Friday, February 5, 2010

More Progress

Tonight I experimented with placing a 100 mm linear pot on the handle of the "trombone" instrument, where the player holds it with the left hand. By touching the pot with one of the four fingers of the left hand, the player is able to select one of five partials (no fingers, one finger, ... four fingers). With this arrangement, I was able to play a decent taps:

I also found that playing trombonistically was a lot more natural with this arrangement. For example, if you're playing F (2nd overtone) and want to go up to G, on a trombone, you'd go from first to fourth position, and blow up to the next partial. On my instrument, you would go from first to fourth position, and put the next highest finger down. When I tried this, my body just sort of did it naturally, probably because the physical orientation of the overtone selection was the same in my brain (up).

Now, since there are only 4 fingers to work with (and possibly the thumb, if I can free it up from its job of keeping me from dropping the instrument), to cover the typical 8 partial + range of the instrument, to make this work, we may need to figure out some sort of "chording" for the fingers of the left hand. One thing that occurs to me right away is to use the one-finger-per-overtone approach for the lower partials, then bring the other fingers back into the picture, e.g. (fingers are numbered 1 = index, 4 - pinky)

0th partial (fundamental) - no fingers (B flat)
1st partial - 4 (B flat)
2nd partial - 3 (F)
3rd partial - 2 (B flat)
4th partial - 1 (D)
5th partial - 1 + 2 (F)
6th partial - 1 + 2 + 3 ("A flat")
7th partial - 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 (B flat)

If you're a trombonist, you see that this is missing a few more playable partials (probably another 4-6 semitones is required of the physical instrument).

I don't have any good answers for how to solve these problems yet, but I'm revisiting my assumption that left-hand control of the overtone series is a dead-end. If I follow up on this approach, I think a set of momentary switches would work out a lot better than the linear pot.

On that left-hand-is-a dead-end front, I built a prototype mouthpiece with a baffle that splits the airflow into two vertically separated streams. After the epoxy hardens, I plan to use this to investigate the feasibility of using embouchure "gestures" as overtone selectors. It may be a total bust, but if I can make it work, I think it might make the instrument a lot more playable.

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