Covid: Worth learning a non woodwind instrument?

Covid: Worth learning a non woodwind instrument?

I play tin whistle and Irish flute and am middle aged.

I know no one can predict the future, but presumably woodwind instruments aren’t going to be welcome by many people in a pub situation (regardless of lockdown status) for a number of years.

Realistically do you think it’s worth us “woodwind only” players attempting to learn a new instrument to be welcome at sessions in the medium/long term?

If so, had anyone done this as an adult/have any tips on what ITM instrument might be easiest to transfer to as a woodwind player?

Thanks for your time.

Re: Covid: Worth learning a non woodwind instrument?

How about taking up Uilleann pipes? No worry about the virus and your skills on the whistle and flute will transfer over.

Re: Covid: Worth learning a non woodwind instrument?

You’re not planning to share them are you?

I didn’t have any qualms or complaints playing a tin whistle.

I didn’t share my pint with anyone else either.

Re: Covid: Worth learning a non woodwind instrument?

belayatron: I think you’re being dreadfully pessimistic.

Re: Covid: Worth learning a non woodwind instrument?

@Yhaal I really I am and it will be fine!
Maybe it’s a local thing, but people here are extremely paranoid around people even breathing in their proximity and there was a recent study showing flutes spread airborne droplets further than any other common instrument, so I can imagine them being unhappy being close by them in the medium term.

I’m just trying to be prepared as I’d hate it if sessions come back but I can’t ply in them.

@Michael, Thankyou I’ll research pipes!

Re: Covid: Worth learning a non woodwind instrument?

(typo, “I really hope I am”)

Re: Covid: Worth learning a non woodwind instrument?

The pipes does seem to be the obvious one.

I find it interesting that a lot of instrument makers seem to do a lot of their own recreational playing on free reeds, such as concertina or button box.

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Re: Covid: Worth learning a non woodwind instrument?

It’s not worth learning any instrument. Who is going to be playing in a pub again in our lifetimes?

Re: Covid: Worth learning a non woodwind instrument?

If you have the time, the money [ above - a set of uilleann pipes ??? ] and most importantly, the will, it’s always worth learning another instrument. Why do you ask a community of complete strangers ? - you have to make that decision for yourself .
I am reliably informed by one member here that there has been 1 or more sessions in at least 1 pub in Glasgow in the last 6 weeks, [ although that’s not going to happen for the next 16 days from tomorrow ].

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Re: Covid: Worth learning a non woodwind instrument?

"Who is going to be playing in a pub again in our lifetimes?"

Lots of us, I’m sure - if there are still pubs.

I’ve probably done more playing in the last six months than I have in any previous six months. For me it has been about adapting and finding others ways to satisfy my musical desires. Strangely, I was going to use some of the time to get to grips (as it were) with my practice chanter but just haven’t found the time.

Re: Covid: Worth learning a non woodwind instrument?

belayatron: where are you?!!!

Re: Covid: Worth learning a non woodwind instrument?

The answer is most certainly no.

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Re: Covid: Worth learning a non woodwind instrument?

A number of years? I doubt it. It only feels like it’s going to last forever.

But sure, try the uillean pipes.

Re: Covid: Worth learning a non woodwind instrument?

You must be in the cool kidz crowd, Kenny. I suspect they are keeping numbers down and keeping them quiet.

Re: Covid: Worth learning a non woodwind instrument?

If a safe and effective vaccine can be made widely available, and/or we’re willing to take basic, common-sense public health preventive measures, we should be able to resume essentially normal life in the not-too-distant future. New Zealand has basically stamped out the coronavirus at this point in time - I bet there are sessions going on there. If the prevalence of the virus can be made low enough, we can get back to some approximation of normal because risk of viral acquisition could be acceptably low.

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Re: Covid: Worth learning a non woodwind instrument?

"It’s not worth learning any instrument. Who is going to be playing in a pub again in our lifetimes?"
Don’t we first play music for the sake of the music itself? Sharing it in the pub, cafe, park, neighbour’s kitchen comes after that, I’d have thought.

Re: Covid: Worth learning a non woodwind instrument?

"Don’t we first play music for the sake of the music itself? Sharing it in the pub, cafe, park, neighbour’s kitchen comes after that, I’d have thought."

Maybe? But isn’t sitting in a park or a backyard and playing for the dog walkers, or the parents with their strollers, or the neighbors who leave their doors open to listen, or the friend who’s willing to bring their own folding chair and sit ten feet away in the cold for the pleasure of a few shared tunes, all for the sake of the music itself, too?

I don’t see why playing in a pub would be any different — except covid. But just because it feels like it’s going to last forever doesn’t mean it actually will.

Re: Covid: Worth learning a non woodwind instrument?

Stay as you are, and play behind a super-sized clear visor.

Re: Covid: Worth learning a non woodwind instrument?

A clear visor doesn’t really work. A friend makes them for medical use and dropped one off as a sample, so I tried it with my flute a few months ago.

The visor amplifies the sound of the flute in your ears so it’s hard to hear anyone else. It doesn’t protect other people that much, because the airflow from a flute after it’s split at the embouchure is angled towards the floor and not straight across. I suppose if you swaddled your neck in a thick scarf it might help. Anyway, a visor isn’t a good substitute for a mask to protect yourself either. They’re meant to be used in addition to a mask, to protect against direct droplet spray in medical procedures.

On the larger subject of the future of our obsession, I’m trying to stay optimistic about a vaccine letting us get back to some semblance of normal a year from now. I haven’t switched from flute back to mandolin where I started with this music, because I like the flute too much (and still play some mandolin). I’m probably too old to learn the pipes. What do you need, like 20 years for that? 🙂

Re: Covid: Worth learning a non woodwind instrument?

@belayatron: "there was a recent study showing flutes spread airborne droplets further than any other common instrument"
Have you got a link for that? Is is a reliable looking study?

Re: Covid: Worth learning a non woodwind instrument?

I’m getting fed up with all this pseudo-commonsensical nonsense around ‘the danger from woodwind instruments in pubs’; by the same daft measure solo singers or banjo players/accordionists/step dancers huffing and puffing in concentration should be worried too. The amount of air coming out of a woodwind fipple or end joint is tiny compared to the air being expelled by EVERYONE (the two-thirds asymptomatic can also infect) breathing out, talking or eating in an indoor enclosed space; like worrying about letting off a firecracker during an air raid. Unless you jammed your flute up against the nose of the person beside you, you’d be making a negligible contribution to the already existing soup of covid aerosols coming out of other people’s mouths and noses floating around the pub, whether they’re playing, applauding at the end of a set, singing, or cheering on their team on the telly; the infection risk is already there. Unless everyone is sitting like a bunch of po faced motionless stiffs in a morgue and holding their breath like Harry Houdini, there will be a risk, woodwind there or not.
@dfost "If a safe and effective vaccine can be made widely available, and/or we’re willing to take basic, common-sense public health preventive measures, we should be able to resume essentially normal life in the not-too-distant future… because risk of viral acquisition could be acceptably low." - Absolutely; hang on in till next spring is my bet.
Once the official all clear for sessions is given there will still be options for the paranoid:-
- promote social distancing by switching to hammer dulcimer, a very wide one. and wear a hazmat hood. Doctor Who will hire you as an extra.
- do the same by having ‘asbestos squad’ printed on your instrument case, dust it with talcum powder, then blow this off all over people around you before starting to play.
-play sitting on the throne with the door open in the pub loo. the tiled walls help to boost volume and acoustics to those outside. Don’t shout ‘I’ve got a right belter for you now’ - you might be misunderstood.
Keep playing and stay safe…. slan go foill

Re: Covid: Worth learning a non woodwind instrument?

Well, any excuse to learn another instrument is a good one, if you ask me!

I actually had a bit of dilemma with this recently, when I was hired along with a couple others to play for a wedding. I play mostly harp, mandolin or bodhran, as needed, but when in a pick up band with two other string players (guitar and hammered dulcimer, in this case) I’ll often switch to whistle for some tunes to provide a bit of contrast and add a legato instrument to the mix, but I agonized for a while over playing a wind instrument even in an outdoor setting. Eventually I decided the outdoor space and distance from the audience were sufficient.
Going back to sessions, when that happens again, I’ll probably leave my whistles at home for a while, but not forever.

Re: Covid: Worth learning a non woodwind instrument?

"I’m getting fed up with all this pseudo-commonsensical nonsense around ‘the danger from woodwind instruments" (Max the Fluter ) There is plenty of science about, for example http://www.bristol.ac.uk/news/2020/july/perform-study.html

For me the main points are that it’s not possible the play a flute through a mask and some of the friends I (used to) play tunes with are not happy gathering indoors without people wearing masks.

Re: Covid: Worth learning a non woodwind instrument?

Hi David50, thanks, I followed your link. It took me to the Bristol Uni article with the title ‘New COVID-19 study could help performers back on the stage’ that quoted: ‘Despite there being no clear evidence that these (covid) cases are linked to the activities themselves, singing and playing of woodwind and brass instruments has effectively been banned in many countries.’
From News-medical.net:-
‘In the current study, called the PERFORM (ParticulatE Respiratory Matter to InForm Guidance for the Safe Distancing of PerfOrmeRs in a COVID-19 PandeMic) and conducted by experts at the Imperial College London, the researchers carried out several experiments to determine if airborne droplets are produced via breathing, speaking, singing, and playing of brass and woodwind instruments.The team has found that singing does not produce substantially more respiratory particles than speaking at a similar volume.’
I sourced the PERFORM study that stated:-
‘Based on the differences observed between vocalisation and breathing and given that it is likely that there will be many more audience members than performers, singers may not be responsible for the greatest production of aerosol during a performance, and for indoor events measures to ensure adequate ventilation may be more important than restricting a specific activity.’
From Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden:-
"Singing and playing music are passions for many people who will welcome the findings of this important study, which shows that there are no heightened risks associated with these activities”.

So in the pub I wouldn’t be putting anyone at any more risk by playing my flute or whistle than by chatting to them, and at less risk than the drunk beside me bawling out Boolavogue at high volume……slan.

Re: Covid: Worth learning a non woodwind instrument?

Good luck to you finding a pub where you can do that.

Re: Covid: Worth learning a non woodwind instrument?

"So in the pub I wouldn’t be putting anyone at any more risk by playing my flute or whistle than by chatting to them, and at less risk than the drunk beside me bawling out Boolavogue at high volume"

As mentioned above, it’s not just about actual risk to others, but how the other sessionistas feel if they’re all wearing masks and you’re not.

As a temporary move until things revert to the Before Times, one option instead of Uilleann pipes would be the Warbl Midi woodwind instrument: https://warbl.xyz/. It can be played with an inexpensive bellows so you could wear a mask, with fingering set to be the same as flute/whistle. It needs a synth generator (phone or iPad) and amplification, but you could get a battery-powered amp to fit under your chair. Most sessions are not happy to see amplified instruments, but might make an exception considering the issues right now with woodwinds.

I’ve been tempted by the Warbl myself. Every time I’m almost ready to click the buy button though, I think about how every minute I’d spend working on fingering and tones with this, would be time spent away from my flute and developing my embouchure. Flute is a harsh mistress. I don’t want to lose what I’ve gained so far.

Re: Covid: Worth learning a non woodwind instrument?

I assisted Andrew Mowry on developing the whistle and Uilleann pipes-related firmware for the WARBL as well as provide sound module apps that work well with it. It’s an incredibly elegant, responsive, and configurable controller at a very good price point.

I find I enjoy using mine most as a whistle, have tweaked all the response curves so that it basically plays with a feel similar to my Burke and Copeland whistles. You can even fit a Generation head over the top of it if you don’t want to use his "vented tube" which feels more like playing an oboe because it’s very thin.

The bag setup for it is an un-vented closed system just to provide pressure to the WARBL. There is no bellows. When used as an Uilleann pipes controller, there is an additional optical sensor that plugs into the bottom to handle the bottom-D open and close.

Unlike capacitive touch systems like the Fagerstrom Technopipes (also a wonderful piece of gear, I have a couple of those as well and helped with the Uilleann version firmware), the WARBL uses optical sensing and is able to detect partial hole closures and translate those into MIDI pitch bend or other events.

While I use mine with an iOS Lightning port MIDI adapter and my "Celtic Sounds" app for whistle sounds, the WARBL is a generic USB MIDI controller. You can plug it into any computer or device that supports MIDI over USB. You can then use it to play any virtual instrument available on the platform either as a standalone VST or one hosted within a multitrack recording program, not necessarily limited to traditional Irish sounds.

Re: Covid: Worth learning a non woodwind instrument?

I had another case of the disappearing post yesterday - what is that key I press by mistake! But that’s by the bye (however we spell that). (Yes, I know it’s tee aitch eh tee.)
Anyway, the only place I found after ten minutes that had done actual research on this (as opposed to conjecture and reporting on opinion) was the US National Institute of Health. They examined 15 musicians from the Minnesota Orchestra. To greatly simplify their conclusions:
1) tuba - less aerosol than talking
2) bassoon, piccolo, flute, bass clarinet, French horn, and clarinet - about the same aerosol as talking
3) trumpet, bass trombone, and oboe - more aerosol than talking (sometimes a lot more).

I get that people will go all "don’t play your flute near me" - and this time, not for musical reasons! But in fact, it’s not just that there is no evidence that flute playing increases aerosol production, there appears to be positive evidence that it does not!

You can read it at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7492159/

Re: Covid: Worth learning a non woodwind instrument?

I love playing the flute and have been making steady progress, but lately I’ve been eyeballing the cheap but decent sounding violin in the closet. I don’t like the violin—or rather I don’t feel drawn to it—but it doesn’t involve a lot of aerosolizing. I’m a decent jazz guitar player but none of that really applies to irish music an also how many guitars/bouzoukis does a session need?

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Re: Covid: Worth learning a non woodwind instrument?

@Alex Wilding - Those flute tests result are interesting, but there is an additional factor with condensation drip from the end of the flute. Impossible to avoid when the ambient temps are in a certain range, or if you’re a "wet" player.

I remember a Kevin Crawford concert a couple of years ago where I was sitting in just the right spot with stage backlighting to see condensation not just dripping, but actually flying out the end of the flute towards the audience! I’ll bet they didn’t test for that.

@Hark! - If you’re a jazz guitar player and looking for an alternative, why not try mandolin? Same left hand fingering as violin, and you can play melody instead of backing. It’s one of the quieter session instruments…. okay, it’s *the* quietest session instrument… but with good technique and a quality mandolin you can still be heard.

I migrated from 30 years of guitar playing to mandolin 10 years ago, before later picking up the flute. The guitar-mandolin transition wasn’t difficult, and I’ve been able to start sets and lead tune transitions in a set, as long as the session group isn’t too large.

Re: Covid: Worth learning a non woodwind instrument?

Mandolin is an interesting idea….

also i have a WARBL and just ordered the bag and bell sensor

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Re: Covid: Worth learning a non woodwind instrument?

I know this site is called The Session, and I’ve loved going to a weekly one for the past five years. However, I’ve been playing this music for almost 40 years with only occasional sessions. I’ll be fine if I never attend another. If you are drawn to playing another instrument, far be it from me to discourage you. For me, flute is the name of the game and Covid provides zero motivation to start from scratch to learn what I’ve worked so hard to achieve on another instrument.

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Re: Covid: Worth learning a non woodwind instrument?

@Conical bore - so better not drink your neighbour’s condensation drip, eh? Good tip!

Re: Covid: Worth learning a non woodwind instrument?

How about a harmonica? How much air would they expel?

Re: Covid: Worth learning a non woodwind instrument?

Harmonicas collect a lot of saliva - you have to get rid of it otherwise the reeds will get clogged up and won’t play. The method I use is rapping the mouthpiece hard against the palm of my left hand, which almost certainly spreads droplets into the surrounding area. Pre-Covid no-one would have thought twice about it, but you wouldn’t want to do it now - not in public anyway.

Re: Covid: Worth learning a non woodwind instrument?

While I’m quite careful regarding COVID, I think the fear regarding flute and whistle is a bit unrealistic. The paper "Aerosol generation from different wind instruments" says, in it’s conclusion "the concentrations [of aerosols] from bassoon, piccolo, flute, bass clarinet, French horn, and clarinet stay within the range of normal breathing…" which makes sense to me. ISTM that in singing, shouting and speaking the aerosols are generated primarily by the vibration of the vocal folds (or vocal cords). Flute and whistle are normally played with an open throat.

As to condensation, I doubt it travels as far as the common six feet or two meter warning distance. All in all, I’d guess the risk of sharing tunes with a whistle or flute player is no greater than the risk of talking with a friend, and possibly less.

Re: Covid: Worth learning a non woodwind instrument? Health to the company.

I don’t want to go to a session (during 2020) if I cannot wear a mask for most of the time I’m with my mates. While playing a whistle may be relatively safer than flute, both require me to be completely mask-free. Given that it’s a moot point to only consider how I might transmit respiratory droplets by speaking or playing; or that I might inhale someone’s exhalation, cough, sneeze, or other mouth/nasal projections.

I’ve definitely picked up pre-covid infections at sessions in the past and also unwittingly passed on a cold or two along the way. I want to learn from those earlier practices and prepare for a healthier session experience now. Hopefully then I can play with my mates more in the future. If this means playing less on wind instruments &/or learning another instrument then I will seriously consider it for the health of the company I wish to keep.

This is not about fear. This is about consideration for my mates and being well informed.

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Re: Covid: Worth learning a non woodwind instrument?

A flute player in Colorado has provided the design for a face mask and it might work for whistles as well. I don’t know how to sew and it looks forbiddingly difficult to make, but it might not be so difficult for someone who knows how to sew.
https://shannonheatonmusic.com/lisas-flute-mask/

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Re: Covid: Worth learning a non woodwind instrument?

Addendum: a sock (perhaps a baby sock in the case of a whistle) is used at the bottom of the fute/whistle. Chet

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Re: Covid: Worth learning a non woodwind instrument?

Why not learn fiddle? You’ll be able to play flute safely in a pub by the time you’ll have got enough fiddle skills 🙂 That’s not just a plan or sarcasm - I actually learn fiddle and it’s fun.

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Re: Covid: Worth learning a non woodwind instrument?

We have been having our session outside. Still, there are some who are afraid to sit anywhere near the flute and whistle players. But at least we’ve continued to hold our sessions. We are lucky to live somewhere with mild weather.

I would recommend the mandolin. It’s fairly easy compared to other instruments and it’s quiet enough to practice without bothering people. And a playable mandolin doesn’t cost a ton of money.

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Mars, believe it or not fiddle is not at the top of my list for now. Top of the list is a tie between learning some step dance &/or bodhran. Second is an electronic Blair chanter (which would be a huge investment right now). Third is taking up singing which won’t get me back into playing sessions but why bother with playing in sessions when nobody can say with certainty when & how they will happen. After that it’s down to single row Hohner "D" accordion which I’ve always wanted to play. http://www.smythesaccordioncenter.com/button-accordions.html

So, while fiddle or mandolin (sbhikes) are wonderful choices (5th?) which I could learn so much from either
(not to mention tenor banjo) they are down the list. Thank you both for the suggestions though. ;

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Re: Covid: Worth learning a non woodwind instrument?

My (classical) flute teacher requires his students to use a Win D Fender in his lessons (Don’t know if it fits an Irish flute.)
win-d-fender.com
It eliminates the air that comes out of the other side of the lip plate. He is very demanding about tone and I know wouldn’t recommend anything that had a bad effect on tone quality. He’s also extremely hygiene-conscious. Also he says that you can attach a sock to the end of the flute to catch droplets!

Re: Covid: Worth learning a non woodwind instrument?

It would be interesting to see an infrared image or some other method to find out where the air goes with that Win-D-Fender gadget. It’s designed mainly to block opposite wind when playing outdoors, and I don’t believe it "eliminates" the player’s airstream on the other side of the lip plate. The airstream across the embouchure hole has to go somewhere. Unless 100% of it is directed inside the flute barrel through the embouchure hole, which doesn’t seem likely, it’s probably just angled straight down after leaving the head joint. That wouldn’t help avoid aerosol spread indoors. Think of aerosols as more like smoke than droplets, and you’ll see the problem.

The Win-D-Fender might ease concerns by other session players, so maybe it has some value there. If it was less expensive I’d try it to see if it would fit or could be adapted to an "Irish" flute, but $50 USD for a piece of plastic? That’s a bit much for something that might not fit.