What makes an instrument fun?

1. What makes an instrument fun to play?

As an instrumentalist and music educator, I have had to learn a wide array of instruments, some more fun than others.  There are a variety of qualities that in my opinion add to the “fun”-ness of an instrument…

a. The instrument is accessible.  If an instrument is frustrating to control, most people will not find it fun right away.  This is why I see many people give up on traditional orchestral instruments right away – the work doesn’t seem to pay off soon enough and it loses its fun (unless you have a good teacher that makes it fun:) )

b. The instrument can provide variety.  In some cases, an instrument might be very easy to create the desired sound on… but it can only make that one sound.  That becomes boring very quickly.

c. The instrument is intuitive.  You want to be able to control the instrument in a way that makes sense.  With non-electronic instruments, this is not usually an issue.  For example, when you want to play a piano with a greater volume, you depress the key with greater force.  This makes logical sense.  This is something one should keep in mind when designing an electronic instrument.

2. What makes an instrument fun to experience as an audience member?

The number on thing that the audience member needs to have fun listening is HUMAN CONNECTION.  This is actually something I struggle with slightly as a clarinet player.  The energy needed for good clarinet playing goes into keeping a steady embouchure and powerful airflow – there is little a player can do visually to express him or herself.  Luckily the clarinet is a very expressive instrument capable of a wide range of volume, articulation, and color.  However, I often find myself envious of string players and pianists and percussionists who can incorporate facial expressions and body movement into their performances.  Many classical musicians will deny that this has anything to do with performance and insist that it should be 100% about the music.  However, I believe there is a real human connection that occurs when an audience can see certain movements from the performer.  The visual element of a performance often evokes more empathy from the audience than the auditory element.  Have you ever noticed that when people go to see a pianist perform most people try to get seats where they can see the pianist’s hands? SEEING the physical movement is enjoyable.  I think this is what made some of these videos – Michel Waisvisz, Laetitia Sonami, Oskar Sala, and Max Mathews – so captivating.  Take the Waisvisz video, for example: the sounds he created with the Hyper Instruments were fascinating, but as an audience member they are much more fun to experience if you see HOW he is creating them.  The human connection is really taken to the next level in the Perfect Paul video as well – taking physical human expressions and creating sound from them! Now that is human connection, and that is fun for an audience!

Allyson Edington


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