Give your instrument a helping hand

Give your instrument a helping hand

We all trad musicians play different instruments
From my point of view I play a 6 key flute made by Patrick Olwell
After playing for a couple of hours practice I then run a silk cloth through the bore to remove any excess moisture
I usually disassemble and put it back ins case.
However I have noticed that when playing the next day it takes a few blows to warm it up and get it going. Recently because of Coronavirus and isolation I’m playing more and more each day and decided to leave the flute assembled and stand it up perpendicular in a safe place. The next day when I start again the flute immediately sounds responsive and tone and volume is better than as if I left it in its case overnight
Now my opinion on this improvement if you may and I am respectfully open to correction is as follows
When you put the flute back ins case it rests in a micro climate which is isolated from the surrounding room atmosphere. Then you take it out the next day and it takes a little time to adjust to the temperature and humidity of the room you are going to play in. This could be applied to all instruments like the fiddle, the box, the concertina the guitar, mandolin and so on.
Perhaps another helping hand was suggested by my brother Gerry Grennell.
Gerry is a world famous voice coach and at one time was quite a well known classical/flamenco guitarist giving solo concerts is places like Dublin national concert hall
He has several acoustic guitars made by some of the worlds best.
He told me what he sometimes did when he was not playing which was not very often, he would put his guitar standing close to a speaker when he was playing a record or cd of some world famous guitarist. He said that his guitar would take on the sound vibrations of quality guitars and the instrument was always at a state of playing
He said this was particularly appropriate for new instruments. And his guitars would have been made by the best in the world.
Now I wonder what is your opinion on this practice. Would it improve your instrument
I’m sure you who have a couple of instruments and play one favourite then play another one you find it takes some time to warm up perhaps hours or days.
So if this helps you in your pursuit for that elusive quality sound I’m more than happy to pass it on. What do you think?

Re: Give your instrument a helping hand

"he would put his guitar standing close to a speaker when he was playing a record or cd of some world famous guitarist.."

I love magic!

There is a well-known flute player who reckoned he could not only tell if someone had picked up his flute and played it while he was out of the room (which is believable), but could tell whether they had played it in tune!

Then there was the old set of pipes that had been used to make so much good music over the years, they would play themselves when the mood was right!

Posted by .

Re: Give your instrument a helping hand

Its called de damping. Physics not magic…. or is physics actually magic?!
After all take a mobile phone and the facilities it offers back 200 or 2000 years and what is i? Clearly magic….

Re: Give your instrument a helping hand

> Then you take it out the next day and it takes a little time to adjust to the temperature and humidity of the room you are going to play in.

This is probably true, but it’s not why we put instruments in cases. One is to protect from Aunt Edna sitting on it, and the other is to slow down changes in climate.

Posted by .

Re: Give your instrument a helping hand

Whenever the guy who taught me box (in the back room of a pub) didn’t know how to play a tune he’d put his box down, put his feet up - on the box - and say "it’s on record". He was also known for sitting on it at times too, but then he was quite small, and his piano accordion was quite large so could easily take his weight.

Re: Give your instrument a helping hand

"Its called de damping. Physics not magic…. or is physics actually magic?!"

I call it abracadabra. It works if you are willing to believe it.

Posted by .

Re: Give your instrument a helping hand

Alex, it’s not magic and needs no belief to make it work. Putting your guitar up against a speaker is a very good way of loosening up a dead instrument, I have used it to great effect many a time. New instruments need playing-in and this is a short cut that eliminates many hours of work. Anything that relies on a resonant body can benefit from this method. Probably would not work for woodwind though.

Dick.

Posted by .

Re: Give your instrument a helping hand

I’ve heard a theory a few times from a few people over the years, about the violin and also the flute, that the instrument is subtly damaged if played over a long period by somebody who plays out of tune.

I think the belief is that a wood instrument played regularly by a musician who plays well in tune somehow trains the wood or aligns the cells or something, so that the instrument resonates best at those frequencies. The player with bad intonation aligns the resonance to a faulty scale, so when the good musician plays a true scale the instrument sounds dull.

Be that as it may, I know from personal experience that when you hit a note just right on a violin the whole instrument resonates better, while if you move the finger a tiny bit up or down not only is the note sharp or flat but some of the resonance goes away. I think it’s just because of the other three strings resonating in sympathy when you hit a note bang-on.

Now about magic and flutes, many years ago I paid a visit to a fellow fluteplayer. I’d not been to his flat before, and I was amazed that in the main room there was no furniture or pictures on the walls or anything- a plain room- except for a pyramid in the exact centre of the room. The pyramid was just a framework, four slender metal rods connected at the top, and lying on the floor within this pyramid was his flute.

He explained that letting his flute spend as much time as possible there made it play better.

Re: Give your instrument a helping hand

All joking aside, always - ALWAYS - swab your flute and put it in a case after you play. The flute is meant to be moist, not wet. The tenons will compress and leak air if the flute is left together day after day. Oil your flute regularly - lightly! - and use cork grease - again lightly - often, even every time you play. From there, the sound is up to you, but you likely won’t sound your best until about the third tune no matter what.

Posted by .

Re: Give your instrument a helping hand

Many years ago, there was a fella used to play at the Friday night session at the Commodore Barry Club in Philadelphia. After a long night of lubricating his liver he would stand up and announce: "It’s time to go home….
the fiddle’s drunk!"

Re: Give your instrument a helping hand

Can’t speak for flutes, but with guitars (and harmonicas, for that matter), the fact that they sound better after the third tune or so has nothing to do with the instrument, and everything with your muscles warming up.

Re: Give your instrument a helping hand

so if put my melodeon next to the cd player then put on loads of Jackie Daly discs……………?

Re: Give your instrument a helping hand

When you finish playing your flute; swab, dismantle and place in case. Any wooden flute deserves this minimal attention at least. A 6 key Olwell…………………………………………….? 🙂

Re: Give your instrument a helping hand

I’m in the swab, dismantle and put away club also. And regular oiling (monthly). And most certainly I’d treat a 6-keyed Olwell with the respect and care it deserves.

I’m a sceptic on the de-damping and I suspect I know the well know flute player who promotes the theory. It’s a nice idea that the molecules excite and align through playing and that the instrument is somehow infused or imprinted with the tone of the musician.

As to whether the flute is "ready to roll" or improves after 15 mins of playing… hard to nail down the extent to which the improvement relates to the player getting into the groove than the instrument acclimatising.

Re: Give your instrument a helping hand

How about a "scientific" test? Take two flutes and acclimatise them in an environment, play yourself in on one and then play the other with a practised hand to see if it, rather than you, improves with a bit of play.

Could any perceived effect just be due to the flute warming up with a bit of play? I certainly know that my metal low whistles are very prone to this.

Dick.

Posted by .

Re: Give your instrument a helping hand

For sure a flute warms up and gets lubricated as you keep playing. Yes your embouchure gets dialed in but it’s a change in the flute too.

Years ago I was playing flute in a ceilidh band and after our first hour playing we took a break.

A fluteplayer friend happened to be there and as I came off the stage he ran up and said "Can I try your flute? It will probably play itself now!" and he very much enjoyed playing a few tunes on the fully warmed-up (and wet) flute, a big sound with little effort.

BTW the pyramid thing was no joke, that fellow was convinced being under that pyramid improved his flute.

Re: Give your instrument a helping hand

I’ve always found that if you leave a quality guitar or zouk unplayed in its case for a few months, it seems to sulk and often sounds “sad”when you take it out to play. A few days of playing and it seems to come round and sound fine again. So thanks for the tip about standing a neglected instrument next to a speaker, Robin; I’ll certainly give it a try.

Re: Give your instrument a helping hand

Yes Alex it was just that sort of thing! Who knew.

Re: Give your instrument a helping hand

A couple years ago I had an opportunity to buy a 1928 Gibson A black top mandolin. The lady I bought it from is a widow, it was her husband’s, who had died about 18 years ago. It hadn’t been played much at all when I first looked at it - it was lovely to play but the sound was disappointing. I replaced the strings & raised the bridge a bit, which helped somewhat. I took it to a luthier, who said the bridge had sagged (probably from the old strings) and the feet on the bridge weren’t fitting properly to the arched top, which would affect the sound quality. I was jamming with some friends, banging away trying to get some more volume out of it, when it suddenly changed: it got louder, sounded way better, and was even easier and nicer to play. Quite the experience. When I got home I looked it over and saw that the bridge had straightened out somewhat and the feet were sitting down tight on the top. I told the lady about this and she said that her husband was standing beside me at the time, that he had told her that I should have the instrument. You can believe what you want. I play it regularly, and it is still improving - so am I, sometimes it seems like it’s teaching me things. I have read that an old instrument that’s not been played "goes to sleep", and can take time to sound good again. That was what it was like, it woke up while I was playing it.

Re: Give your instrument a helping hand

Thank you all for your contributions to this topic. The replies, opinions and stories were as many and various as there are flute makers
I don’t believe magic has anything to do with playing an instrument. We might describe some wonderful player as having magic fingers but to achieve that level of musicianship requires practice and more practice
As for the person who picked up another mans flute to try it without permission is taking a liberty and would hardly happen today. I’m sure all pipers would love a set of pipes that would play themselves. So I think we should leave the magic and abracadabra to the likes of Tommy Cooper
De damping is a known physics process and can indeed have an influence as suggested
We usually put our instruments back in their case for protection from accidental damage and transport. However cocooning in its box may well have an effect on it
I must remember when I don’t know a particular tune which can be often, to put the flute down and say “ah Sure it’s on record “
After all there are thousands of tunes and some are county originating and it’s not unusual for tunes played say in Sligo to be different than those played in west cork
It’s interesting that this method seems to be agreed more so with guitar players so the question was, would it work for other instruments
Yes indeed perhaps a wood instrument rather than other types, which is constantly played in tune is trained to resonate better at that frequency than someone who plays out of tune. The example given is on the violin where the stringed note is tone accurate then the other 3 strings resonate in sympathy and synergy
The pyramid framework is also interesting and one has to consider was it the fact that the flute was for some time resting in the place it was being played which made it play better
It goes without question that the best treatment for your flute is to maintain it properly. When you are finished playing for the day or night put it away in its case after removing excess moisture, for safe keeping. Oil it regularly and use cork grease on the tenons . There are some different opinions on what oil is best however I use pharmaceutical grade almond oil from your local chemist
After a couple of tunes the flute will sound and will be more responsive, perhaps because the flute has warmed up and acclimatised to surroundings
I don’t think I’ve ever heard someone saying after a feed drink that his fiddle is drunk. I bet he was an amusing character
To blow warm into a harmonica surly has the effect of warming up the metal reeds and probably has some influence on the instrument. Also muscles warming up are helpful.
I don’t know a lot about melodeons so why not give it a go, in any event I would enjoy listening to Jackie Daly.
As I previously said the best way to treat your flute is with proper maintenance and that goes for all flutes not just a 6 key Olwell
If you are lucky enough to own 2 flutes and play one for say 30 minutes then play the other. I would suggest that the 2nd flute will take a little shorter to respond than one if it was taken out of its box
When learning to play the flute your embouchure is so important. At first a learner is happy to get a sound out of the flute but with practice a refined embouchure is what can really make a difference
The person who asked to try your flute had the good manners to request your permission.
Incidentally my wife is Thai and was brought up in a Buddhist religious family. I asked her about the pyramid shape and framework. She tells me that when monks go into the wilderness to pray and meditate they carry one of these collapsible frames with them. The go inside it and consider it protection. Perhaps the person with the pyramid frame in his living room was protecting it from fumbling aunties and uncles. One of The Buddhist belief is to have respect for all people, race, colour and religions. So I doubt a true Buddhist person would be embarrassed with these suggestions.
I would imagine to leave a guitar or any instrument in its case for months would not be the best idea and starting to play it again would take time for it to come into its own
A lovely story about the 1928 Gibson mandolin.
So I would agree that after so long it was asleep for want of a better word
Now there you have it. I hope you find my contribution to the subject as interesting as I found yours. The jury seems to be still out on a definite conclusion and that’s what makes it worth debating
If you wish to google “ 2 sides of the Spanish guitar by Gerry Grennell “ you might understand why I found his discussion on this subject worth listening to.
Thanks again for taking the time to include your opinion and remember
Life without music would Bb
Take care and stay safe