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Human-Like Musical Instruments

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Human-Like Musical Instruments

There are two spices of human voice—intervallic and continuous.

It is agreed by all sides that the construction of the organs of speech so far resemble a reed organ-pipe; that sound is generated by a vibratory apparatus in the larynx, answering to the reed, by which the pitch or number of vibrations in a given time is determined; and that this sound is afterwards modified and altered in its quality by the cavities of the mouth and nose, which answer to the pipe that organ builders attach to the reed for a similar purpose.

Such instruments are classified according to the means of producing the vibration. The most usual means of exciting the vibrations of a column of air in a pipe is by blowing into, or rather, over it; either at its open end or at an orifice made for the purpose at the side, or by introducing a small current of air into it through an aperture of a peculiar construction called a reed. This is provided with a “tongue,” or flexible elastic plate, which nearly stops the aperture, and which is alternately forced away by the current of air and returns by its elasticity. Thus, it produces a continual and regularly periodic series of interruptions to the uniformity of the stream and, of course, a sound in the pipe corresponding to their frequency - except, however, that the reed must be so constructed as to be capable of vibrating in unison, or nearly so, with at least one of the modes of vibration of the column of air in the pipe. Otherwise, the sound of the reed only will be heard, the resonance of the pipe will not be called into play, and the pipe will not speak (or will speak, but only feebly and imperfectly, and will yield a false tone).

The Egyptians have long been using musical instruments that can follow the same spices of voice—intervallic and continuous. Most significant among them are:

- Single Reed Pipe (Clarinet)
- Double Pipe

Single Reed Pipe (Clarinet)

Egyptian pipes of all kinds were/are made from reed plants, which are abundant near Egyptian irrigation canals.

The Egyptian single reed pipe (clarinet) contains a reed near the mouth that vibrates when one blows directly into the hole, through the pipe. The breath is directed through a wooden or ivory beak onto a sharp “lip” cut in the pipe itself.

The Egyptian single reed pipe is of equal antiquity as the nay (flute). It was a straight tube, without any increase at the mouthpiece. The reed pipes differ from the nay in construction, such as length, number of holes, etc.

Several Egyptian single reed pipes are found in museums throughout the world.

Pipes had/have equidistant finger holes. In order to produce a musical scale, the performer must control the size of the hole, the breath, the fingering, or by other special playing techniques.

Double Pipes

Numerous Ancient Egyptian reed pipes and double pipes were recovered from tombs and are now scattered in museums all over the world. The double pipes in Ancient Egypt had different kinds. Some had only one mouth hole, and others two, but were placed so near together as to enable the performer to blow upon both pipes at the same time. The mouthpiece of a pipe consists of a thin tube, closed at the upper end. A tongue is cut into the tube, and vibrates in the player’s mouth.

The pipes are either of equal length, or one is shorter than the other. They are blown simultaneously and played in unison. Sometimes one pipe has finger holes while the other does not. Sometimes one pipe served as a drone accompaniment, and its holes were stopped with wax. The Egyptians occasionally inserted little pegs or tubes into some of the finger holes to regulate the order of intervals or the mode in which they intended to perform.

As the placement of the finger holes (and hence the tones) do not completely correspond to one another, there are certain lingering effects, as well as sharper and more penetrating tones, than is the case with ordinary instruments. This drone playing is confirmed from three facts: the peculiar arrangement of the players’ fingers in Egyptian art works; the present practice in Egypt; and the excavation of a pipe with all except one finger hole stopped with wax.

Pipes with many finger holes were used for the playing of melodies, while others were used for the production of an accompanying tone similar to the drone of the bagpipe. As such, the double pipe allows different playing types:

1. alternate playing
2. octave playing
3. a melody with a “pedal” either below or above
4. “Duet playing”, the simultaneous performance of two melodies whether rhythmically distinct or allied.

For more detailed and fully illustrated information about the different types of double pipes of Ancient (and present-day) Egypt, read The Enduring Ancient Egyptian Musical System by Moustafa Gadalla]