Making a Music Culture?

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Snyexarosha
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Making a Music Culture?

Post by Snyexarosha »

Hi, I'm brand new both to forums in general as well as to this particular forum, so let me know if I am doing something wrong, my question needs to go elsewhere, etc.

Basically, I am wondering about how you guys come up with musical traditions for your conworlds. I have a society that lives on earth but that has very little contact with the outside world, so I would like their musical aesthetic to be somewhat unique to reflect this. I've thought about what sorts of instruments they might develop, and since they enjoy telling stories and probably tell stories while playing instruments, it seems they would prefer non-wind instruments. I also happen to like both the look and sound of stringed instruments a lot. However, beyond this I'm not sure what to do (partly because I don't know a great deal about music). How do you develop an entirely unique instrument, let alone musical tradition?

One video I've been thinking about in this respect is https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rFR9PEMgr3M, from Worldbuilding Notes on Youtube.
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Re: Making a Music Culture?

Post by elemtilas »

Snyexarosha wrote: 06 Mar 2021 21:27 Hi, I'm brand new both to forums in general as well as to this particular forum, so let me know if I am doing something wrong, my question needs to go elsewhere, etc.

Basically, I am wondering about how you guys come up with musical traditions for your conworlds. I have a society that lives on earth but that has very little contact with the outside world, so I would like their musical aesthetic to be somewhat unique to reflect this. I've thought about what sorts of instruments they might develop, and since they enjoy telling stories and probably tell stories while playing instruments, it seems they would prefer non-wind instruments. I also happen to like both the look and sound of stringed instruments a lot. However, beyond this I'm not sure what to do (partly because I don't know a great deal about music). How do you develop an entirely unique instrument, let alone musical tradition?

One video I've been thinking about in this respect is https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rFR9PEMgr3M, from Worldbuilding Notes on Youtube.
Hi and welcome home! Hopefully you'll come to appreciate forums as a medium for geopoetic discussion. Unlike short form chat places like FB or Discord or Reddit, here we'd actually welcome & encourage you to give us some walls of text regarding your worlds and cultures; and we'd also encourage long form discussion. Be as verbose in questions & answers as you like!

A few thoughts on your questions:

I think the approach you'll end up taking will depend a lot on the nature of your world. You say it's Earth and the people are humans. I'd ask you, is this a straight up alternate history with strict realism, or is this a low fantasy setting or even an all out fantasyfest? Next, I'd ask exactly how isolated are these people through time? There aren't many places on Earth where people can live that people don't live; and the only places where they don't live are really places where they (most likely) can't live without a relatively high technology & culture base to support them (like Antarctica). Then I'd ask, where do they live? Other cultures around them (whether related or not) will have some impact on them, either because of infrequent contact or because they are distantly related and came from the same parent culture.

That being said, there are still zillions of different ways you can go with this! While I agree that playing a whistle and telling a story at the same time presents difficulties, there's no reason a wind instrument can't be used. And in fact, it could be an interesting exploration into an invented culture to imagine how a whistle like instrument can be used to great effect while storytelling. They can, when built right, imitate birds, and wind, and the screams of victims! Whistles (one of the two basic types of flute) are thought to be among the oldest of human musical instruments.

But there are other direction to explore: You mentioned strings, and stringed instruments are an obvious choice. Lyres and harps are known the world over and have been associated with story telling for ages. Bowed instruments like the morin khuur are also fantastic for narrative song and recitation as are plucked instruments of the lute family. You don't even need to use "strings"! If large bamboo is available, one can devise a stringed instrument made from a segment by slicing out but not removing segments of the outer cortex of the stalk.

This instrument is played in many parts of the world from Madagascar up through SE Asia. Check out this Philippine kulitong. Can be played by plucking or tapping.

They could use drums of many kinds, they could use lithophones or xylophones or rattles. Literally anything that makes music! The only limitations are your own native creativity and the type of world & culture you're making.

For me, what I tend to do when confronted by this kind of question in my own work is to dreamwalk. That is, go for a visit to the people in question! Visit them. Be with them for a time. Get to know them. Sooner or later, your own people will literally tell you everything about themselves. There are often times when I can't get it all down fast enough! Just as anthropological fieldwork in the real world can yield books and articles full of material about real human peoples, so too some dreamwalking fieldwork can net you an abundance of awesome material!

I mean, you have an idea where they live, and you have an idea how advanced they are so you've got an idea what kinds of materials are around them that they could use. It's just a matter of watching them do it right in front of you!
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Re: Making a Music Culture?

Post by Salmoneus »

A question I wish more people would have! Sadly, music seems to be a rather overlooked subject, with people ignoring it, or assuming it'll just be like modern classical and/or pop music, perhaps with 'more primitive' instruments.

Unfortunately, while I've often - including this very week - been tempted to write a guide to music (from a perspective that might be of use to conlangers)... I haven't. And it's kind of a big subject.


Also unfortunate, I'm afraid, is the short version: the way to make a unique musical culture is "with great difficulty". Compositional talent is something most of us don't have much of...

Having said that, learning about music - what's universal, what's variable - is a good start. I'll see if I can use your question to kickstart my long-projected essay series...

--------

For your more specific question, there's good news and bad news. The bad news is that, basically, you can't develop an entirely unique string instrument, because there's not many options and they've all been tried. [the same is largely true of the other types of instrument, though there are possibly a few concepts there that haven't been implemented on a mass-produced scale]. The good news is that you can easily develop a somewhat unique string instrument, because there's a vast number of them, and even a small change can create a recognisably different sound and character (more so with strings than other instruments, actually).


---------------


OK, so maybe we can quickly run down how string instruments work?

1. Strings vibrate

A string, when taut, vibrates when it is disturbed. This is a harmonic vibration (which I'll have to explain another time), which basically means it sounds nice. Making vibrations in the world is easy; making harmonic vibrations is hard, which is why there aren't many distinct types of instrument.

String instruments are not as old as wind instruments, but they are incredibly ancient nonetheless; they probably began shortly after the hunting bow was invented (which was at least 70,000 years ago, although bows never reach Australia and were lost in the migrations across much of Oceania).

2. Reinforcing the sound

A string, by itself, is usually very quiet. The sound of the string is only the small wave in the air created by the string pushing it - and because the sting is very thin and doesn't move very far from side to side, it doesn't push much air (it mostly cuts through the air instead). So the second key invention, after the 'musical bow', was the realisation that you can, in effect, amplify the sound of the string by finding a way to move more air.

The simplest way to do this is to attach a gourd or other hollow or hollowed-out object to your bow. The vibration of the string is passed through the bow (if you've ever fired a bow, you'll know how the bow itself vibrates in the hand once the string has been released), and vibates the gourd. The gourd then vibrates the entire volume of air inside it, and the wave from THAT volume of air is much bigger, and hence much louder. However, no extra energy has been added compared to the version without the gourd, so the energy to move that air has to come out of the string, so it doesn't vibrate as long. Hence, some plucked instruments, with more "coupling" (a more efficient system of moving energy from the string to the 'gourd') are louder, but have a 'dirtier' (gourdier) sound that fades away more quickly, while others, with less coupling (more energy stays in the string), have a 'purer' sound that lingers longer but (all else being equal) are quieter. To give two common instruments as examples: a guitar has relatively more coupling, so sounds earthier, perhaps more human, whereas a harp has less coupling, so sounds pure ('angelic') and lingers on.

This basic model continues to be the basis of (almost?) all string instruments, and it has just two elements: a vibrating string; and a "resonating chamber" or "soundbox" - a solid piece of semi-rigid material that encases a volume of air, and that is in some way connected to the string. The soundbox can sometimes be divided into two parts: an actively vibrating element (the 'soundboard') and a less-actively-vibrating additional element that's just there to encase the air; however, in some cases the entire box actively vibrates.

Finally, the box doesn't have to completely enclose the air. It can do - it can be a closed box - but much more often it's open, so that the air inside can more easily spread its vibration into the air outside. It can be almost completely closed, with only small "soundholes", or it can be largely open - you only only really need to enclose the 'front' and 'sides' of the volume of air, it's OK to have the back open. So, for example, it's common to used a gourd cut in half, creating (more or less) hemispherical soundboxes. [NB I'm not sure these open resonators are technically still called 'soundboxes', but I assume you want the principles here, rather than the precise academic terminology...]

The basic model of the bow with an attached gourd continues to be found in that form in many parts of the world, particularly Africa - in the modern world, the gourd can be replaced by a tin can or metal tobacco box. A modern example of this is the Brazilian [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Berimbau# ... rimbau.jpg]berimbau[/url], which is pretty much the ur-form of the string instrument.

3. Attaching the box

So... string, and box. And you also actually need a third thing: something (semi-)rigid to attach the string to (the bow of the musical bow).

But this still gives you options: primarily, the question of how you attach the box to the string-bearer and the string.

The first option thinks outside the box: don't attach them. You can actually just hold the box near the string and get some benefit. This is sometimes done by holding a musical bow over a bowl, or a pit in the ground, but usually involves using the player's own mouth as the box, by holding the string up to the open mouth. This gives a lot of control to the player (who can shape the tone by changing the shape of their open mouth), but isn't very loud and is pretty awkward to do.

The second option is pretty simple: attach the string to the bearer, and stick the box on the back of the bearer, as the berimbau does. The same idea is seen in this belly-harp. Here, there's more than one string (we'll get to that later!), and the bearer is now not a single piece of wood (a bow) but two pieces joined together (with a third at the open end for reinforcement), with the box attached where they meet.... but I'm sure you can see the simple evolution from the berimbau. A slightly different version is seen in the Congolose enganga - again, multiple strings, but this time aligned in the other plane, and the "bow" is a straight, flat, wide stick. And the gourd is attached upside down. But the principle is still the same! A more polished version of that is the Indian rudra veena - again, a straight stick bearer (instead of a slightly concave bearer and straight strings, the rudra veena has a straight bearer and slightly convex strings pushed out by nuts - but we'll talk about that later!) - but again, there's a gourd - a massive gourd, in fact TWO massive gourds - just stuck on the back.

But this still isn't all that loud - the vibration can't get to the box without going through the bearer, which is (relatively) rigid, which deadens it. But eventually somebody realised: if you move the box down length of the bearer, right to the end, then you can directly attach one end of the string to the top box itself! This lets the vibration pass directly from the string to the box, making a louder sound. Hooray, string instruments are solved!

Here's a picture of what we've got: this one is a Mangbetu instrument. Here, the 'box' is made of skin, rather than gourd, and it's attached directly onto the end of the bearer (the 'bow'), so that the strings directly touch its surface. The strings aren't actually attached to the top of the box, because the skin is breakable - the curve of the old musical bow continues through the instrument, you just can't see it because it's under the skin. You can see it in this 4000-year-old Egyptian benet - the strings have gone over time, as has the skin that would have covered the box. But you see the solid string-bearer - made of two attached pieces, one on the left and one on the right - while the end of the leftmost half of the stringbearer has been carved into the base of an open soundbox - the box would originally have been covered in skin of some sort. Hopefully you can see how this instrument has evolved from the earlier bow-and-gourd assembly. Almost exactly the same instrument is still found across Africa, and in Asia, in more polished forms: here is a Georgian changi, and here is a Burmese saung.

This instrument is a harp. It became popular in ancient Egypt, and across the empires of ancient Mesopotamia - the chang (ancestor to that changi and that saung) was played in Persia from around 4000BC up to around 1900CE, so clearly it worked pretty well (though, oddly, ancient chang players played it the other way around from the modern instruments - that is, with the soundbox end held vertical, not horizontal - as in this Sassanid mosaic). You may not immediately have thought that this was how the modern European harp worked. But look at this Peruvian harp. The wooden pillar on the right is just there for reinforcement, so ignore it. Instead, look at the top (curved) wooden post, and then at where the strings touch the surface of the giant soundbox: see the angled wood of the old musical bow, and the string(s) from one side of it to the other, and the soundbox (the gourd!) stuck below it, but going all the way to the string-connection, so that the strings touch it directly. The modern concert harp is exactly the same, except that the soundbox is smaller and less obtrusive (by having a really LONG soundbox, as long as the lower half of the string-bearer, you're able to have a narrower soundbox of the same volume; plus, the modern harp has a metal box, which is more vibration-y than wood, and hence the box can be smaller for the same volume).


But wait!

The harp STILL has a volume problem! Yes, the strings TOUCH the soundbox... but they touch it the wrong way. The string vibrates from side to side... but ideally, you want the top of the soundbox to vibrate up and down, to 'pump' the air in the box. Harp strings don't do that. They're inefficient. Yes, you can make a loud harp - the modern concert harp is louder than the classical guitar - but they need to be huge and metal and have reinforcing pillars, and even then they're STILL not very loud. No, what you need to do is have the strings parallel to the soundbox, not perpendicular.

This produces the instrument known as the baltic psaltry, known in Finland as the kantele. Think of this as a harp with the top half of the 'musical bow' cut off (and the strings aligned in the other plane - we'll talk about strings later!). We now ONLY have the soundbox end. The string now longer comes down at an angle, so it can be parallel to the top of the box. Of course, it can't touch the box at both ends - then it would be lying flat on the box and couldn't vibrate. So it has to be lifted up from the box. In one of these kanteles, the string is attached to a 'peg' at each end; in the other, there's only a peg at one end and a bar at the other (an ingenious idea that I'm not sure is used elsewhere?), but the principle is the same. You can even have the second end not held up at all. If you have the string attached to a peg at one end, but passing over the end of the instrument at the other end, then you have a Chinese guqin! (ignore the beautiful wavy sides, they're purely for ornamental purposes). Now, the guqin and the kantele are from opposite ends of Eurasia and probably developed independently (I'm guessing?); they're played quite differently (more on that later!), and they also differ in their strings (the kantele has metal strings, the guqin uses gut). The guqin is also much longer. However, they're remarkably similar instruments in basic plan! Both of them have strings held up at one end by a pin, but otherwise more or less paralle to the top of a soundbox. The soundbox in each case is a literal box, but with a hole (for the guqin, two) on the bottom of the box. (you also get kanteles with the hole on the top instead, though I think the hole on the bottom is older).

(the guqin, incidentally, is at least 2500 years old, but probably older)

....but STILL there's a problem with volume!

You see, we're kind of back to the old musical bow problem: the vibration is having to pass through a relatively inflexible element - here, the pin, or the rigid corner of the guqin soundbox - which deadens it. It's better than the old arrangement with a box stuck on the back of the bearer - here, the connecting element is much smaller, and the box much bigger. But it's not ideal.

So now FINALLY we get the last - ok, penultimate - string instrument invention: the bridge.

We've said that the string has to be raised up from the box, and we've done this with a pin. But the force the taut wire exerts on the pin is inward - parallel to the string, but perpendicular to the vibration of the string, and the ideal vibration of the top of the box. If you make it so that somehow the string, the box, AND the linking element are all trying to vibrate in the SAME direction, it's much more efficient! And how do you do that? Very simply. Instead of raising the string up at each end, you attach the string to the box at each end, and then raise up the string in the middle by putting an obstruction in the way! The taut string wants to be straight, so it actively PUSHES the obstructing thing DOWN onto the top of the box. When the string bounces up, the pressure on the obstructing thing - the "bridge" - lessens, so the force on the top of the box lessens, so the top of the box bounces out as well; when the string bounces down, it pushes the bridge harder, pushing the bounc, so the top of the box bounces down as well. You're no longer waiting for vibrations to just make their way into the box - you're forcing them in. The more you force, the better the coupling (the more energy you put into the box). So, the tighter the string (i.e. the more it wants to straighten itself by crushing the bridge), and the higher the bridge (the more the string is distorted from straight), the more the coupling, and so the greater the volume of the instrument.

You can have a bridge at one end of the string, as in the guitar, or two bridges (I can't think of any examples off-hand!). You can have one string per bridge (eg the koto), or one bridge for all the strings (eg the guitar). The guitar has a low bridge, but the cello has a high bridge. But the principles remain the same.


This basically covers all common musical instruments. But there's still a few variations, which I'll deal with in the next post, mostly dealing with one simple question: how many strings, and what do you attach them to?

But I'm tired now...


Anyway, I hope this is useful to you; if not, hopefully it'll be useful to someone else!
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Re: Making a Music Culture?

Post by elemtilas »

Salmoneus wrote: 07 Mar 2021 01:58 For your more specific question, there's good news and bad news. The bad news is that, basically, you can't develop an entirely unique string instrument, because there's not many options and they've all been tried.
Happily, this isn't actually much of a problem! Unless you are truly looking for 100% never been done before kind of unique. I look at this as more of an opportunity to reinvent the wheel, having fun while doing it and coming up with something delightful in the process. So what if there are 500 kinds of fiddle out there in the world? There's always room for one more! And your culture needs one! (Or some kind of instrument, anyway!)

As for compositional skills, I've been on the fence for years whether or not to actually study that. By no means a latter day Mozart, I have had some success with the Naive School of composing, just doing it. Trying out some melodies and harmonic structures and letting the music goes where it will. I think learning some basic music theory (just enough to be dangerous) and not being afraid to experiment are pretty good weapons when it comes to making fictional music.

Same basic school applies to instruments. Don't be afraid to build or modify what already exists! There are plenty of dirt cheap instruments out there to experiment on.

But of course, to each her own!

More later!
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Re: Making a Music Culture?

Post by elemtilas »

Salmoneus wrote: 07 Mar 2021 01:58Unfortunately, while I've often - including this very week - been tempted to write a guide to music (from a perspective that might be of use to conlangers)... I haven't. And it's kind of a big subject.
I think you should do just this! It would be a great tutorial, and I agree with you, fictional music is something that not many of us get into. Besides myself (and you) I've probably met half a dozen other folks who go in for this topic. Usually when music is brought up, it's in light of "what kind of real world music invokes memories or feelings of your fictional world". It's almost never, "have you ever written in-world music?"

The last few posts of yours I've seen look to be pretty awesome beginning points!
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Re: Making a Music Culture?

Post by Snyexarosha »

You guys are so amazing, thanks for all your great responses!! I joined the Worldbuilding Stackexchange just a few days ago, but quickly realized that it wasn't a discussion-based group and that that's what I really wanted. Glad to see that such a place exists!
Salmoneus wrote: 07 Mar 2021 01:58 Unfortunately, while I've often - including this very week - been tempted to write a guide to music (from a perspective that might be of use to conlangers)... I haven't. And it's kind of a big subject.
I second elemtilas--you should definitely write it! I really appreciate your reinventing-the-wheel approach of looking at where instruments came from, what problems they solved, and why they are the way they are. This is the perfect jumping-off place for me.

Composition is obviously a bit trickier, and like you say probably requires some music theory schooling as well as intimate cultural understanding of the people in question. What is it exactly that makes a culture have distinct music, besides the types of instruments they use? Should I pick a scale and start experimenting with that scale? A kind of beat? In short, what are the building blocks I should be playing with here?

The philosophy of this culture may have several musical implications, although I'm not sure how exactly they will manifest in music. One thing that comes to mind is they believe that history is repetitive, that all things are essentially echoes of past things, and that the human experience itself is unchanging--basically, history as a wheel. This results in stories with specific phrases and events that are repeated throughout in different contexts; that is, while the events of the story appear to cause change, repetitive elements make listeners reflect on the past and draw parallels between past and present. As the repeated elements travel through the various contexts of the story, they gain new meanings, despite still literally meaning the same thing. I could see this interest in repetition also applying to composition.
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Re: Making a Music Culture?

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Salmoneus wrote: 07 Mar 2021 01:58 Unfortunately, while I've often - including this very week - been tempted to write a guide to music (from a perspective that might be of use to conlangers)... I haven't. And it's kind of a big subject.
I would already be happy with a collection of all your helpful posts on conmusic (or even conworlding in general). You could call it the Salmoneum [:D]
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Re: Making a Music Culture?

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Snyexarosha wrote: 07 Mar 2021 04:42 You guys are so amazing, thanks for all your great responses!! I joined the Worldbuilding Stackexchange just a few days ago, but quickly realized that it wasn't a discussion-based group and that that's what I really wanted. Glad to see that such a place exists!
You're welcome!

How did you find us from there?

SE is a great forum for getting specific answers to fairly advanced questions, but not broad questions like this!
I second elemtilas--you should definitely write it! I really appreciate your reinventing-the-wheel approach of looking at where instruments came from, what problems they solved, and why they are the way they are. This is the perfect jumping-off place for me.
Excellent! I really do hope we'll get to see (and maybe hear!) some of the results! Salmoneus is correct, strictly speaking, in that there really isn't anything new under the Sun. That leaves us with two choices: mope & despair or else approach with creativity and make the reinvention your own!
Composition is obviously a bit trickier, and like you say probably requires some music theory schooling as well as intimate cultural understanding of the people in question. What is it exactly that makes a culture have distinct music, besides the types of instruments they use? Should I pick a scale and start experimenting with that scale? A kind of beat? In short, what are the building blocks I should be playing with here?
Excellent questions! As with the recent discussion on what makes different kinds of guitars sound the way they do (there are scores of factors that go into it), a similar answer will result here. As with language, music & culture are diachronic. Whatever music you hear in a folk setting now is the product of musical and cultural evolution stretching back myriads of years. Some of it is straight up physics: if Mars were still green and had people on it, simply because the atmospheric medium is comparable and the physics of vibrating bodies is universal. Some is physiological & neurological, in what we can hear and how we interpret sound, especially key intervals, consonance and dissonance. Quite a lot of what makes one culture's music sound different from another is nothing more than instrumentation. One culture might prefer a guitar (and we associate Spanish music so heavily with the guitar); another might choose the whistle (the whistle is almost universally known as the quintessential instrument of Ireland). Even though, American music also makes heavy use of guitar and the whistle is used just about everywhere! This is where we get into details like scales & rhythms, forms of dance, gamut, style of playing, how the instruments are constructed, set up (prepared for use), tuned and played. You can immediately tell whether a fiddler is playing Irish music or Hungarian music based on these kinds of fundamentals.

Before picking a scale, I'd actually recommend getting yourself a couple cheap but representative instruments. (If you're in the US, Goodwill sells musical instruments online often for very cheap.) Get yourself a penny whistle and maybe a dulcimer or a violin and a little lap harp / psaltery. You're not looking to collect Stradivarii here, or even really to learn "how to play" the instruments; you're just looking for some small instruments to experiment with. Familiarise yourself with how to blow and how to bow and how to pluck. Discover the intervals and what sounds good (and what sounds bad!)

Explore some basic theory: scales, modes, intervals, note reading & musical orthography. But there's no need to go overboard. Get a little tuner and tune your psaltery to a scale you like, and discover what sorts of sounds, runs, chords maybe, motifs, ornamentation you can make. Always attune yourself to your own world's people while doing this: as you dream about their music, try to imitate it! Record it (even if you suck at playing!) and write it down. Folk music is rarely like orchestral, classical music in its complexity and depth of form, which is why I've always hesitated to study composition. Frankly, if basically every person on the planet who lives within a traditional culture can learn to make music (learning tunes as well as using the building blocks of traditional music to make new tunes), why do I need to seriously study music theory and compositional methods to replicate what already comes 100% naturally to the human genius!?

And so, in my own worldbuilding, I just try to write out what I hear from the people of the world as they play their music. It seems you're already aware of some of the basic building blocks: scales, intervals, melodic motifs, rhythms / beats. Beyond that, just use Youtube to explore folks music from around the world (try to look for individuals in their natural, home setting rather than a more formal concert setting). Find something you like (or rather, find an analogue to your own people's music!) and use it for inspiration!
The philosophy of this culture may have several musical implications, although I'm not sure how exactly they will manifest in music. One thing that comes to mind is they believe that history is repetitive, that all things are essentially echoes of past things, and that the human experience itself is unchanging--basically, history as a wheel. This results in stories with specific phrases and events that are repeated throughout in different contexts; that is, while the events of the story appear to cause change, repetitive elements make listeners reflect on the past and draw parallels between past and present. As the repeated elements travel through the various contexts of the story, they gain new meanings, despite still literally meaning the same thing. I could see this interest in repetition also applying to composition.
On reading that, I'd wonder if their music weren't similarly repetitive / cyclic. Consider that during a traditional music set, the musicians might play three different complimentary tunes, and each tune might be played several times! Differences of ornamentation or emphasis might come into play, different style or slightly different tune shape might be heard. So over the course of the set, you might hear a motif (a tonal, rhythmic and melodic building block, like [4/4 | ♪abc#f# gabe | f#d𝅗𝅥d𝄽| ] ) 16 times. It won't always be the same exact sequence played exactly the same way. If the theme of history repeats, it always repeats with variations!

Perhaps their music will share some characteristics of Scottish pibroch. This is a kind of Scottish classical music for bagipipes (though can & is also played on harp and fiddle) that involves long melodic compositions with elaborately ornamented variations.
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Re: Making a Music Culture?

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elemtilas wrote: 07 Mar 2021 20:29 Get yourself a penny whistle and maybe a dulcimer or a violin and a little lap harp / psaltery. You're not looking to collect Stradivarii here, or even really to learn "how to play" the instruments; you're just looking for some small instruments to experiment with. Familiarise yourself with how to blow and how to bow and how to pluck. Discover the intervals and what sounds good (and what sounds bad!)
Mountain dulcimers are damned expensive - the price range I've seen is $250-$500 for a decent one, or $110 for one in a shop in Martinsburg that was worse than the ones I've built myself - it was built by somebody's grandfather and sold from the inheritance, IIRC, and the shopkeeper didn't know what it was.

You could try to build one, but this will reveal the problem: frets are a pain in the ass. The traditional way to make mountain dulcimers is to fret the noter string with large staples and leave the drone strings unfretted, which is a little easier, but there's a reason frets are relatively recent - it's much easier to build a harp, a lyre, or a zither than a fretted instrument. Anyone with the materials and tools could build a psaltery, for example, in a weekend - it might not sound great, but it would work. But building a dulcimer is an endeavor - which explains why they're much more expensive than the less musically limited psaltery. (The one time I've seen a psaltery for sale, it was somewhere in the $90-$100 range.)

Speaking of psalteries, there are some early 20th-century American instruments derived from the psaltery that don't have well-known parallels elsewhere - the bowed psaltery, the ukelin (a box-shaped bowed psaltery with chord strings in the middle), and the autoharp (a keyed psaltery). It would be possible to combine the principles of the ukelin and the autoharp to produce something like a string analogue of the accordion - as far as I know this has never been done, but it could solve one of the main problems of the ukelin (and the similar Marxophone) - the chord mechanism isn't capable of providing interesting accompaniment.

(The other main problem of the ukelin, and most early 20th century American string instruments, is that there were too many strings - people couldn't be bothered to tune them and/or forgot how. It's not that hard, but it was hard enough to give lutes a market advantage over zithers. Zithers have other, less apparent advantages over lutes, though - for one thing, they aren't susceptible to bent neck.)
Salmoneus wrote: 07 Mar 2021 01:58 You can have a bridge at one end of the string, as in the guitar, or two bridges (I can't think of any examples off-hand!).
Would this be distinct from the "third bridge"?
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Re: Making a Music Culture?

Post by Snyexarosha »

This is great! I should mention I already have a ukulele, piano, and a classical guitar (although the classical guitar is not currently at my house...I will have to get it here). I know how to play 1.5/3 of these instruments haha. A ukulele seems especially easy to experiment with. I think something similarly small and portable, rather than box-like, would be ideal for this people, since there is a tradition of travelling storytellers who carry their instruments on their backs, going from town to town, akin to the Ukrainian kobzars.
elemtilas wrote: 07 Mar 2021 20:29 How did you find us from there?
Actually, one of the posts on Worldbuilding Stack Exchange led me here. I kept seeing people's questions getting closed for violating community standards, and in looking up these rules they suggested going to other forums (including this one) if you wanted to have actual discussion.
elemtilas wrote: 07 Mar 2021 20:29 Perhaps their music will share some characteristics of Scottish pibroch. This is a kind of Scottish classical music for bagipipes (though can & is also played on harp and fiddle) that involves long melodic compositions with elaborately ornamented variations.
I will definitely check this out, thank you!
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Re: Making a Music Culture?

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Repetition is indeed central to music - and to some forms more than others.


But to finish off what I was saying about string instruments....


-----------------------


5. Strings and where to put them

We can imagine that the earliest string instruments had a single string. But this gives you a problem - you only get one note. You can sometimes vary this note - if the soundbox is your mouth, or an open gourd held against your stomach that you can close and open by moving it away from you, you can sometimes bend the pitch of the note. But it's a fairly vague process. If you want multiple notes, the easiest way to do that is very simple: have multiple strings.

The note (pitch) of the string is defined by, broadly, three things: its length; its 'weight'; and its tension. 'Weight' is actually a combination of physical weight, physical thickness, flexibility and more nebulous qualities of material composition, so it's hard to mathematically define pitch relative to a single measure of 'weight' - but nonetheless, in practice, essentially, the thicker and heavier the string, the lower the pitch of the note. You can see this on a guitar or piano: the lowest-pitch strings are often made of a different, heavier material from the uppermost strings. Likewise, the longer the string, the lower the note - hence, cellos are bigger than violins. And finally, the more tightly you pull the string, the higher the pitch. You can make a thicker or longer string match the pitch of a thinner or shorter string by pulling it more tightly. [and for a given substance and cross-sectional shape of string, pitch IS defined very mathematically by length and tension, at least within the playing range (it'll probably get weird at very low or very high tensions)]

[what can you make strings out of? Almost anything - even actual string. Ideally, you want something strong, to withstand the tension without snapping, but also flexible (because the more inflexible the substance is, the thinner you have to make it, or the higher the tension you need to put on it, to get a usable note). Cultures with less access to materials may use natural textiles - bark fibres, for instance, in forested areas, or wool in pastoralist areas. Horse hair is very popular with nomads, for both practical and symbolic reasons. An interest phenomenon is the "idiophonic" instrument, in which the string and the string-bearer (and often the box) are actually naturally attached - a common way to do this is to use wood with a thin and flexible bark, and have the 'string' just be a thin strip of bark still attached at both ends, but raised up in the middle by bridges; this is commonly done with bamboo, but probably works with other things too. The 'string' doesn't have to be a perfectly round string - sometimes, with bark strings, they may be more like ribbons; but the wider the 'string' is, the less it's like a string instrument, and the more it's like a percussion instrument (in south east asia, you can have closely-related instruments where one acts as percussion and one as a string instrument).

However, there's three ideal string substances in nature: animal intestine (gut); silk; and metal wire. Gut (usually sheep gut, although lion gut and wolf gut are also known to have been used) is the cheapest and most earthy-sounding (though it sounds rather nicer than horsehair, imo). Silk is expensive and limited in origin. Metal is 'best', but requires wire-drawing technology (5th century BC for gold wire in Persia, but wiremaking wasn't widespread in Europe until the 10th century CE), and also requires your instrument to be much more robustly built (because the tension on the string - and metal strings need a lot of tension - is not only trying to snap the string, but is also trying to rip apart the instrument). You can also combine substances, usually by winding an outer layer of something heavier around an inner string of something lighter, to add 'weight' - gut overwound with metal was introduced in Europe in the 18th century. You can also increase the weight of the strings by twisting them more (gut strings are like twisted ropes), or coating them in an adhesive powder, or soaking them in metal-rich solutions, and so forth. Oh, and one other string option: sinew. Theoretically this should be great, but it's not been used much (maybe it's hard to make the string?) - old Chinese instruments used to use duck sinew strings, though.]


So, anyway. We've decided we want multiple strings, with different pitches. Fiddling with string weight is a bit hit-and-miss with primitive industry. Adjusting tension is also at first a challenge - early strings are tensioned by hand, simply by pulling the string tight and then attaching the other end to something. So the easiest option by far is simply to have strings of different lengths.

Where do we put them? Well, if we start with the musical bow, it has one string, across the 'top', from one end of the curved (or later, angled) bow. Because the bow is a curve (or, later, two sides of a triangle), you can extremely easily add a second, shorter string 'inside', or 'below' (closer to the belly or point of the frame) the first. And a third, and a fourth. When you combine this sort of stringing with a soundbox right at the end of the frame, where the strings connect, you get, again, a harp.

What if you want the strings parallel (or near-parallel) to the box, though, as in a guqin? Well, then you can't easily just stack the strings on top of each other, because the ones on top would be a long way from the box, and have a long pin to transfer their vibrations through. Instead, it makes sense to put the strings side-by-side. And likewise, when you realise you can add a bridge to increase the coupling, you're still likely to put the strings side-by-side, running parallel along the length of the box.

What you have, in that case, is something like the kanun - known to have been played (other than a tricky contraption attached to it that we'll talk about later) since at least 1900BC. As you can see, it's basically a harp on its side: or rather, the box that is normally at the 'bottom' of the harp, underneath the lower arm of the string-bearer, is now 'beside' the string-bearer and the strings. The strings are long at one end, and get shorter toward the other, providing multiple notes. More generally, an instrument like this is called a 'zither'. [a zither is a specific subtype of this instrument, found in Europe, but it's also the general name for an instrument with parallel(ish) strings passing over the face of the soundbox]

[but you don't, technically, NEED to put the strings side-by-side if you use a bridge. If you have a thin but insanely high bridge, you can put each string through its own hole - or over its own hook - on that bridge, stacked vertically, creating a structure sort of like a cable-stayed bridge (in the non-musical sense of that word!). This is rather inelegant and complicated (if different strings go over the bridge at different heights, not only does that make them different lengths, but it also makes them different tensions (the more the string is distorted, the greater the tension, all else being equal), and it does so in a way that awkwardly ties tension to length directly)... but it does happen, with a number of African instruments. (historically, it kind of seems as though these instruments have developed directly from the harp by adding a bridge, without going through a zither stage). The most famous example of this sort of instrument is the =https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Cat ... uments.jpgWest African kora[/url].]


But let's go back a step. We've talked about musical bows, and other instruments, like the rudra veena, that have their soundbox detached from the instrument, or else attached to the back of the instrument, far from the strings. We've also talked about harps, with the soundbox moved to one end of the string-bearer, directly in contact with the strings. And then we've talked about instruments where the strings are more or less parallel to the face of the soundbox, connected via pins or bridges or other elevating element. But here we have a question: if one end of the string is attached to, or near, the soundbox, what is the other end attached to? In the harp, you need to have a long pole at an angle (or curve), because the strings need to come 'down' from 'above' onto the box. But with parallel strings, you don't need this. So, at this point, three categories of parallel-string instruments emerge:
zithers have both ends attached to the box (or to wings immediately attached to the box)
lutes have one end attached to the box, and the other end attached to the end of a long stick, as in a harp (but now the stick isn't at an angle)
lyres have the other end attached to something that's not a long stick or the box. In practice, the strings are attached to a bar, held away from the box by an arm on either end, so that the string passes over an empty space before reaching the box. The lyre is structurally more like a lute (an arm for holding the string; indeed, 'technically' lyres are considered "yoke lutes"), but has the distinctive feature that you can play it almost like a harp, as in this Greek picture of a phorminx player. The lyre was invented by 2500BC at the latest.

Now, in that lyre picture - as in the guqin and the kantele, you can see we have something odd: the strings are the same length! How do you get different notes out of them, then? Well, you make some more taut (higher-pitch) than others. To do this, you need to invent a tuning system, which is usually some kind of rotating peg - although the kora (that weird thing again!) instead does it with friction-rings, attaching the string to a leather ring that's held very tightly to the pole, and you can slide it up and down the pole to change the tension.

I should also say, though, that there's a middle way: if you want all your strings to be the same length (to make a nice rectangle!), but don't want to bother giving them different tensions, you can instead directly alter the "speaking length" - the amount of string that vibrates - by changing the position of the bridges.

And of course, you don't need to make a binary choice between length-tuning and tension-tuning. Some instruments, for instance, particularly those that define string length with bridge position, will stagger their strings: a set at one length, and then a set at another, with strings in each set differentiated by tension - this lets you have fewer bridges that if you were defining each length individually, but also lets you use a narrower range of tensions for the same number of strings. Other instruments, like this zither, begin with length-tuning, but switch to tension-tuning once the required lengths would be too great. Pianos do this, actually - in fact, they combine three tuning mechanisms: in general, higher pitches have shorter strings, but to prevent the bass strings being inconveniently long, tension is also used to tune them... but because the bass would STILL be too long, there's also at least one and often two switches in string material.

Oh, and one final trivia point: with a zither, the soundbox doesn't have to be flat. You can also have a tubular soundbox, with the strings on every side of it, as with the valiha. It's believed that Chinese zithers (the guqin and guzheng) probably originated with bamboo like this, or with halved bamboo, and they retain a slight curve on the upper side of the box.

Next question:

6. More strings - how many strings?

As many as you want. And the style of music will influence this: if you only need two notes, you only need two strings. But there's also something more significant at play here: the penultimate great string invention (I know I said that before, but I mean it this time!) - the closed string.

So far, we've assumed that each string gives one note - one pitch - defined by its length (and tension, and weight). However, if you hold the string still, partway along its length, then you've effectively 'defined' a new, shorter length (two, actually - one one each side). This was probably known about a very, very long time ago - even basic musical bows often make use of this effect. But on a bow, it's hard to define a specific 'stopping' point, and to perform the stop easily. Because although the string can be stopped just by pinching it, the best way to do it - giving a cleaner and more precise stop, performed more quickly - is to press the string against a hard object.

You can't easily do this on bows, or harps, or lyres. But you CAN do it on zithers and lutes. On zithers, it can have a negative consequence that you're also obstructing the vibration of the top of the soundbox - people do use this technique, but less often. But with lutes, it's a very attractive option, because much of the string is passing over an acoustically (mostly) dead pole. And this gives you a major decision to make: how many strings? You can have lots of strings, or even one string per note*, which makes it easy to play, and in particular lets you play many strings simultaneously to build up chords, but this requires... well, lots of strings. And lots of places to put them. And a lot of time and effort tuning all those strings. Or you can have few strings - even just one string! - but this requires technical skill to play different notes on the same string. It also tends to shape the nature of the instrument: lutes with few strings tend to have longer necks, so that you can easily play many notes on one string (without having to play on the body), as with this two-string dutar, whereas lutes with many strings tend to have relatively shorter necks (which are stronger and better suited to cope with the tension of many strings), as with this oud... though this correlation is not absolute. [every so often, someone's going to say "why don't I add some strings to this dutar?" or "why don't I remove some strings from this oud?", and they won't necessarily immediately redesign the instrument's shape]

(you can also, incidentally, go both ways. Some instruments have some strings that are played "closed" or "stopped" (the player artificially shortens the string), and other that are played "open" or "unstopped" (the string is always played at its natural length). So on some lutes, you have "diapason" strings - additional strings, usually in the bass, that are played open - as on this angélique, while on some zithers there may be a few strings, usually in the treble, that are played closed, as in this concert zither).

Now, stopping a string by pressing it against a board can be harder than it sounds. To make it easier - both to make it easier to get a clean stop, and to make it easier to know where to stop it - most stopped-string instruments make use of a "fretboard": that is, the board that you press the string against to stop it has a series of raised protrusions, 'frets', that the string can be pressed against. This means you don't need to push the string as far to make contact (sometimes the entire fretboard is actually raised above the level of the soundtable to assist this further), you can have the string make contact against a sharp edge for a cleaner contact, and you also don't have to be precise in pressing the string, as you can press in a relatively forgivingly broad area behind the fret and still have the string make the appropriate contact. Frets are often temporary and moveable structures - the European viol family instruments use simple circles of gut tied around the neck of the instrument - but later instruments sometimes use fixed frets of a harder material. This makes it easier for the player, though it limits the musical abilities of the instrument (by forcing the use of a particular scale and temperament); it's also necessary if higher-tension strings are used.

Finally, we should say, there is another way of stopping a string - and that's not stopping it. Stopping is simple - you tightly press the string at a point, so that a vibration one one side doesn't travel to the other. You can do it at any point of the string. But there's another option: if you touch the string so that that single point cannot vibrate, but gently enough that vibration can still pass the point of contact, then you instead make the string act like a much, much shorter string; but this can only be done at points that are a simple fraction of the whole length of the string. Doing this allows the player to 'select' an upper partial from the harmonic series, which, frankly, is a whole mess of stuff we're not going to talk about today. Many instruments use these "harmonics" for dramatic effect - they tend to sound thin or bell-like, and unusually high-pitch - but I'm only aware of one instrument where this is the main way of playing... and that's our old friend, the guqin. Go back to the picture of the guqin I linked to before, and look at those little silver dots next to the strings - those dots tell the player where the low-integer-fractional divisions of the string are, where useful harmonics can be found. However, you can't get many harmonics off a string - note that those dots are symmetrical and equivalent (the ones on the right do the same thing as the ones on the left), so there's only 7 harmonics to be played on that instrument. That's about the limit, although really long string instruments can sometimes get 8 (maybe you can get 9 on the double bass?), and shorter strings make it harder to even get up to 7.


*a technicality here: when I say 'string', I should say 'course'. Many instruments, particularly with gut strings, have two or more strings that are typically played simultaneously, sounding the same note (or sometimes an octave apart), because a single string is too quiet. A set of strings designed to be played as one in this way is called a "course", and instruments are typically defined by the number of courses, rather than the number of actual strings.


Anyway, that's enough for now!
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Re: Making a Music Culture?

Post by elemtilas »

Nortaneous wrote: 07 Mar 2021 21:25 Mountain dulcimers are damned expensive - the price range I've seen is $250-$500 for a decent one, or $110 for one in a shop in Martinsburg that was worse than the ones I've built myself - it was built by somebody's grandfather and sold from the inheritance, IIRC, and the shopkeeper didn't know what it was.
Ah! That's why I specifically mention Goodwill (for those in the US). As of this very minute, I can get one from GW for the bank-busting sum of $7.99. For the purposes of this exercise, it doesn't have to be a vintage Mize in perfect condition. It can be a DLO for all it really matters.
You could try to build one, but this will reveal the problem: frets are a pain in the ass. The traditional way to make mountain dulcimers is to fret the noter string with large staples and leave the drone strings unfretted, which is a little easier, but there's a reason frets are relatively recent - it's much easier to build a harp, a lyre, or a zither than a fretted instrument. Anyone with the materials and tools could build a psaltery, for example, in a weekend - it might not sound great, but it would work. But building a dulcimer is an endeavor - which explains why they're much more expensive than the less musically limited psaltery. (The one time I've seen a psaltery for sale, it was somewhere in the $90-$100 range.)
Building is always a possibility. Most dulcimers will come with frets, but it's possible to find them without. I got one from a local shop a couple years ago along with a project DB. Pretty nifty little instrument! Of course, if you build your own, you can leave it fretless or you can put frets (particularly the staple kind) wherever you want. You can even make removable fretboards with different fret arrangements (I've seen those on Scandinavian dulcimer ancestral instruments.
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Re: Making a Music Culture?

Post by elemtilas »

Snyexarosha wrote: 07 Mar 2021 22:37 This is great! I should mention I already have a ukulele, piano, and a classical guitar (although the classical guitar is not currently at my house...I will have to get it here). I know how to play 1.5/3 of these instruments haha. A ukulele seems especially easy to experiment with. I think something similarly small and portable, rather than box-like, would be ideal for this people, since there is a tradition of travelling storytellers who carry their instruments on their backs, going from town to town, akin to the Ukrainian kobzars.
One thing you can consider for them is fashioning the body of the instrument, and perhaps the neck, too, from a single block of wood. The top could be made from wood or animal hide (like a banjo).
How did you find us from there?
Actually, one of the posts on Worldbuilding Stack Exchange led me here. I kept seeing people's questions getting closed for violating community standards, and in looking up these rules they suggested going to other forums (including this one) if you wanted to have actual discussion.
Ah, that would be me! Glad someone actually read that and found it useful!
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Re: Making a Music Culture?

Post by Vlürch »

My reply will be the least helpful, but eh, I'll post in this thread anyway just to ramble about why I struggle with this myself.

If you're fine with the music of your conculture never existing in real life, as in you have no plans to make it yourself or to ever commission somebody to make it, then you can go as nuts as you can and as long as it doesn't cause you any discomfort that it will never exist, that's great! Then you really have nothing to worry about, except maybe that the instruments would actually be functional but if they're at least somewhat similar to real-life instruments, that shouldn't be too much of an issue. If you can either make unique instruments yourself or can afford to pay a luthier to make them or whatever, then of course this doesn't apply since you could make your conculture's instruments real and the conmusic could be made real.

Personally, I mostly avoid the music side of things in my conlangs/concultures because I'd get this feeling like "ugghhh I want this music to exist" and considering I can only even try to play already existing instruments and I'm not a luthier or anything (and could never afford to pay someone to build instruments), it'd just keep growing more and more intense the more detailed the descriptions were.

Like, for example, if I write:
"This conculture has a lute-like instrument with fourteen strings in two courses and scalloped frets in a system of nine-tone equal temperament, the length of the neck spanning two octaves. The strings are tuned in thirds, with the secondary strings tuned an octave lower for the lowest two courses, in unison for the third, fourth and fifth courses, and an octave lower for the highest two courses. It is made of redwood and has two elliptical soundholes diagonally across the strings, and is painted white with decorative floral designs. Typically only one course of strings is played at a time, though the lowest two are often let ring out while playing melodies on the others."

...well, now I want an instrument like that. I can kind of imagine how it might sound, but obviously not really, and even if I could afford to pay someone to make an instrument like that, it wouldn't really be worth it and it'd be pretty impractical. If I write something like "this conculture's music uses 9/8 and 13/8 time signatures prominently", well, I can make music in 9/8 and 13/8 but obviously I can't make music that'd be fitting for that conculture since I could only use instruments that exist in the real world (and even that selection is extremely limited for obvious practical reasons).

That's not to say I think fictional music is entirely pointless, like if you're writing a story or something and music is mentioned, describing the music is going to make it more immersive. Just, well, it not existing is a bit unfortunate, but that's what makes it fictional, so... uh... if you made the kind of music that would be your conculture's music, would that make it real music even if it was explicitly identified as "traditional composition titled [title in conlang] of the [conculture] people" or would the fact that said culture doesn't exist make it just a performance of music from a fictional work of art?🤔

This is getting kinda philosophical or whatever, maybe just ignore my ramblings.
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Re: Making a Music Culture?

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Nortaneous wrote: 07 Mar 2021 21:25
Salmoneus wrote: 07 Mar 2021 01:58 You can have a bridge at one end of the string, as in the guitar, or two bridges (I can't think of any examples off-hand!).
Would this be distinct from the "third bridge"?
Yes, unrelated. This takes us into some technical areas I've kind of glossed over in the ongoing 'quick explanation of string instruments' posts (which have ended up... not quick?), so here's the brief rundown...


Most lutes and zithers do, in a sense, have two bridges. The second bridge, however, is placed on an acoustically inactive area that doesn't drive the soundboard, and it's only there essentially for mechanical reasons - you can get a cleaner definition of the length of the string if you don't feed the end of the string directly into a tuning mechanism, but instead pass it over a hard ridge instead - and in particular this lets you put your tuners in a row (as on a guitar, violin, etc) and still have the end of each string aligned in a row, which makes playing rather more intuitive. Some instruments do this just by passing the string over the end of the instrument, but most use a bridge for this purpose, particularly with higher-tension strings (which might not enjoy a 90-degree bend over the end of the instrument as in the guqin). A "dead" bridge like this is called a "nut". Most string instruments therefore define a "speaking length" between a live bridge and a dead nut.

But you could use two live bridges. This wouldn't have any acoustic effect on the string itself - the only difference is that the second bridge would also drive the soundboard. You've have to be careful with cancellation effects, but it should be entirely possible, and I think it does happen. You could even have the two bridges drive two different soundboxes! (I'm not sure if THAT happens, though). The total number of bridges in this scenario, including nuts, could be 2 (the two live bridges), 3 (two live, and a nut purely for mechanical reasons to assist getting the string into the tuning machine), or even 4 (one at either end, the other to assist getting the string into whatever holds the string at the other end).


As I understand it, pop music "third bridge" techniques are about something very different: they're about what happens to the NON-speaking part of the string.

We've assumed that the string is strictly defined by its bridges: the vibration stays between the two bridges. But in practice, some of the vibrational energy can 'leak' beyond the bridge, into the unspeaking string. You can prevent this in three ways:
a) better coupling. Higher tensions and sharper, taller bridges are better at preventing leakage.
b) actively 'stilling' or 'damping' the unspeaking string. This can be done by holding cloth or the like against it (or pressing it against cloth).
c) just relying on the fact that the unspeaking length is very short, and the combination of high tension and short length will yield a low effective flexibility that won't vibrate very much.

What happen if you fail to prevent leakage? One of two things. If the unspeaking length is a low-integer fraction of the speaking length, then it will resonate sympathetically - acting as a sympathetic string, effectively (drawing energy out of the speaking length in the process) and create a chordal effect. If the unspeaking length is NOT a low-integer fraction, then the resonance effect is much weaker, and the note produced by the unspeaking length will not be highly consonant with that of the speaking length, creating a "semiharmonic" sound like that of a bell or gong. [instruments often just assume that, as well as this length being very short and stiff, it'll also probabilistically be a long way from any recognisable fraction of the speaking length, so the effect will be very weak and can be ignored].

If you WANT these effects, however, you can make an instrument that produces them: use a lower, more rounded bridge, ideally with a lower string tension; make sure you don't accidentally damp the unspeaking length; and make the unspeaking length relatively long, and ideally an aliquot of the speaking length.

This actually happens in European classical music: on the piano. Traditional pianos used to intentionally damp the unspeaking lengths, but many since the mid-19th century use what's called "duplex scaling" - the unspeaking length beyond the bridge is intentionally designed to be a fraction (1/4, 1/8 or 1/16) of the speaking length (either by having the right length of string to begin with, or by adding a second bridge (i.e. third, if you include the nut)), so that it sounds a number of octaves above the main note (and also acts a sympathetic string for the rest of the strings). Some pianos even have triplex scaling, with a very short sympathetic span above the nut. Duplexing makes a lot of sense on unfretted (in the broad sense - i.e. one string per note) instruments, because each string has a fixed pitch, and hence it's easy to set the aliquot string length for each string.

But the pop music "third bridge" comes from the realisation that you can fairly easily prepare a guitar to produce sympathetic effects. You can't easily use the existing unspeaking length, because it's too short - in fact, on a conventional classical guitar, it's almost negligible, with the hitchpins immediately behind the bridge. On instruments (like many folk guitars, and the violin family) with somewhat longer lengths, you can actually try to play beyond the bridge and use the main speaking length as the sympathetic span (because it's easier to force energy directly into the stiff shorter length and have it leak into the more flexible longer length than vice versa). But on a guitar, you have to create an additional bridge that better suits your needs - the "third bridge", which is usually something low and rounded, for maximum leakage. You can then either limit yourself to playing notes that are harmonically related to the span beyond the bridge, or else you can play inharmonic notes and intentionally produce semiharmonic, gong-like noises. This works particularly well, of course, on an electric guitar, where your microphone can pick up even small noises (so it doesn't matter so much if the effect is weak) and your amplifier can selectively enhance those upper (or lower, depending on bridge position) harmonics.

This probably doesn't occur much outside of modern electrified pop music, for the simple reason that if you do want a metallic gong sound, you can just build a damn gong...
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Re: Making a Music Culture?

Post by Salmoneus »

Vlürch wrote: 08 Mar 2021 16:50 Like, for example, if I write:
"This conculture has a lute-like instrument with fourteen strings in two courses and scalloped frets in a system of nine-tone equal temperament, the length of the neck spanning two octaves. The strings are tuned in thirds, with the secondary strings tuned an octave lower for the lowest two courses, in unison for the third, fourth and fifth courses, and an octave lower for the highest two courses. It is made of redwood and has two elliptical soundholes diagonally across the strings, and is painted white with decorative floral designs. Typically only one course of strings is played at a time, though the lowest two are often let ring out while playing melodies on the others."

...well, now I want an instrument like that. I can kind of imagine how it might sound, but obviously not really, and even if I could afford to pay someone to make an instrument like that, it wouldn't really be worth it and it'd be pretty impractical. If I write something like "this conculture's music uses 9/8 and 13/8 time signatures prominently", well, I can make music in 9/8 and 13/8 but obviously I can't make music that'd be fitting for that conculture since I could only use instruments that exist in the real world (and even that selection is extremely limited for obvious practical reasons).
The first thing I'd say is: yes, different instruments sound differently, but not THAT differently. And you can download soundfonts that let you 'play' a very large number of instruments on your computer.

The second thing I'd say is: you're describing a Herati dutar. Well, not the double soundholes, admittedly. But it's a long-necked (i.e. double-octave) lute with 14 strings (I don't know why you'd ever want 9tet, but you can of course tune the strings however you want...).

[usually, long-necked lutes seem to be limited to four courses, but in Herat they just said, 'bugger it...' and went for the full seven...]
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Re: Making a Music Culture?

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Vlürch wrote: 08 Mar 2021 16:50
Like, for example, if I write:
"This conculture has a lute-like instrument with fourteen strings in two courses and scalloped frets in a system of nine-tone equal temperament, the length of the neck spanning two octaves. The strings are tuned in thirds, with the secondary strings tuned an octave lower for the lowest two courses, in unison for the third, fourth and fifth courses, and an octave lower for the highest two courses. It is made of redwood and has two elliptical soundholes diagonally across the strings, and is painted white with decorative floral designs. Typically only one course of strings is played at a time, though the lowest two are often let ring out while playing melodies on the others."

...well, now I want an instrument like that. I can kind of imagine how it might sound, but obviously not really, and even if I could afford to pay someone to make an instrument like that, it wouldn't really be worth it and it'd be pretty impractical. If I write something like "this conculture's music uses 9/8 and 13/8 time signatures prominently", well, I can make music in 9/8 and 13/8 but obviously I can't make music that'd be fitting for that conculture since I could only use instruments that exist in the real world (and even that selection is extremely limited for obvious practical reasons).
See, this is where practical geopoetry comes in! I've got your instrument in my head. The basis for transformation will be to obtain an oud. They (basic level, okay quality) can usually be found on Ebay for $200 to $400. The oud is a fretless instrument, obviously related to the lute. They have 13 strings (the lowest being unpaired, but you can modify to add the 14th string, or you could pretend one of the bass strings "broke" and you have to do without!). They are fretless, so you'll need a fret calculator (those you can find online) and some heavy gauge staples. (Traditionally, dulcimers and instruments of that family having unequal frets were fretted with actual staples -- easy and cheap!) You could either use small staples for each portion of the fret, or bend a piece of brass wire to the correct scalloped shape. Ouds aren't made of red wood, but you can mimic that by using stains. (Also note that many string instruments are "faked" in that the fingerboards, e.g. aren't really ebony -- they're just painted black!) And anyway, you're just going to paint the whole thing white with flower motifs! Once the aesthetic transformation is complete, restring the instrument with appropriately gauged strings. You could go for nylon, to be sure, as that's a stable and suitable kind of string for this instrument. Or, you could invest in a few sets of gut or even silk strings.

This alchemical process is something almost any worldbuilder can do with very basic tools and knowhow. It's just a matter of setting up your resources and taking the time to measure, especially for the frets.
That's not to say I think fictional music is entirely pointless, like if you're writing a story or something and music is mentioned, describing the music is going to make it more immersive. Just, well, it not existing is a bit unfortunate, but that's what makes it fictional, so... uh... if you made the kind of music that would be your conculture's music, would that make it real music even if it was explicitly identified as "traditional composition titled [title in conlang] of the [conculture] people" or would the fact that said culture doesn't exist make it just a performance of music from a fictional work of art?🤔

This is getting kinda philosophical or whatever, maybe just ignore my ramblings.
Any time an artifact is brought through the veil between the worlds, whether it's an amulet or a book or a coin or a tool or a piece of music or a folk tale, it takes on a reality here in the primary world. It exists. You can experience that artifact and interact with it in a way you can not simply by reading a description of it. Is this piece of music any less real (it causes sound waves to move from your computer to your ear and thus you brain where you interpret it as (something vaguely) music(like)) simply because the instruments represented don't exist in the real world or because the composer or the country or the history of that culture's music is all in my head?

If I did the work of transforming an oud into your culture's unnamed lute-like instrument, while in a sense it still an oud, it is also now the best approximation of that other instrument we have this side of the veil. If you can use it to play music in a system of nine-tone equal temperament, it is for all intents and purposes, that instrument.
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Re: Making a Music Culture?

Post by Salmoneus »

elemtilas wrote: 08 Mar 2021 18:35 They (basic level, okay quality) can usually be found on Ebay for $200 to $400 ...you could invest in a few sets of gut or even silk strings... This alchemical process is something almost any worldbuilder can do.
As I think has been pointed out before: you don't seem to realise that not everybody shares your economic (or indeed physical) privileges.

Meanwhile: no, he can't easily turn an oud into his instrument, because his instrument is a long-necked lute and an oud is a short-necked lute. You'd have to have fretwork all the way down over the soundhole! [even if having one soundhole instead of two wouldn't change the timbre, which it would]. It would be much more practical, if he were wealthy and retired and had his own workshop and technical experience and could afford to do all this bullshit in pursuit of whimsy, to buy a long-necked lute of some sort and add more strings (and possibly reinforcement?) to it...

...or just buy a Herati dutar. They're rare, but they do exist. Someone sold one on 'Goodwill' in 2015 for $101.


EDIT: holy shit, is 'Goodwill' some kind of exploitation site? Some of their prices are insanely low, surely. I've never tried to buy a flute, but there's a whole heap of flutes from recognised makes that are under $10 on that site, with carrying cases included. I think I'd feel guilty buying one for so little!
[there's also an oud for under $10, but there's only one and I'm assuming that'll be bid up by the time it the auction's over]
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Re: Making a Music Culture?

Post by Davush »

Salmoneus wrote: 08 Mar 2021 20:51 [there's also an oud for under $10, but there's only one and I'm assuming that'll be bid up by the time it the auction's over]
I can guarantee you none of the ouds on that site (if we're looking at the same one) would be good for anything other than as an ornament.

Also, since we're talking about ouds (my favourite and most played instrument), the most common by far these days is the 11-stringed, or 6-course oud, where the lowest bass course has only a single string (and a half-way decent sounding one would realistically be at least $500). Adding courses and inappropriate strings to an oud is very tricky, as oud are already very prone to warping and other structural issues (stringing an 'Arabic' oud to 'Iraqi' tuning even a 4th higher can permanently damage it)...so, perhaps not the best instrument for experimenting with its structure...
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Re: Making a Music Culture?

Post by Vlürch »

Salmoneus wrote: 08 Mar 2021 17:50The first thing I'd say is: yes, different instruments sound differently, but not THAT differently.
Sure, but the difference in the sound between eg. a guitar and an ukulele for example is notable. Even if you tune an ukulele to EADG in the same octave as a nylon-string acoustic guitar, well, it'll still sound more like an ukulele than a guitar... or I guess it sounds like a really tinny floppy guitar, but still, it doesn't sound the same as a guitar. But yeah, there really aren't any entirely unique-sounding instruments.
Salmoneus wrote: 08 Mar 2021 17:50And you can download soundfonts that let you 'play' a very large number of instruments on your computer.
Of course, but they never sound entirely realistic. They're very "static-sounding", which isn't that much a problem with percussion or wind instruments, but with string instruments it's a bit more of an issue. For example I wanted sitar in a couple of songs on my latest album and had to use three different sitar soundfonts and two different sitar VST's to get it to sound "realistic", and in the end it still didn't sound convincingly like a real sitar, which is fine since it gets the idea across but there's a reason why a professional would get someone to hop in with a real sitar (if they can't themselves).
Salmoneus wrote: 08 Mar 2021 17:50The second thing I'd say is: you're describing a Herati dutar. Well, not the double soundholes, admittedly. But it's a long-necked (i.e. double-octave) lute with 14 strings
Ooh, interesting. I didn't know about that existing! Funny how it's called the same as an instrument with two strings... goes to show that there really is every kind of string instrument out there.
Salmoneus wrote: 08 Mar 2021 17:50(I don't know why you'd ever want 9tet, but you can of course tune the strings however you want...)
That specifically was just because I'd watched a video about a composition in 9TET less than an hour ago when making that post. [xP] It was just something I threw in to make it less of a "standard average European instrument" or whatever.
elemtilas wrote: 08 Mar 2021 18:35transformation
Reading that transformation was entertaining. [:D] Anyway, I'm not going to argue about whether that'd work or not (Sal mentioned some issues with it, I can imagine more, but that's besides the point). I should've thought of something weirder, anyway.

An oud would be nice, though... but I mean, they are expensive even if within "I'll save up for this" territory; I've considered buying one before, but... well...
elemtilas wrote: 08 Mar 2021 18:35Is this piece of music any less real (it causes sound waves to move from your computer to your ear and thus you brain where you interpret it as (something vaguely) music(like)) simply because the instruments represented don't exist in the real world or because the composer or the country or the history of that culture's music is all in my head?
Mmh, true, that music exists (and sounds nice), just like anything else that came from being a "realisation" of something fictional. Whether it "really" is that thing doesn't really matter, but I feel like if something is made using something else than what it conically would be made using, it's still an approximation/interpretation if that makes sense; kind of like how a sculpture made in real life of a sculpture that in a fictional story was made using magic wouldn't really be that sculpture. Of course, with music it's less clear-cut and really doesn't objectively matter how it's made.
Salmoneus wrote: 08 Mar 2021 20:51...or just buy a Herati dutar. They're rare, but they do exist. Someone sold one on 'Goodwill' in 2015 for $101.
Damn, that seems like an unbelievably good deal for any string instrument that's not mass produced by a cheap brand. Might have been broken or something? I couldn't even find anywhere to buy one new, not that I'd buy one (unless it was 100€...)
Davush wrote: 08 Mar 2021 21:46(my favourite and most played instrument)
Cool! I love how ouds sound, never seen/heard one in real life but it seems like such a cool instrument.
Davush wrote: 08 Mar 2021 21:46the most common by far these days is the 11-stringed, or 6-course oud, where the lowest bass course has only a single string (and a half-way decent sounding one would realistically be at least $500).
The cheapest on a certain European site is 250€, it has one review saying it sounds bad... so...
Davush wrote: 08 Mar 2021 21:46Adding courses and inappropriate strings to an oud is very tricky, as oud are already very prone to warping and other structural issues (stringing an 'Arabic' oud to 'Iraqi' tuning even a 4th higher can permanently damage it)...so, perhaps not the best instrument for experimenting with its structure...
Oof, that sounds like even just owning one is kinda risky, like it might break easily in general?
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