Assessing the sound of a woodwind instrument that cannot be played

Bowen, D. K. (2018) Assessing the sound of a woodwind instrument that cannot be played. In: International Conference of Students of Systematic Musicology 2018, June 6-8, 2018, Belo Horizonte, Brazil.


Historical woodwind instruments in museums or private collections often cannot be played, by virtue of their poor condition or the risk of damage. Acoustic impedance measurements may usually be performed on instruments in good condition, but only if they are in playable condition. Many museum specimens are not. However, If the bore shape and tone holes are measured accurately, we are able to compute the acoustic impedance of the instrument for all fingerings. Conclusions may then be drawn about the instrument’s pitch, intonation, temperament, fingerings, effects of bore shrinkage and even the timbre of the notes. A simple linear, plane- and spherical-wave computational model, originally developed for calculating the acoustic impedance of conical-bore woodwinds, is here applied to bass clarinets for the first time. The results are assessed by experimental impedance measurements and by playing tests on an historical Heckel bass clarinet in A of 1910 that has been continuously maintained in playing condition but relatively lightly used. In all cases the lowest two to five frequency impedance peaks agreed well with the calculations. The method is shown to be a viable method for the examination of historical woodwind instruments.

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