Author: Campbell, Bruce

It's great to resonate!

Today's column from Bruce Campbell
Wednesday, September 1, 2010

If you play music often enough, with enough different people, you will discover that there are some folks who seem to bring out the best in your playing, or your singing, or both. It happens to everyone, at every level, and once you’ve experienced this, you are always trying to recapture the feeling.

We often hear instrument makers speaking of a tonewood being resonant. I first encountered the phrase in college, in Electronics, when we studied resonant circuits. In a resonant circuit, the amplitude of a wave form jumps up when the frequency of the AC current matches the oscillation that results from the circuitry itself. Mumbo jumbo, yes, but when we had these little test circuits (consisting of a variable resistor and an inductor) hooked up to an oscilloscope, the size of the wave would increase dramatically when changing the resistance (a/k/a “tuning the circuit”) caused the circuit’s oscillation to match the AC current frequency. The result was greater than the sum of it parts – or so it seemed.

I think a great tonewood may not necessarily amplify a sound, but it can facilitate it so well, by having vibration characteristics so in tune with the sounds applied to them, that the tones fairly jump out. Let’s face it – the minute you create a musical note, the whole world conspires to destroy it. Everything it touches seeks to absorb it, starting with the very air through which it travels. So anything you can do to preserve and prolong the sound gives it a special, pleasing ring. The best singers know how to use their head and chest to resonate with the tones being produced, and when you play in a circle with these folks – you know it. Their voices seem to start about a foot outside their mouths, rather than inside. Their voices carry through the air with a special power not necessarily related to the volume. Now THAT’S resonance!

And so it goes with these special folks whose sound and tone matches up so well with you own, that suddenly YOUR sound jumps out like never before. The first time it happens, you want to take the credit for it yourself. “I’ve really turned a corner in my playing (or singing)”, you think to yourself. And so you move on to another jam to inflict your newfound musical wonderfulness onto some other jammers. Then you discover the magic has fled. Your voice is pitchy, your rhythm ragged and your phrasing awkward.

The players with whom you resonate may not have much to do with tone, specifically. It could be their style of playing particularly matches or complements your own. It could be that their sense of rhythm perfectly meshes with, or supports your rhythm. If often is subtle, which is why it can be hard to spot. You may play with a person on and off over a period of years before you realize your “hot nights” always seem to include sessions with this person.

Whatever the reason, when you stumble across a way to “tune your resonant circuit”, it adds a whole new dimension to your enjoyment of playing music!

Posted:  9/1/2010

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