Musical instruments evolved from several sources of vibration such as stretched skins, metal surfaces, reeds and tubes that vibrate to human breath, and strings that vibrate when stretched and plucked. All you need to begin a music composition is your own voice and body movements. Rhythm is essential to music and originates in nature before and aside from musical sounds.
Ancient humans made wood and stones tools, hitting objects against each other, creating rhythmic sounds. Sticks, logs and animal skins came together as percussion instruments. Early music consisted of drumming, singing and dancing.
Musical instruments produce sounds and permit control of pitch, loudness, and timbre. A combination of sounds of different pitches produces harmony and a sequence of pitches becomes melody. Timbre describes the harmonics in a sound that give it recognizable qualities. You can identify a trumpet, an oboe or a violin by recognizing its timbre. Music performance involves many agreements about instrument design, pitch assignment, the meaning of notation so that groups of people can produce harmonious sounds with compatible rhythms.
Vibrating strings produce musical sounds. The octave interval sounds like the same note is being played, but at a higher pitch. When the string is stretched over a smooth surface, finger pressure shortens the string and produces sounds with different pitches. The Greek philosopher, Pythagoras, determined that if you divided a vibrating string in half, you would hear an octave at double the fundamental vibration frequency. Adding resonating surfaces changes the timbre. A Stradivarius violin produces pleasing sounds because of the resonating characteristics of the wood in the body of the instrument. An additional advantage of Stradivarius violins is that they are rare and expensive -- only the most skilled violinists play them.
While classical music written in Europe is appreciated as high art and performed by skilled musicians, musical styles and forms in the 20th century proliferated and incorporated sounds from all over the planet. At the same time electronics advanced so that recorded music became the most popular way to experience music. The science and technology of sound physics and the neuroscience of sound perception advanced remarkably. I have enjoyed many different expressions of this technology and continue to learn about sound synthesis, instrument modeling, recording and editing sound. All these activities inform about the way our brain processes sound. The main distinction in the world of sound is between music which is intelligent and pleasing and noise which is neither.
Some Instrument Topics