|MadSci Network: Physics|
Music, like all sounds, is made up of vibrations travelling through the air. Musical instruments create their characteristic sounds according to their shape, how the vibration is started off and the amount of air forced to vibrate. Single reed instruments like the clarinet and saxophone use a reed of springy cane fastened at one end over a hole in a mouthpiece to start the vibrations going. The reed responds to breath pressure by beating against the hole many times per second, allowing puffs of wind into the tube to vibrate the enclosed air. The oboe and the bassoon are double-reed instruments which produce vibrations when two slender blades of cane pinch together rapidly under breath pressure, thus interrupting the wind stream passing between them into the rest of the instrument. Dry reeds are very stiff and difficult to set vibrating, on a clarinet you have to blow very hard and will make harsh sounds as a result and on an oboe, with two dry reeds next to one another, it would be nearly impossible to make a sound. When wet the reeds soften and become more flexible, they can bend to and fro more easily and so can be made to vibrate under more gentle breath pressure. This allows the oboe player to produce a hauntingly beautiful range of tones. Reference source: Microsoft Encarta 99
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