The Science of Sound: Examining the Role of Materials in Musical Instruments

Does the material used for making musical instruments really affect the sound produced? Some things may never change.  For the construction of the violin, wood might continue to be the only and best option. And for your trumpets and horns, there may never be another better material than brass.

Those who produce musical instruments always differentiate one product from the other by the type of material used. Does it really matter? Will musical instruments still deliver the best results even if they are designed with different materials? And what role does each material play when it comes to musical instruments?

These are the essential points we will be considering in this article. So, let’s explore the musical instruments and the role of the material used for their production.

The Role of Material in Each Instrument

team of violin players

When designing a musical instrument, one of the most important things to think about is the type of material to be used. But the effect of these materials in the kind of sound produced often varies from equipment to equipment.

There are some that the material used is really needed for sound creation. While some are not involved in the production of sounds.

One good example is the violin. The material used for designing this instrument is significant. Without the right one, the sound will not come out well. The body of this instrument plays a vital role in delivering the music we hear.

The clarinet, on the other hand, is influenced less by the type of material used for the production. The air column inside the instrument is the primary factor that influences the sound produced. The material is just to give the instrument a definite shape. This means you can use any material for creating this instrument.

Read: Singing Tips For Beginners

The Use of Metal for Musical Instruments

One of the common materials used for manufacturing musical instruments is metal. For most brass musical instruments, the type of material used is often up for debate between instrument players and makers. This is mostly because most scientists feel the metal really does not play a role in the sort of sound delivered in these instruments.

It is no news that instruments made with valuable metals are significantly more expensive than those made with less costly materials. But, does this affect the quality of sound delivered? Several types of research have been carried out to find the answer to this question.

Some Tests Carried Out By Scientists

Test 1

flute players

Widholm in Austria and his team of expert music players conducted some studies to detect if the material used has an effect on the quality of sound delivered. This test made use of 7 different identical flutes that were all made with different materials, by the same manufacturer.

Some were silver coated, platinum coated, all platinum, and gold coated. Each player was asked to play each instrument by playing a short solo, and their individual notes on the flutes while they were being recorded to make analysis easier.

At the end of the experiment, it was detected that the material used for the instrument had little or no effect on the instrument played. Although all these materials (gold, platinum, and silver) have different vibrating properties, yet each player can mask these properties and still deliver the right tone.

Although the differences were quite measurable, they were mostly insignificant and did not alter the quality of sound produced. So, each player irrespective of the instrument can still deliver the right sound.

Test 2

Another test was carried out by Smith in the United Kingdom to detect if the material used has an effect on sound quality. His experiments were carried out by using trombone bells of different thickness and material.

The holographic measurement came with the result that shows the difference between these materials, especially the vibrations. The professionals he used for his experiments were to play each of these instruments.

Amazingly, none of the professional trombone players can point out the difference between the effect of material on the sound produced. It was concluded that the shape of the instrument matter, but the material is just to add more beauty to the instrument. It is more of a compliment.

His test showed that instruments like trombones, horns, and trumpets are really not made perfect by the material used for producing them.

Judging by The Results

These two experiments carried out by these scientists prove beyond doubt that the material used for designing musical instruments does not really matter. The quality of sound produced can be influenced by other factors which may include the player itself. Although little differences were recorded, generally, these differences are highly negligible.

Why Is Emphasis Placed on Material?

So, if the material does not affect the quality of sound produced, why do many lay emphasis on the material? This is the question that will definitely be on your mind at this point.

The clear answer is materials used are often for differentiating one manufacturer from the other. That is the best way to make a company’s instrument different from that of its competitors.

Some manufacturers use these materials to offer their customers more options for their instruments. If you have an instrument that costs more, you will like to play it with care, and value it more.

Another good reason why many manufacturers place a high value on the material is sales power. Instruments made with high-quality material are bound to sell more than those with lesser quality. So, to increase revenue, many manufacturers make use of some material that is scarce or those that are highly valued in the market.

Conclusion

Without reasonable evidence, it is hard to believe that the quality of sound delivered by musical instruments is not influenced by the type of material used for the production.

We have discussed two of the popular pieces of evidence that support this claim. We have also seen reasons why many lay emphasis on the material used for production.

But before you get a product, be sure that the material used will last longer, and that it will make playing easier for you.

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