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'Brass' instruments, fundamentals and 2nd harmonics - Part 2

This blog further explores lip vibrated instruments (labrosones) that mostly use only one harmonic


The dung-chen in Tibet are made of telescoped metal sections and would seem to have a potentially large range due to their length of up to five metres. However, the very wide and flat mouthpiece inhibits this.2 In ritualistic settings two notes are played in a powerful manner, an octave apart. There is info about this in Sound of the Silk Road: Musical Instruments of Asia by M Clark page 123. Precision with pitch does not seem to be a significant issue since dung-chen, customarily played in pairs, are often not in tune with each other. Just as the monk’s vocalisations are part of a meditative and mantric practice wherein each individual sings his lowest note with no direct relation to others, the low note of the dung-chen does not need to have a direct relation to musical surroundings. The importance of the sound is the metaphorical relation to the “terror deities”. It does not matter if the 1st harmonic is not a perfect octave below the 2nd or in tune with the rest of the natural notes. Non- conical trumpets generally do not have a good 1st harmonic due to a lack of optimal resonance, which also does not matter in this context. One source on Tibetan music notation discussed in Grove suggests that three pitches are played. However, Kaufmann states that two of the sounds are dynamic/timbral qualities of one pitch. The lowest note is played either as a distant, mellow sound or a rough roaring sound. The other, higher pitched note is only used in instrumental pieces. This implies the use of the 1st and 2nd harmonics. Most of information I sourced from page 16 of the book Kaufmann's 1975 Tibetan Buddhist Chant: Musical Notations and Interpretations of a Song Book by the Bkah Brgyud Pa and Sa Skya Pa Sects and Helffer's Grove entry on Tibetan Musical Notation.

Didjeridu players produce a continuous drone through the technique of circular breathing. The main pitch is the fundamental. In addition to a tremendous rhythmic variety provided by players a wonderful repertoire of sounds is made through the interactions of vocalisations with a drone. Generally cylindrical instruments have only the odd numbered harmonics available. The interval between the 1st and 3rd harmonics will be anywhere between a stretched octave and a narrow twelfth. I found some information on this in Knopoff's entry in Grove Online. Also Joe Wolfe has a lot to say about didjeridu acoustics [ ]. The 3rd harmonic is most often played at the end of a composition. The next harmonic playable on the didjeridu is the 5th, which will not conform to harmonic series ratios either, and is rarely heard. 

Finger holes have been applied to animal horns or short wooden labrosones for at least a millennium. A twenty-two centimetre long ox horn instrument from Sweden is dated to the tenth century. More on this can be found in Grove Online, the entry 'Cornett' by A Baines and B Dickey. Finger hole labrosones when used in folk music are often played without overblowing, requiring only the 1st harmonic. They include the ožragis of Lithuania with two to six finger holes, this from Karaška's 1984 entry in The New Grove Dictionary of Musical Instruments, the sarv of Finland, see Dournon in Handbook for the Collection of Traditional Music and Musical Instruments, the bans or b!s or bugīr of India (Arnold 1998: 916) whilst the aza rag of Latvia and the rozhok3 of Russia may have added mouthpieces. The last information from Marcuse in the 1975 book A Survey of Musical Instruments.

The more well known cornett or cornetto will be examined in a later blog as it can use more than one harmonic. 


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