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The voice

and the musical

The origin of musical instruments dates back to the origin of mankind. Evidence of prehistoric
musical activity has been found in some caves. Among the paintings of the Cave of the Three
Brothers (Trois Frères) in France, one of the best known examples can be admired: a drawing of
a fur-clad shaman dancing while playing a mouthbow. Thousands of years later, musical
instruments are still a part of our everyday life.

 The musical instruments and the human voice.
 Chordophones.
 Aerophones.
 Membranophones and idiophones.
 Electrophones.

 The Young Person’s Guide to
the Orchestra (B. Britten).
 Aerobic (V. Gil).

 Make a kazoo.

 Listen to my trumpet (V. Gil).

Extension proposal
 Find out the price of different musical instruments.
1. The musical instruments and the voice
A musical instrument is any device that can produce musical sounds. Musical instruments
can be very simple, like the castanets or the recorder, or highly complex, like the saxophone
or the piano. The price of musical instruments varies greatly, depending on whether it is an
entry-level instrument for beginners or a top quality instrument for professional musicians.

The human voice is both the most natural and complex

instrument. Our voice has wide expressive capabilities.
With our voice, we can express happiness, sorrow, anger
and many other feelings. And we can also produce
musical sounds of different pitch, intensity and length.
From a musical perspective, the human voice is classified
in six basic types:

Male voices: Female voices:

 Tenor (high)  Soprano (high)
 Baritone (medium)  Mezzo-soprano (medium)
 Bass (low)  Contralto (low)
Children’s voices of either sex are
high-pitched, and share the same
types as «female voices»

2. Classification
Organology is a scientific study and
systematic classification of musical
instruments. The most commonly used
classification scheme is based upon the way
sound is produced. Thus, three broad families
can be established: string, wind and
percussion instruments.

A plastic watering jug can be used to

make music (Pep Pascual in the picture).

Besides conventional musical instruments, meaning those purposely conceived
for music making, musicians have invented many «informal» or
«nonconventional» musical instruments. By means of small alterations, everyday
items, including fruits and vegetables, can be used as surprising musical

Sound example
Listen to this tune, performed on a watering jug by Catalan
musician Pep Pascual. In order to obtain musical sounds out of a
watering can, he attached a saxophone mouthpiece to its neck. Can
you think of any conventional musical instrument that has a similar
12 sound?

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3. String instruments
String instruments, also known as chordophones, produce sound from vibrating strings
stretched between two points. Depending on how the strings are set into vibration,
they are divided into the following subfamilies:

Bowed strings
Sound is produced by rubbing a bow
against the strings. There are many
bowed string instruments around the
world. The violin is the best-known
The violin family consists of:
 the violin (1),
 the viola (2),
1 2 3 4
 the violonchelo (3) and
 the double bass (4). Notice that the latter
is the only one that is «slope-shouldered».

Plucked strings
Sound is produced by plucking the strings with
the fingers or with a plectrum*. The guitar is
the most popular plucked instrument

Spanish guitar Celtic harp Banjo

Struck strings
Sound is produced by hitting the strings with mallets.
The piano has a complex mechanism to activate the hammers.

Mechanism of an upright piano. The piano is, without any doubt,

the «king» of all instruments.

Sound example
Listen to these sound samples and match them to the instruments
shown on this page.
Unit 5 – The voice and the musical instruments Page 55
4. Wind instruments
Wind instruments are also called aerophones and they make sound by the vibration of an
air column enclosed within a tube. This tube can have several holes. By opening and
closing the tubes, different notes can be obtained. Merely blowing into a wind instrument
won’t make it sound; a specific technique is required for each one. Wind instruments are
divided into two subfamilies:

They were originally made of wood, whence their name. Nowadays, some of them are made
of metal, like the flute. All of the woodwinds have a gentle, expressive sound. There are
three types of woodwinds, according to their embouchure*:

 Edge-blown, such as the recorder or

the flute.

 Single reed, such as the saxophone

and the clarinet.

 Double reed, such as the oboe or

the bassoon.

They are made of brass and they have a cup-shaped mouthpiece, also made of brass. Their
sound is bright and powerful.
Most of them have valves to get different notes (like the trumpet). The trombone does not
have valves, but a sliding tube which changes the length of the instrument.


Mouthpiece Trombone Trumpet

Sound example
Listen to these sound samples and match them to the instruments
shown on this page.

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5. Percussion instruments
Percussion instruments make sounds when they are struck, shaken, scraped or struck
together, and they are divided into two families:

These instruments have a stretched
membrane, whose vibration produces
the sound. The tambourine and the
bass drum belong to this family.
1 2 3
They do not have a membrane, and
they sound by the vibration of the
instrument itself. The güiro, the
triangle and the maracas belong to
this family. 4 5 6

The music classrooms of schools are supplied with a selection of percussion instruments,
both pitched and unpitched, suitable for school performances

7 8 9 10

Think and Answer

 Name all of the instruments on this page.

 Indicate how their sound is produced (striking, clapping together,

shaking…) and their family (membranophones or idiophones).

Sound example
Listen to these sound samples and match them to the
instruments shown on this page.

Unit 5 – The voice and the musical instruments Page 57

6. Electrophones
Electric energy spread during the first decades of the twentieth century. That period saw the
first electric musical instruments, also known as electrophones, because they use
electricity to generate or amplify the sounds. Among the electrophones, we can find:
The theremin, which is the first important electrophone. It was
invented in 1919 by a young Russian physicist named Léon
Theremin. The performer moves his or her hands near two
antennae to control the pitch and intensity of the sound. It has
been used in science-fiction and horror movie soundtracks.
The electric guitar is the most popular electrophone. Its
sound is obtained by normal vibration of its steel strings, but
it is a very weak sound. The vibrations are picked up by
sensors located under the strings, called pickups, and sent to
an external amplifier, where they become audible. The
electric guitar has become popular since the 1950s.
The synthesizer is a powerful tool that can mimic or create
every conceivable sound. Robert Moog, an American
inventor, patented the first commercial synthesizer in 1960.

Sound example
This is a piece of music created on a computer, using a digital
synthesizer. It is built upon short musical patterns or «motifs» that
appear and disappear progressively. Look at the diagram below and pay
attention to the successive entries of the «motifs».
Aerobic - Electronic music V. Gil

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Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra

B. Britten

The composer and his work

Saint Cecily is the patroness of musicians. On November 22nd,
Saint Cecily’s day, Benjamin Britten was born in England. He
showed great musical gifts at an early age, and his first published
work was composed when he was still a school boy wearing shorts.
One of his best-known works is The Young Person’s Guide to the
Orchestra, based upon a theme by Henry Purcell, a 17th-century
English composer. Britten’s goal was to demonstrate different
instruments and sections of the symphonic orchestra.
Benjamin Britten (1913-1976)

!  The symphonic orchestra (see appendix) is the largest instrumental formation of

academic Western music. Today, these formations can number more than one
hundred musicians. Many works by the great composers have been written for a
symphonic orchestra.

The first part of the Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra consists of a theme that is played by
different instrument families and also by the whole orchestra (tutti).
We will identify each family and the tutti with the help of the drawings below:

Brass Woodwinds Tutti Percussion Strings

Tune your ear

Listen to this excerpt. Try to distinguish the instrument families and
guess which of the sequences below (A, B, C and D) is the right one
according to their order of performance.



Unit 5 – The voice and the musical instruments Page 59


Make a Kazoo
The kazoo, also known as mirliton, is a funny
and handy musical instrument. It is very easy to
make, yet it has surprising possibilities.
Music stores sell kazoos made of metal or of
plastic, like the one shown in the picture.

What do you need?

 A cane, metal or plastic tube,
about 15 cm long.
 A candy wrapper.
 A small rubber band.

How to make it?

1. Cut a hole in the tube, at about 4 cm
from its end.
2. Tighten the candy wrapper over the end
nearest to the hole and secure it with a
rubber band.

How to make it sound?

1. Apply your mouth to the hole and make different
sounds: talk, hum, growl, laugh, cry…
Experiment with all kinds of sounds.
2. What happens if you just blow?

Think and Answer

 What vibrates when the kazoo sounds?
 Where does this vibration come from?
 With what family would you match the kazoo, according to how the sound is

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Preliminary exercises
Before performing the recorder piece on this page, practice the phrases below separately:

1) 2)

3) 4)

5) 6)

Listen to my trumpet
V. Gil

Unit 5 – The voice and the musical instruments Page 61

Write the answers in your workbook.

1. What do we mean by «musical instrument»?

2. Name the six main types of human voice, from a musical point of view.
3. How is the sound produced in wind instruments?
4. What is an idiophone?
5. Match each instrument to its family:
 Ratchet  Woodwind
Bongos  Brass
Trombone  Percussion (idiophone)
 Clarinet  Percussion (membranophone)

6. Which of these percussion instruments sounds by clapping?

a) Güiro b) Cymbals c) Congas d) Xylophone

7. Which of these instruments does not belong to the string family?

a) Violin b) Banjo c) Harp d) Accordion

8. What instrument does this mouthpiece belong to?

a) Recorder b) Bassoon
c) Trumpet d) Kazoo

9. Which of these electrophones was invented first?

a) Electric guitar b) Theremin c) Synthesizer

10. What is another name for the kazoo?

a) Toy trumpet b) Mouthbow c) Mouth organ d) Mirliton

1. Identify and 2. What family does the recorder
comment on belong to?
this image.
How is its mouthpiece?

3. What are unconventional musical instruments? Write down some examples.

4. What are the differences and similarities between a violin and a double bass?

5. Spot the mistakes in the sentence below, and rewrite it correctly:

«On December 22nd, feast day of Saint Cecily, patroness of students, Benjamin Britten was born in
England. He displayed great musical abilities since he was a little boy».

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Complete this scheme in your workbook

Find out the price of a musical instrument.
Musical instruments are often expensive goods.
That is why musicians put a lot of effort into
getting the best value for their money.

 Find out the average price of the following instruments: recorder, clarinet,
accordion, piano, tenor saxophone, trombone and electric guitar.
 Look up in the internet, type in the name of the instrument followed by the
word «prices».
 Inventory the classroom instruments, find out their average price and
calculate the total cost.

Unit 5 – The voice and the musical instruments Page 63


«I am a happy man to have a profession allowing
me to travel so much. And I can also speak of
fortune by saying that I am a pianist. Piano is a
great instrument, too big to take it with you.
Instead of practicing I can read, eat, drink and do
other activities. Aren´t a lucky man?»

Arthur Rubinstein, polish pianist.

Next time I´ll

ask for flute REBUS
for myself!

String instrument.


Which two words below do not match any instrument?

 Sackbut  Endive  Serpent  Flageolet  Spinet  Conclave


Move the letters from the

right box to the left one to
form the names of six
common tools.

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