How or why did you decide which instrument you wanted to play, and did you stick with it or change to another instrument.
How or why did you decide which instrument you wanted to play, and did you stick with it or change to another instrument.
My instrument chose me. There was never any two ways about it. I stick with it to this day because it is impossible to do otherwise.
I left my car unlocked when I went shopping downtown and someone stuck a banjo in. ; )
I’ve changed instruments mostly in response to surgeries as my damaged hands slowly deteriorate. It’s not a choice anyone would want to make but it has led me down the path of acquiring a mandolin, hammered dulcimer, bouzouki, cittern, tenor banjo, button box, harpejjii, vibraphone and even a beginners chanter. I can’t get the hang of the harpejjii, the chanter was impossible and the hammered dulcimer is a pain to tune and less than fun at a session and a vibraphone is, ah, well - forget it. That’s a nonsense instrument for trad but it goes well with my jazz guitars. I’m due for an eighth surgery on my right hand later this year that may improve improve it - or not. If the left hand winds up deteriorating to the point where it gets fused, all I’ll have left will be the hammered dulcimer, vibraphone and the button box. I don’t play the button box well enough to take it to sessions. If I get to that point I’ll just have to listen, drink a pint and savor trad music. The only instrument left to play will be smooth jazz on the vibes.
But I’m not going to quit…
Been playing the octave mandolin for just over a year now, lots of instruments before that, mainly strings.
Sometimes I pick up the guitar to sing something but I’m sticking with the octave now because there’s a repertoire that I can build on, I can see the progress I’m making and after a lot of hard work learning tunes, I’m starting to get a lot more enjoyment for less effort.
Knew that I wanted to play pipes as soon as I first heard them, but couldn’t afford any so I played whistle instead until I could finally afford pipes. Still play the whistle, but gave up all my other (non-ITM) instruments to concentrate on pipes.
I wanted to play the pipes as soon as I heard them on a Chieftains album but it took a while to work out how to access and afford a set. I faffed around with whistle, bodhran, and harp prior to that.
I have loved flute always because of its variety of tonal color. I can play the way I would sing, if singing was in my ability. I thought this long before I’d heard Irish. Irish, however, makes the most of what a flute can do and it’s bloody great music.
I play fiddle. I used to play violin in school and take lessons, but dropped it at the start of high school to focus on piano and trumpet. 3 or 4 years later after falling in love with fiddle music and listening obsessively, I finally decided I wanted to try a couple tunes out. And the rest is history.
I actually feel like I had to relearn some of my technique because it had been so long since I had stopped playing violin. An interesting predicament. I also have a cheap whistle that had been given to me as a child, but to this day I can never really make it sound like anything. The whistle is a lot harder than it seems. I want to learn flute at some point too, perhaps on concert flute to start since I believe I have one available to practice on. That may be about it, but a nice rumbling box with voices in 2 octaves is wonderful too, so who knows?
I’m a guitar player, but that’s useless if you want to play tunes in a session, so I switched to the next most obvious choice, banjo. Actually I tried mandolin for a hot second but I didn’t care for it.
That being said I play a few slower tunes on guitar, as they just do t sound as good to me on banjo.
I too started on guitar - after Pierre Bensusan - but after decades my wrists/thumbs gave out and I switched to wire harp. I play fiddle and other strings, free reeds and woodwinds too, but if it were a desert island or, say, a pandemic, it’s the wire harp.
I was about 22 and dating a delightful French girl who, between panic attacks, played the piano beautifully. My only musical accomplishment so far had been a prize for ‘Most enthusiastic’ in primary school music classes.
I had tried and failed to enjoy the guitar, and narrowed it down to violin or flute. I picked the flute because it was more portable. Eight years (and several flutes) later, I’m still playing. After I swab my flute and pack it away for the night I sometimes search for uilleann pipes in my area, but it’s more a fantasy than something I’d seriously consider doing.
Lots of switching, but I hope it’s sticking now. I was force-fed piano lessons for six years as a kid. By the time I was a teenager, all I wanted was to play kit drums. Played in local garage Rock bands until my 20’s, when I switched to guitar and played that for 30-odd years. Started on mandolin as a fun sideline around 14 years ago that turned into something more serious, then fell down the rabbit hole of Irish and Scottish trad when my S.O. decided to get back into playing fiddle later in life, after lessons as a child. She still reads music better than me and has better intonation ("Is one of us out of tune?").
So, after playing mandolin ITM melody for a while, I got a bug to try learning "Irish" flute, as a different window into the music. I still play mandolin because it does some cool things with partial chords inserted within the melody, but I find flute more expressive; a little closer to the tradition and less of an outsider instrument. Not to knock the mandolin, I still love it, but at least I understand what a cut and a roll is now. I’m too old as a late-life learner to ever be really good on flute, but I’m aiming for journeyman status. Just doing a workmanlike job on the tunes and not murdering them.
Mandolin. It’s related to the lute, which goes back a long ways. In the recent past, mandolin wasn’t loud enough to cut it in a full session. I use a 100 year old Vega cylinder back, and it’s actually quite loud, but still wouldn’t work well in a session with a lot of instruments.
These days, however, we (my wife and I) play outdoors with one or two other players at a 10’ distance. I’m overjoyed to find that, with just a small number of instruments, the mandolin works fine. We both feel that these small, personal, sessions are best, and most fun and instructional. Now, we are re-motivated to learn and memorize new tunes again. We’re having these once or twice a week, whereas our original session was only twice per month - we’re actually playing more sessions now than before the pandemic.
One other benefit of these invitation-only session: everyone knows the tunes. This is something that wasn’t necessarily a given in our previous open sessions, were any number of folks could play something whether they knew the tunes or not, and which often led to disruption of the music.
These small, outdoor sessions may be as close as we get to the classic sessions, but it can be an alternative that comports with the reality of our lives today.
Mandolin is a great session instrument in a small session, otherwise I think piano accordion is the ultimate session instrument. My wife can play any melody, and, at the same time, play chords to accompany it. A winning combination!
I get how some here don’t have fond memories of piano lessons. When you remember exactly how many years it lasted that’s probably more like a sentence than a fun time playing tunes. My sympathies, Conical Bore.
Ironically I enjoyed my keyboard lessons and miss the days when there was a piano almost anywhere you went. Some of my first sessions one of my friends who plays fiddle, whistle, etc. he would get on the piano
for a few sets just because pianos still existed in the late 1980s and early nineties. Most of the (button) box players also knew their way around a keyboard.
But I digress. I was never the one playing keyboards in Irish sessions. That’s because I have been fortunate to play with others who were far better than myself. I do a little. I only play piano with Irish tunes when it’s 2 of us. But I have always been a wind musician. I whistled with my lips as long as I can remember. My sister played silver flute as a teenager and I would sometimes pick up her flute and play the music we listened to back then. Eventually I was given a Generation D whistle, followed by a Bb, C … whistles are not something one "sticks with"; more like a constant obsession which follows you around & always wants you to blow in it’s tiny fipple. Fortunately I broke free from it’s spell with 2 flutes; make that 3. Flutes are brilliant. And now I can play my whistles without it being a disorder.
Does this answer the OP’s question?
I share an experience such as that, AB - my sister played flute (me, sax) so it was an early second for me. My grandparents were both keen whistlers, and my mother sang. Whistling and singing remain strong traits.
I played my grandad’s accordion as a kid but had no access to folk music except Aus classics like Click go the Shears and Waltzing Matilda and a few others. I bought my own harmonica and played the same songs. I played cornet and saxophone in the school band, badly.
In my late teens I found an old Generation whistle in my grandparents old toybox. I learned a few Chinese tunes on it from a tape of a guy I heard play at the local show. I picked it up again many years later upon realising what it was for and learned a trad tune off a tv show. I still have it and appreciate it more than ever. It’s a brilliant whistle.
I started on guitar like most people in their teens but although I enjoyed listening to the "electric" music of the time, I had always wanted to play acoustic guitar. I’ve had a shot of a friend’s electric guitar at a party and it was fun but I never had a notion to join a band. I still don’t, by the way, although I enjoy playing music with others in sessions and other various community groupings and arrangements.
Anyway, I suppose it was mostly the folky and some singer songwriter music I concentrated on. While I became reasonable competent at "the basics" (but only while I practised regularly), I realised that I’d never become a serious guitarist and I was never any great shakes at singing. So, I decided to purchase a mandolin circa 1981/82 but I didn’t know much about it really. There weren’t many teachers or even good tutor books then and I taught myself from "Bluegrass" tutor book. I also worked out a few Scottish and Irish tunes for myself but, again, it was trial and error. I couldn’t read music at that stage, there were no trad music classes back then, and entering sessions seemed like a very daunting prospect.
A couple of years later, I purchased a fiddle as I thought it was a natural step from the mandolin. Again, I found it difficult where I was to get much help or make progress with the type of music I really wanted to play.
Then, for various reasons, I hardly touched any of my instruments for quite a few years until around 1991 when I discovered an organisation in Edinburgh called The ALP. Many of us started to go along there and found that we could actually learn to play traditional music for ourselves and were "encouraged" to visit local sessions. 😛 Much to the irritation of those long term players there, as I recall!
However, The ALP musicians eventually organised their own sessions and, of course, the better musicians did progress and were welcomed within the more established sessions more gradually.
Anyway, during the nineties, I purchased a better fiddle and mandoin(s) and also similar "stringy" things like the octave mandolin, tenor banjo, banjolin etc. I also taught myself to read music too. Although the official philosophy of The ALP (Now SMG) was to teach and learn tunes by ear, many of those who had previous musical knowledge tended to cheat and the "ear players" like myself would also start to learn a few tunes from "the dots" just to keep up with the wider repertoire. I had also joined a strathspey and reel society where the leader would just hand out the music and expect everyone to play. So, that was also a steep learning curve.
Over the years, I have mainly focused on melody instruments with the fiddle and mandolin being my favourites. As I mention in my profile, I inherited two piano accordions around 2009 and 2011 and had been playing these a bit until a few years back when I had couple of major operations and they were too heavy to lift. However, I’ve been getting back to the more recently.
Oh, I’ve also fallen in love with with the harp thanks to the wonderful and very welcoming Edinburgh Harp Festival. I have two of them. A 26 string and a 34 string. I mostly play at home these days although I used to attend various workshops and courses but, like the accordion, it was a little too heavy to carry in more recent years.
I’ve acquired a few other instruments and have also been dabbling with the ukulele over the last few years too but only because everyone else has been doing it. 🙂
I was not so much a decision as taking advantage of what was available. I’ve probably told this story countless times already on this forum, so I’ll try and keep it concise. My first instrument was piano. I took up the guitar in my teens, as many of us do, making *moderate* progress. When I was about 17, my mother came home one day with a mandolin, bought for a few quid in a junk shop - she revealed that she had always fancied learning the mandolin. At the time, it was little more than a curiosity to me, and was consigned to a gap beside the sofa. A year or so later, I began to be interested in this elusive thing called ‘folk music’, and had a vague notion from somewhere that the mandolin was a suitable instrument to play it on. I pulled it out from its nest (between working as a teacher, housekeeping, and being a general pillar of the community, my mother never found the time to do anything with it), fitted a new set of machine heads, restrung it and set about learning some basics. At length, I started learning a few tunes on it (My first use for it, in fact, was thrashing out some chords in a rather idiosyncratic punk-blues band called ‘Mr. Forgetful’, in which I mainly played a tiny Yamaha keyboard), which I found to fall under the fingers surprisingly easily.
I went off to university, and after a term or so without the mandolin, I realised I was missing it - so after a trip home, I took it back with me and it stayed with me thereafter (…until it was cold-heartedly cast aside and replaced with another one, that is.) In my second year at university, I joined my first ‘Irish’ band (one member was actually from Ireland and another was half-Irish). Although I was primarily the guitarist in the band (we had another mandolin player, who had been playing a year longer than me and whose father was a tradtional musician), I was exposed to lots of new tunes, which I learned to play on the mandolin in my own time. At some point, I realised I had become a mandolin player.
"How or why did you decide which instrument you wanted to play, and did you stick with it or change to another instrument?"
I fell in love with the sound of the Highland pipes as a teenager, and pestered my folks until they got me a set.
Why the Highland pipes? It’s mostly because my dad had some Scottish bagpipe albums which I listened to over and over.
I had no exposure to Irish music other than seeing The Chieftains on TV, an entire episode of them playing in studio. I didn’t understand what their music was- I thought they were a Baroque ensemble. (In addition to the bagpipe albums my dad had loads of Baroque and Classical albums.)
After playing the Highland pipes for a few years I started acquiring Irish albums. It was the 1970s and not much was available here. So initially it was The Chieftains, then Planxty and The Bothy Band, and like all Highland pipers I became infatuated with the uilleann pipes. (They say there are two kinds of Highland pipers: the ones learning the uilleann pipes, and the ones who want to start learning the uilleann pipes.)
So my choice of learning the uilleann pipes was because I thought of myself as "a piper" so if I was going to play Irish music it was going to be on pipes.
But for whatever reason I was drawn to the Irish flute too, and I started playing that. Eventually the flute replaced the uilleann pipes as my main instrument for Irish music. Why? I think being more portable and weather-resistant were factors. But I simply grew to love the flute.
Then, like many others, I had my choice of instrument limited due to physical problems. Playing flute for so many years led to back, neck, and hand pain and around ten years ago I gave it up.
I then switched to Low Whistle as my main Irish trad instrument, which it still is. I play my Low D daily.
Whistles and bagpipes, being held vertically, don’t put any strain on my back, neck, wrists, or hands. A vertical Irish flute would be ideal. I’ve made a couple, I’ve tried a couple others have made, but they didn’t really do the job in my opinion.
Grandma got me a Clarke tinwhistle when I was 10 — I seem to remember I could read music at that point, so it must have been after I took up piano, but it was also before I took up bassoon right before my 11th birthday. It remained mostly a curiosity until my 20s, when a love of Jethro Tull and Fairport Convention and reading Charles de Lint convinced me it had real potential as an instrument. So every couple of years I bought a new cheap Generation-like whistle, tried to learn to play it better, and got frustrated with it. Finally discovered the wider world of whistles through the internet, bought a Glenn Schultz Water Weasel D, and was off to the races.
Five years after that I started flirting on and off with both flute and one-row accordion. Didn’t get too far with either for another twelve years, then gave up on flute and started taking C#/D accordion seriously. Now in my fourth year of that (and still fairly limited, though okay with waltzes and polkas), last month I saw a better flute for sale for a very good price, snatched it up, and it’s just enough easier for me to play than my old one that I’m back into taking that seriously as well.
Baroque flute for me.
For donkeys years I’ve played a handsome, black, ebony, simple system flute. The tone is wonderful.
However, I recently purchased a baroque flute which allows me to play in any key by just cross- fingering much like a recorder. I wish I’d discovered the instrument decades ago.
I wanted to learn Irish fiddle so I bought a cheap violin and the Matt Cranitch book. I took an adult education class where we mostly played old-time music. I sucked at the fiddle! I put it away.
A decade later I found out there was a session in my town and I decided that maybe Irish flute would be easier to learn since I had had flute lessons as a child. So I tried to do that. I was not very good at that either, but I really love the sound of the Irish flute.
The session went away after a few years and I started attending an American old-time jam instead. They would not let me play the flute or whistle. They said stringed instruments only. So out came my old fiddle. I couldn’t play anything, but unlike Irish sessions where you are supposed to sit out tunes you don’t know, some guy in the jam would chastise me for sitting out. "How can you learn if you don’t play?" Everybody kept telling me nobody can hear you anyway, just try to get one note at a time. So I would try to get one note. When the tune came around I’d try to nail that one note again. Then I would try for two notes. It went like that for a long time until I could play a lot of tunes. But I was still terrible at the fiddle so one day I brought a mandolin and I was standing behind some people and one of them turns to another and says, "Can you hear that mandolin? That gal can really play." What do you know? They let me sit in the "good" part of the circle and invited me to paid gigs.
So I put the fiddle away again for another decade and became a mandolinist, but was sad that I wasn’t playing the fiddle so I would still work on it now and then. I got a better fiddle and that made a lot of difference. I started to play fiddle more and more again. Then I heard the Irish session was back and brought my mando and my fiddle. I’m terrible at both. Irish music is so fast! Jigs are so hard! But they are a friendly bunch and they encourage me to keep playing the fiddle. They don’t like mandolin because nobody can hear it. I can maybe play 4 tunes that I’m happy with, but not at a very fast speed.
Why do I even bother when I’m so terrible at it? I don’t know. I know that you guys who are total pros might hate someone like me, but I do really try. I don’t just blare my way through. I listen, I know what it looks like to disrupt so I don’t do that. I enjoy the company, the chance to do something that isn’t computers, that isn’t exercising, that exercises my brain in a different way, that involves being part of a community of people doing something joyful. The music is so pretty. The fiddle, although I’m terrible at it, is an instrument I can play where even if I don’t know what the notes are I can find them. Same with mandolin. The music comes right through, no intermediate step where I translate it into notes. My fingers just do what is in my head. The bow is the part I don’t get.
I played electric guitar in rock bands in my teens and 20s. I discovered Irish trad in my late 20s and especially loved the sound of the uilleann pipes. After some research I realized how expensive, temperamental, and difficult to master they were. So I bought a tin whistle to begin learning tunes and absorbing Irish dance rhythms with the eye towards getting some pipes in the future once I was familiar with the music.
That was when I discovered the whistle was an actual musical instrument that would take dedication and not something I could do easily. Over the course of several years I’d try to learn for a couple of days, get frustrated and put it down. Eventually I HAD to learn to play so I dedicated myself to taking it seriously. After a couple of years playing whistle and listening to a LOT of Irish trad music, I found myself gravitating towards the flute and uilleann pipes as the instruments I enjoyed hearing the most. I decided that, as an older beginner (41 at the time) I would go with the flute since it was more closely related to the whistle and there were less things to try to master at once. I still love the pipes and I hope to someday tackle them…but for the moment I’m really in love with the flute and enjoying the journey.
I’ve been fascinated by musical instruments all my life and started trying to make them when I was little.
I spread myself far too thinly but had a lot of fun.
In my late thirties I was struggling with fiddle and a friend pointed me at a good teacher who did both classical and trad. That was seriously life changing in lots of ways. For about ten years I concentrated purely on fiddle then the old infidelity came back!
Currently mainly fiddle, whistle, chromatic button accordion plus clarinet lessons for the last nine months.
I used to listen to "Folk on Two" on BBC radio 2 and have enjoyed ITM as long as I can remember.
Thinking back to early days of trying to play ITM on whistle in my teens, it’s worth remembering just how little information there was available in those pre-internet days. Yes there were plenty of "Play Tin Whistle" books, often sold in a pack plus whistle, and there were the tunes written out, but as to ornamentation and style, nothing. You had to somehow find out for yourself, or not.
I had dabbled around in guitar for many years. A little bit of heavy metal power chords and hammer-on/pull-off solos and such. Then I bought an acoustic guitar and wrote a lot of my own music, but I was self taught and pretty bad at it. I never took it too seriously, it was all just for my own enjoyment, and I generally didn’t play in front of other people.
But then I got introduced to Irish trad by my ex, and I thought I could probably accompany the music. But while I was trying to do that, I didn’t have much direction, so I took a few lessons. The teacher could tell that I wasn’t understanding the chord changes in the tunes at all, so he decided to teach me to pick a couple tunes so that I would know the melodies well enough to make some more informed decisions.
It took me all of 5 minutes to realize that I was enjoying playing the melodies more than accompanying them, and so I bought a bouzouki pretty quickly, with the idea that I could do both. However, I found that I was still enjoying the melody more than the accompaniment… And THAT is the slippery slope right down to the tenor banjo. So I am firmly planted in the gutter now, but I occasionally wander off to other stringed instruments, like mandolin, tenor guitar, and bouzouki. I own a Morse concertina, and have thought about starting to learn, but haven’t pulled the trigger yet.
I’ve been playing guitar and drums since I was about 10 years old. When I got into trad music the first instrument I picked up was the fiddle, played that for a couple of years and then got a mandolin and a tenor banjo as I thought it would be a good way to initially learn tunes and then once I had them fluently I could transfer them to the fiddle and be better able to focus on the bowing. Learnt much more quickly on the mandolin and banjo though since I had years of experience with fretted instruments, plus my dog really hated the fiddle, so I gave it to a friend and just focused on the mandolin and tenor banjo.
Began piano with a folk/Celtic slant when I was 11.
Started playing banjo, at my dad’s directive around the same time.
Ditched the banjo when I was 14; wasn’t my thing. The fiddle called.
I started playing the fiddle, and even though my dad’s a bit disappointed, I haven’t looked back.
After playing bass for decades it was time for a change. It was either flute or fiddle and the flute offered a challenge that strings no longer did. That and think of this. Playing bass requires hauling my doghouse bass and amplifier, or the amp and a pair of electric basses (fretted and fretless). I wasn’t getting any younger and that little black stick looked really attractive. I still play double bass a bit but no longer need more than a mic for it. Still my rather heavy, 8-keyed, Delrin flute and it’s case weighs in at a pound and a half. No regrets!
I was dabbling in all kinds of folk music on guitar and five-string banjo, and then got caught by the bluegrass bug. Got hold of a cheap violin and some "tater bug" mandolins, and realized ( duhh, hey!) I could play fiddle tunes. Around Earth Day 1976 or 77, I decided to be a fiddler. Got some Steeleye Span, Chieftains, Silly Wizard, Kevin Burke recordings and the rest is history. I still dabble with chords on guitar and octave mando, but the fiddle is me daarrllin’.
Like Conical Bore, I played piano from a young age. I lost interest in it long before I stopped playing, but have since considered starting again. I also enjoy singing and took voice lessons the last two semesters at school with a music professor who had taught another class of mine earlier.
There are so many instruments I love listening to, it would be hard to choose one, so for now I just listen. I also have some spacial issues that could make learning an instrument difficult. Perhaps one day!
@Whimbrel. Choose an instrument and go for it anyway. Time not playing is time wasted or something like that!
Thanks, Callison. I think I might see if I can try taking up piano again. We have one, and nobody has used for about 4 years. Perhaps I’ll spend some time on it tomorrow.
@Whimbrel….. Spatial issues? I find that very interesting. Please expand. I know that you are an enthusiastic musicologist but I don’t understand why you are not then drawn to try an instrument. Einstein played the violin and he especially loved Mozart because he said it gives him an immense sensations of ‘space’. Or is this somehow a new topic?
Oh sorry,, the most likely thing is that you meant physical space. I perhaps think too deeply.
I started on guitar and harmonica as a teenager in the early 60’s, mainly blues and the occasional Dylan song - after I got interested in trad I found mandolin and banjo were a natural progression from guitar, and the ‘suck and blow’ of the gob iron led onto the push and pull of the melodeon…………….
The GHB was my first musical endeavor*, which I started at about 37. I first got interested after seeing the movie, "Highlander" an entirely true documentary about Connor MacLeod. A short while after this I was at the AZ Ren Faire and heard the pipes live. I had to get involved with this! I found a band and took chanter lessons from the PM and several experienced band members. When I moved from the chanter to the pipes I thought, "I’ll never be able to do this." But i kept with it, very unusual for me, and played for about ten years. I fell away form it six years ago after open heart surgery and some changes in the band I was not so keen on.
I have now taken up the penny whistle on my own. It is coming along slowly but there is much potential. I have WAS quite badly and now it is time to do some thing with the whistles I’ve bought. Laziness and lack of confidence is a hinderance. But as tunes come together I feel encouraged. Playing is also a way to combat depression which is a constant battle.
*There was a very miserable year with the trombone in 6th grade. Practice time consisted of my father bellowing at me and being forced to practice in tears while a kitchen timer ticked of a half hour. This turned me way from any music endeavor for a long time.
No worries… yes I meant physical space, more specifically issues with coordination. I don’t want to deflect the thread too much by talking about it.
That said, at the time I played piano, I wasn’t as much into music as I am now, so I’d definitely be up for giving it another chance.
I started out on the whistle. I’d already learnt recorder at school so I knew about blowing and fingers. I was captivated by the possibilities of ornementation on the whistle, and of course by an instrument you could carry around in your back pocket and which cost next to nothing (back in those days).
A few years on, the same week that I started to retrain as a woodworker (remember TOPS courses, anyone?) I was invited to join my first ceilidh band. A life-transforming week! A few years on, the two threads joined up when my band in France needed a mandolin and I agreed to give making one a go.
So I made a mandolin, which led to a couple of orders, and someone asked me to make a harp. Well, that was it! It was like falling in love! I’ve been a harp maker (and player) ever since and am just putting the finishing touches to number 140.
I play whistle, harp and mandolin, probably in that order as I don’t play the last two that well although I really enjoy them both. My daughter and her partner play both much better than me! In recent years I’ve taken up the Low Whistle - a Susato D and a KerryWhistle F which is great for those tunes in Gm. And during lockdown I borrowed a flute and have been self-teaching - a voyage of discovery! I’ve just ordered one from a maker in Brittany.
The journey continues….
"My rather heavy, 8-keyed, Delrin flute and it’s case weighs in at a pound and a half."
For many years I played a c1830 Rudall & Rose in boxwood, which was light as a feather. Then I switched to a c1860 Pratten in cocus which was a tad heavier but still of insignificant weight.
I remember being out at a party many years ago and somebody had a fully keyed Delrin flute, the first Delrin Irish flute I had ever seen, and we swapped flutes and after a tune I handed that beast back saying "I just can’t play that." I always had wrist and hand strain issues anyway, there’s no way I could play a flute that heavy.
After an immersement in the Seventies, in the music of the Bothy Band, Plenty, and especially the playing of Kevin Burke, I picked up the fiddle, and found a teacher from Ireland, living in Manchester, and so began the interest that became a passion.
But, as the years progressed, the upwards projection of sound from the fiddle, and advancing years of course, brought on tinnitus, and the loss of the upper range of sound.
So, a change to the Mandolin was easy, as the sound issuing forwards, rather than upwards, helped, and the fingering/tunes transposed seamlessly.
But, the lowering an octave to the Octave Mandola has also helped significantly, and whilst the speed of the fiddle isn’t as achievable, the slowing of pace has allowed the exploration of tunes, and given old favourites a whole new dimension.
So, for now, and the foreseeable future I trust, Tenor and Octave Mandola’s fill my musical hours.
"For donkeys years I’ve played an ebony simple system flute.
However, I recently purchased a Baroque flute which allows me to play in any key by cross- fingering."
This is very interesting to me! Because I played "Irish flute" (c1830 Rudall & Rose 8-key simple system flute) for years then at uni I studied Baroque flute. I never for a moment considered playing Irish trad on the Baroque flute.
For one thing my Baroque flute was too soft-sounding for session or band playing. Small round blow hole, tiny fingerholes.
For another thing F# fingered xxx xoo (as you would on Irish flute) on my Baroque flute produced a note halfway between F# and F natural. It was like that on purpose, because that hole was used in various ways for different notes. So F natural would be fingered xxx xox and was still a tad sharp and had to be rolled in.
F sharp was generally fingered xxx oxx which wouldn’t do for Irish trad fluteplaying.
I have known trad Irish players to get old flutes made like that who carved out Hole 5 to get an in-tune F# with xxx xoo but that of course ruins that hole for F natural xxx xox
That’s interesting Richard. We have a Grenser copy (a plastic Aulos) at our session and its player plays it like a standard Irish flute with no intonation issues. It’s not the loudest flute but it doesn’t struggle to be heard. I don’t think he’s modified it, I’ll have to ask him.
A bit off course maybe but meant only as an amusing digression. I was wrong when I said my 8 key delrin flute. in it’s soft case, weighed a pound and a half. It’s only a pound and a quarter. Without the case the flute weighs a whopping 15 ounces. The same flute without keys, I’m lucky enough to have one, in it’s soft case, comes in at 15 ounces also and 11 ounces without the case. The keys add 4 ounces. On the other hand (where I have completely differently fingers) My, blackwood Paddy Ward 6-key with case and support staff of oil, cleaning cloth and rod, and homemade humidifier, scales up at a pound and three quarters. Alone, the flute is a mere 12 ounces, just 3 short of what I’ve always thought of as my heavy delrin one. Hmmmm. Oh, and,,,my keyless ‘F’ flute in carbon fiber weighs a mere 4 ounces. (As an aside in an aside, I keep it for playing bluesy jazz tunes in F and B flat, my favorite keys.) In any event my banjo comes in at 22 pounds and it’s Calton case adds another 15. My bass is 26 pounds, but feels like 45! All substantially heavier than my maximum flute load of 1 3/4 pounds and all more than you probably wanted to know. Boy, do I have too much time on my hands!
No real argument or point to be made here. In my own fuzzy head and 75 year old arthritic hands the extra 3 oz. don’t make much difference and I like the (to me) solid feel of my keyed 8 keyed Somers. The very slight differences, if any, in what I hear between the 2 are more likely coming from the architecture and not the weight or material. But it’s not a deal breaker, at least not yet. Maybe a separate discussion on flute weights and key styles, post vs. block, would help pass some time.
To get F natural with
the F# with
is usually very flat, on Baroque flutes.
Yes a Just Intonation F# in the key of D is 14 cents flat, but I’m talking twice that flat, a quartertone.
Of course with Baroque flute "rolling" the flute inwards and outwards to fix the tuning of various notes is part of standard technique.
So you can get an in-tune F# with
if you roll the flute outwards to sharpen that note.
@ross faison For playing a flute, rather than carrying it to the session, don’t you have to factor in the weight of a pair of human arms?
Yes David50 you would to measure the total weight suspended in the playing position, but wouldn’t that be a constant to which only the weight of any flute would be added? Funny, I now have a mental picture of somebody playing a flute with helium filled balloons attached at the ends! And, in my lazier moments I’ve been know to turn my chair so I can rest my right arm on the back.
@ross faison. It’s a constant, but quite a big constant. Web search suggests about 5% of body weight per arm. So a few ounces here or there on a flute shouldn’t make much difference.
It seems to make a difference though. Maybe it’s a case of putting the hours in the get used to each flute. I got told off at a workshop for leaning by arm on the chair back. Hasn’t stopped me sometimes doing it though.
My mother was a music teacher and when I was six, she purchased a used piano so she could teach piano lessons. Her students would come to our house for their lessons. One day, after my mother and one of her students had played "Heart And Soul" by Hoagy Carmichael as a duet on the piano, I sat down at the piano and tried to imitate what I had heard them playing. That was when my mother decided to teach me how to play the piano correctly. She also taught me how to read music.
In 1990, I began sitting in and playing piano at a local Blues Jam and I enjoyed it so much that I was there almost every week. In 1995, some local musicians started an Irish Jam Session here. I went to the second Session and just sat there and listened. At the end of the evening when everyone was packing up their instruments and getting ready to go home, I asked if I could participate in the next Session. They asked me what instrument I played and when I said piano, I was invited to participate in the Session. Since then, I have been playing piano more or less off and on irregularly at the local Irish Sessions.
It has now been fifty something years since my mother began teaching me how to play the piano and I still enjoy playing music.
My Baroque flute is a Grenser/Aulos and the F sharp is the same as on the simple system flute. Overall I would say the volume is satisfactory and that the higher notes are easier to achieve and sweeter.
I have been full circle almost, having started on piano at age 6, done all the exams while at school, then back to playing in 2 ceilidh bands in the last 7 or 8 years: totally different style from those early classical days! I don’t usually play piano in sessions, unless there happens to be a resident piano, and in tune (a rarity!): it’s bad enough lugging my full-size digital one to gigs!
In between, I have variously played timpani/percussion, guitar, bodhran and B/C button accordion. Have also tried for a bit on mandolin and whistle. My main session instrument now is the accordion, which I love. Not all that many players in Scotland, the piano accordion seeming to be favoured more.
Trish Santer I have been bringing my Roland EP-90 Digital Piano to the local Irish Sessions for twenty-five years now and I can sympathize with your comment about "lugging" a digital piano to gigs and sessions. Officially my Digital Piano weighs thirty pounds. Originally I purchased a Roland EP-9 Digital Piano thirty years ago because none of the places where I wanted to play music and/or sit in and participate in a jam session (such as the local Blues Session) had a piano or anything which even vaguely resembled a piano.
I’ve never really switched instruments, in a "give up one instrument to play another" way. I started on the guitar, but in the Classical tradition, and maintained that still to this day. I’ve added instruments to my CV, and try to maintain a level of proficiency in each. While I may set the guitar down for a wee bit to focus on whatever I’m learning, I still come back to it as my primary instrument. However, when we were actively performing, I only played guitar about 30 to 40% of the time, the other times I was playing using whatever instrument the song arrangement required. That could be Bouzouki, Tenor Banjo, Mandolin/Mandola, Piano, Keyboards, Whistle, GHB, or Smallpipes, or Harp ( Trumpet, Trombone and Baritone aren’t ITM/STM friendly, neither are a host of obscure Folk instruments I picked up over the years). The joke in the band was that I owned and ran a Black Market Music Store.
Even when I was teaching, Guitar was the primary area of focus for most of my students, even though I was teaching other disciplines too. So my life experience wasn’t due to a dissatisfaction with the instrument, or a health change, it was simply a desire to add another skill set. I will say that with age, I’ve given up the horns for the most part. Playing any of them too long or too often, and I start having TMJ signs and symptoms, and I do start to lose my chops on anything if I put it down for too long.
One of the things that really appealed to me when I was first exposed to sessions was "going light." I played drums, double bass, or guitars in the clubs for years. When trad hit me, I thought - not only is the music great, I can carry everything in one load! My "best" SESSIONING instruments were fiddle, flute, concertina - all in one clutch 🙂 …concertina was eventually supplanted by accordions.
But at home, where it’s quiet - and I don’t have to haul gear - I’m most often playing hdgfdl, harps, oud, bass clarinet..
A couple of years ago I bought myself a Donner ukulele bass. It’s one of those instruments that looks like spaghetti bolonaise but without the bolonaise. Fat white sticky rubber strings. I wasn’t expecting much. I tuned it to fifths of course - it’s a big mandolin, right? And I plugged it into an ‘acoustic’ amp, it’s electric but…
Then I played it like a mandolin. It sounded great! Just like a real double bass (to my old ears), but twenty times faster. Really impressed with it. Spent about eight months learning the fretboard in terms of alternating on 1,4,5 and 1,3,5. And I could actually play thirty odd tunes on it, just like that, so I started to learn those tunes but in 3rds.
Not sure if these are played at sessions, but it does have a volume control…
I have a U-bass that I use for rehearsals mostly. I like it…for that, lightweight and portable and sounds pretty good. It’s problem is that, we’ll, It’s a U-bass. I just can’t see playing on a (specially) paying gig. Nothing is as visually appealing as my big brown doghouse.
The first time I saw a U-Bass I laughed my head off, but as soon as I heard it played through an amp I thought, "Wow I must get one of those….. I’ll just have to keep it a secret". I enjoy picking it up every now and then and it takes me back to my bass playing days in the pubs, but I don’t see the sense in re-tuning it to fifths. Firstly that’s not what basses are for and I wouldn’t dare try to play melody in a session with one, and secondly the neck is so small that it’s easy enough as it is, to play a few melodies on, AT HOME for fun.
I’ve been tempted by one of those rubber string U-basses, just for kicks. I used to have a nice built-from-parts Fender-ish electric bass with a fretless ebony neck with inlaid fret markers so I wouldn’t get completely lost. I used tapewound strings for the buzz. That Jaco fascination, you know? At one time I also had a cheap plywood upright acoustic bass at home, also just for kicks because it wasn’t really my instrument. My ex-wife got that one in the divorce.
What stops me from getting a U-bass, is that what I’d *really* like is one of those upright solidbody electrics like a NS bass. I keep some nail on my right hand for playing nylon string guitar, and that doesn’t work well on guitar-type basses where my hand is at more of a 90 degree angle to the strings. With an electric upright, I could do a proper sideways pull on the strings with my fingers, without the nail getting in the way.
(Sigh), but I’d never sneak something like that in the house past my S.O., where I have a "one in, one out" arrangement for instruments. Those NS basses are too expensive, and no real application for the music I’m playing now, other than it would be cool to have one in the house.
(Sigh <indeed>) I was just having a lamentation over shiny erstwhile things like my vintage horns, cymbals, cans…heck my electric gear, pearloid, and colored light on a raft of amps, keys, synths, strats…twas the great romantic electric age ya know. Now I remember I quit playing pedal steel at 30 because I strained my back carrying it! But I miss that stuff (sniff)..
And, after 50 years now i think that I’m lucky to be able to be twiddling my fingers at all on some little instrument.. 🙂
There’s always the kazoo Catty.
Fauxcelt/Lawrence: choice of instrument for me might also depend on mode of transport: if I’m going by car, I "could" take the piano (mine weighs 12kg in the bag), but definitely not if on the bus! Accordion in a back-pack for the latter.
Since public transportation is a sad joke here, I have to drive to jam sessions and /or gigs or band rehearsal no matter which instrument I will be playing. Also, since I don’t like trusting any of my instruments to the baggage handlers who work for the airlines, when I am going to perform out of town and out of state, I drive instead of flying. Besides the Roland EP-90 Digital Piano, I also own and use a Fender Squier Jazz Bass electric guitar and a three quarter size Engelhardt acoustic string bass. I have a real piano at home but I leave that at home instead of trying to transport this instrument anywhere.
I started out with a guitar but didn’t have the time to learn to play it as a youth so I decided to wait till I retired, but as life would have it, I broke a finger in a kayaking accident so that ended that. I took up pennywhistle a few years later, which was great as I could, and do, carry one with me where ever I go. I was actually getting pretty decent at it and thought the next step was Irish flute. I had another accident and amputated my arm which was re-attached but put an end to my pennywhistle and flute. Wanting to still be part of the ITM scene I took up bodhran and musical bones which kept me in the loop. On a whim and after many treatments, I picked up my pennywhistle and slowly realized that, with difficulty and by playing piper style I could get back at it. Problem was that I will never be better than an intermediate player due to this disability and after a while became bored with the lack of progress so I bought a left-hand fiddle. After numerous tries to get past the cat-scream stage I gave up and bought a concertina then a button accordion. My theory was that I may not be able to be an expert at any one of them but could be an intermediate at most of them which satisfy my thirst for learning. I have now picked up my fiddle again and have worked quite seriously at it and am pretty much past the nail-to-blackboard stage but my fingers will not work fast enough for session jigs and reels so I am now fiddling Old Time waltzes and quite enjoying it. Silver-lining to all this… without tradgedy I wouldn’t be enjoying all my instruments. By the way, since Covid I have ordered a left-hand clawhammer banjo… can hardly wait for it to arrive to start another challenge.