when Armstrong Whitworth were building the first jet engines to the design of Frank Whittle, the power output was consistently below what he'd predicted. He was baffled, until he found that they had ignored his drawings of the rotor blades, and built them the way they'd been building steam turbines for the previous 40 years. AW had worked on the assumption that the air pressure in the centre of the rotor was low, and that on the outside was high - whereas, in fact, the opposite is true. Despite the fact that, for decades, people had been building venturi carburettors and aircraft wings, which work on the basis that, as airflow speeds up, the pressure drops, AW had made a dud assumption from the start, and never bothered to check its accuracy!

    As the writer of the book pointed out, there's nothing wrong with making and using working assumptions - as long as you are careful never to forget that they are only assumptions.

    Thanks for kicking this one off, 2nd Tenor - and a belated Happy New Year to all!

    Jack
     
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  15. Mesmerist

    Mesmerist Well-Known Member

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    Both? Nothing like a bit of glitter on a Friday night...
     
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  16. Jack E

    Jack E Well-Known Member

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    Swank, Wendy - sheer swank!! :D
     
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  17. Tom-King

    Tom-King Well-Known Member

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    If we're talking swank...

    This is one of my soprano cornets :p
    FB_IMG_1540395132801.jpg FB_IMG_1540395123375.jpg
     
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  18. Jack E

    Jack E Well-Known Member

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    That reminds me of the advertising line put out by Tate & Lyle about their granulated sugar, many moons ago, Tom:

    upload_2019-1-13_20-48-34.png

    :D
     
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  19. Mesmerist

    Mesmerist Well-Known Member

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    Tom that is GORGEOUS! Does it play as good as it looks?
     
  20. Tom-King

    Tom-King Well-Known Member

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    Oh yes :p

    Though to be honest I tend to use the silver one most of the time.
     
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