Percussive Therapy

64 Arts

Why this isn’t clustered with the earlier art of musical instruments I’ll never know, but we’re switching out our lace-making fiber for others of sturdier stuff.

27: Art of playing the vina and the damaru (drum)

Stringed instruments are the most important, particularly the vina. The drum is indispensable. Both are difficult and need to be practiced from childhood if the various notes are to be clearly distinguished.

So this art is about 2 percussion instruments: the Vina, a stringed instrument played either with or without a slide, and the Damaru, a 2-headed, hourglass-shaped drum. Both are popular is Hindu music.

The vina (or veena) is similar to a sitar, which is probably what most of us thing of when Indian stringed instruments are mentioned, but uses gourds as resonators and either is held in the arms or sat in front of while it rests on the floor (either on its resonators or on legs, again, it depends on the style).

Thanks to the wonder of the Internet and the “mecca” that is YouTube, here’s an example of veena music being played by (supposedly) the first female vichitra veena player!

Direct link for the feed readers.

The damaru is a much more portable instrument, it’s small size making it easy to carry along for whatever reason you might have. In many cases, it’s a ritual instrument, and kind of reminds me of that scene at the end of Karate Kid II. But I digress…

Direct link for the feed readers.

Now, I suppose I could have tracked down a damaru or similar drum in town (the vina might have been a little tougher), or even ordered one online and played around with it at my leisure.

Thing is? I’m short of leisure these days and, instead, I’mm using this art as a remider to plunk myself on the ground of my own studio and blow the dust off a stringed instrument I already own. (The dust is only on the case, thankfully.) My poor lap-hard hasn’t been getting much use at all.

Music is more than just playing notes or plucking strings. There’s a certain slow-down that happens, especially with a stringed instrument. You have to get situated, make sure it’s in tune, and remind your fingers where and how they go all before playing a decent note.

With a to-do list a mile long, this sort of thing might not sound like the best use of my time. I’m inclined to disagree, though. Being forced to slow down, reminded to take a moment for beauty and skill, is part of what “better living through creativity” is all about. Music may be ephemeral, ethereal, and a thousand other intangible things, but it’s the sort of thing that will never clutter up your corner or make more for you to dust. It will adjust your attitude, though.

So I encourage you to dust off that guitar you stopped taking lessons on months ago, open up the piano or even make your own tissue-box guitar and just have some fun making some noise.

That’s Where the Music Comes From!

64 Arts

I love, love, lurve this short cartoon that Disney made back in 1953: Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom, the building blocks of all musical instruments (and, yes, it’s the mate to Adventures in Music: Melody that I shared during the singing discussion).

(the only DVD I was able to find with these and tons of other awesome bits of animated nostalgia was the Walt Disney Treasures – Disney Rarities – Celebrated Shorts, 1920s – 1960s DVD)

I’ve talked about my “toot” instrument experience and the early-childhood “plunk” failures. Several years back, for a variety of reasons (though a large one was my involvement with the local SCA–Society for Creative Anachronism–group), I purchased a harp and have endeavored to teach myself how to play it. Off and on. Okay, more off than on.

Before I get too far into the harp, well before it’s purchase I was hanging out with this guy (it never really developed into dating, despite my temporary desire to the contrary) who loved to play the piano. One night, in the wee hours of the morning, I found myself sharing a practice room at the local University listening to him play. At one point he turned to me and said: “do you want to give it a try?”

“Oh, no, I can’t play the piano.”

“You can’t press a button?”

Gee, is it really that simple? Yes and no. On the one hand, the piano is a simple instrument in which each of it’s 88 keys represents a particular note on the scale. This is probably why folks who play ‘by ear’ (instead of using sheet music, they are able to pick out and match the notes they need by traveling up and down the keys) gravitate towards a piano or keyboard as opposed to instruments with many keys and valves (not that it doesn’t happen, just not as often).

On the other hand, it’s one thing to press a button or two in a particular sequence to play a tune and another level of skill, entirely, to understand chords and what notes sound right together (consonance) and which do not (dissonance). Some truly amazing things can be done with folks just noodling about on the keys but, me? I prefer a road map, which is what sheet music provides.

Guitar is another instrument many pick up and just seem to play. Of course, with only a handful of strings, it’s more important that the musician know which strings to press and on which section of the neck to change the chord they’re strumming or note their picking. As much as I would love to learn to play guitar I admit my vanity gets in the way: I like to keep my nails long, when they cooperate, and at least one hand would need to be kept short. Ick! Of course, Dolly Parton manages with those long nails of her’s so may there’s hope for me, yet.

Which brings me back to my harp. Like the piano, each string corresponds to a particular note on the scale. My little lap harp has 22 strings, covering 3 full octaves and sounds lovely when I do get the itch to tune it and actually practice it a bit. The only thing I would do differently, were I to purchase another, is to get one with levers.

Unlike a concert harp (the big ones you see performing with orchestras and at fancy weddings) that use a pedal to modify a note sharp or flat, lap or folk harps have little levers that sit above the strings that can be flipped to change the pitch of a note at will. Without levers, the harp has to be returned for each song that falls in a different key. I failed to adequately understand what an absolute pain in the ass that is.

Still, levers can be added after the fact though it’s not something I’m keen to do on my own. Considering how little I do play it, though, it’s not high on my priority list. I think I’d better work on my treble clef skills and playing with both hands moving at once, first!