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6 Unique Musical Instruments You Didn’t Know About

Music is one language that everyone understands. It brings
people together and it is universal. It is hard to say when people began
developing music but we can guess that it was very early in the human history.
And from the very beginning of the history of music different peoples started
inventing their own musical instruments. There are some that are similar among
various nationalities and some that are completely different. We will have a
look at some unique musical instruments from around the world.

1. The Hydraulophone

The hydraulophone was created in the 1980s
by an engineering professor at the University of Toronto Steve Mann. He
invented this instrument for individuals who have vision problems so they would
be able to better use their senses. In fact, if you want to play the instrument
you need to get your hands wet because the sound is produced by pressurized
hydraulic fluid rather than by air.

The instrument looks like a curved tube
with several holes in it. The water is pumped through this tube and then is
spurts out. Above each hole there is a sounding mechanism. When you place a
finger over one hole the water is diverted to another part of the instrument.

2. The Balalaika

This is a traditional Russian folk
instrument, which resembles other stringed instruments, such as tambura or
dombra. It is believed that balalaika appeared in Russia approximately in the 1500s
and the first written document where it was mentioned dates back to 1688. This
instrument was popular with middle and lower classes. From its appearance
troubadours and jesters played it and ridiculed the ruling class of that time.
By the end of 19th century balalaika could be found almost in every
Russian household.

Balalaika is string instrument of
triangular shape. The balalaikas come in five sizes – from 20 inches to 5.8
feet. The modern balalaikas were developed by Russian musician Vasily Andreyev
at the end of 19th century.

3. The Ravanahatha

One of the interesting Indian musical
instruments is ravanahatha. This is a bowed string instrument. It was probably
invented at the times of King Ravana by the Hela community. Supposedly, the
instrument is named after this king. The ravanahatha is especially popular in Rajasthan,
North India among the street musicians.

The sound box of the instrument is made of
a half of a coconut shell with a membrane of goat skin. There are two principal
strings, one of which is made of horsehair and another of steel. There is a
stick made of bamboo attached to the shell, and some bells along the bow. The instruments
can vary in length.

4. RAV Vast

RAV Vast drum is another one in the list of
weird musical instruments. It combines the concept behind tongue drums and
handpans. This is a perfect instrument for meditation. The steel tongues
vibrate to create soothing meditative melodies. On each tongue up to 6
harmonics can be tuned. The range of the instrument could be spread to full 2
octaves of the scale.

RAV vast was invented by Andrey Remyannikov
in 2013, so it is a very modern instrument. Andrey spent months trying to make
different sounds from the steel instrument and came up with a perfect
combination.

5. Cajón

Cajon was invented in Peru in the late 16th
century. It is believed that in the
beginning it was played by slaves of African origin. The peak of its popularity
was in the middle of 19th century. Currently cajon is widely used in
Spain, the Philippines and both Americas.

The instrument is used to play such styles
of music as jazz, flamenco and others. A cajon is a box-shaped percussion
instrument that is played by slapping its rear faces or front with fingers or
hands. The box is made of thick wood. There is a sound hole on the back side of
the cajon.

6. Lurr

A lurr (or a lur) is an old Scandinavian
wooden instrument that was introduced by Vikings in the middle ages. The
instrument is played by embouchure and it is a blowing horn without finger
holes. Lurrs come in different shapes and can be curved or straight. It is
considered that the ancestor of wooden lurr is a bronze lurr that dates back to
the Bronze Age. It was found in Northern Germany and Scandinavian countries.
Lurr can be as long as 1,5 – 2 meters. In order to avoid directing loud noise
at nearby people curved lurrs were invented. Besides, such lurrs were easier to
carry.

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Choosing a RAV Vast Scale: Part I

So you’ve decided to buy a RAV Vast.

Congratulations! You are joining a passionate and diverse global community: music lovers, musicians and artists, yogis, healers and medical professionals, and more. You know you’re going to love your RAV. You know it’s going to change your life forever. But first – how do you pick a scale? There are so many to love, and they all sound beautiful! Well, consider this your guide to the land of RAV. Our tour will take us around the world, so buckle up, the Scale Safari is starting!

First, a couple notes:

RAV scales are available in Vast and Vast 2 models. A Vast is slightly more percussive, closer to the tone of a handpan; a Vast 2 is generally slightly louder with longer sustain. Neither is better or more “advanced”, just a little different.
The lowest note of each scale is called a Ding. A little bigger, a little richer than all of the other notes, it’s located in the center of your drum and designated in parentheses in the specifications below. For example, in the B Pygmy scale, B2 is the Ding: (B2) E3 F#3 G3 B3 D4 E4 F#4 A4.

If you are not a musician, don’t worry about the specifications. Just follow your intuition! Scales that pair well with guitar are designated by a superscript G: G
For the musically savvy, note the enharmonic chord spellings. For example, F# major and Gb major are the same chord, which name you use depends on whether you are playing in a sharp or flat key.

Africa: Pygmy Scale

Got your binoculars and expedition hat? The first thing you notice when you get off the plane is the sound of distant drumming. As you get closer, you make out the complex rhythms of a djembe, a shaker, and a RAV… improvising on a Pygmy Scale! Named for the forest dwelling hunter gatherers of sub-Saharan Africa, this warm, earthy, and mysterious minor scale is easy to play and a great choice for beginners, while advanced players will delight in its remarkable tonal depth. As the band stops playing, the tribe welcomes you to join them for a traditional meal of peanut stew, fufu, and grilled antelope.

Across the table, you notice the Pygmy family’s three brothers:

 

E Low Pygmy – VastG

(E2) A2 B2 C3 E3 G3 A3 B3 D4

Chords: E minor, A minor, C major, G major

Tip: The best-selling E Low version of this scale boasts the deepest sound of any RAV and is well suited to slow, meditative playing due to the long sustain. The price is higher due to the difficulty of production.

 

G Pygmy– Vast

(G2) C3 D3 D#3 G3 A#3 C4 D4 F4

Chords: G minor, D#/Eb major, A#/Bb major

 

B Pygmy– Vast 2G

(B2) E3 F#3 G3 B3 D4 E4 F#4 A4

Chords: B minor, E minor, G major, D major

 

Arabia: Kurd and Onoleo Scales

Who’s ready for one thousand and one Arabian nights? Forget Sinbad the sailor and Aladdin’s magic lamp – after playing the Kurd and Onoleo RAVs, you’ll have your own adventures to tell!

 

Your story starts with a trip to the bazaar, the Middle East’s famous open air marketplace and meeting place of merchants and craftsmen. There are certainly some curious characters here! In one stall, a goat farmer sells cheese and milk. Across the street, a richly dressed tea and spice merchant loudly proclaims his wares while a barber in a turban discusses the news of the day with his customers. But wait – what’s that sound?

A tall, handsome man wearing a full beard and a long robe is singing rajaz poetry, his deep voice sending his audience in the street into an ecstasy while a tabla drum and violin throb underneath. In the middle of the song, the tabla player gestures, and pulls out a mysterious steel drum engraved with ornate slits. A huge crowd gathers to see and hear the RAV Kurd. This balanced and remarkably versatile scale – named for the Kurdish people – is based on an Arabic maqam, or melodic mode, but is equally at home in Western and world music. An abundance of notes and chords makes it a great choice for improvising, either solo or with an ensemble.

 

Kurd– Vast 2G

(B2) F#3 G3 A3 B3 C#4 D4 E4 F#4 A4

Chords: B minor, F# minor, G major, A major, D major, E minor
 

Consumed with excitement, the sounds of singing steel ringing through your ears, you join a passing caravan and ride into the desert. Later that night, nursing a strong cup of Turkish coffee in a café, you watch the travelers congregate around a belly dancer. The rest of the crowd is watching the dancer, but you have eyes only for the beautiful, voluptuously curved…steel drum in the corner of the stage. Accompanying the dance by itself with strange, stinging energy, the RAV Vast seems to lift everything around it. After the music ends, you approach the belly dancer, insisting to know what scale that was. She winks and whispers in your ear…

 

Onoleo – Vast 2

(B2) F#3 G3 B3 D#4 E4 F#4 G4 B4

Chords: B major, E minor

Tip: this challenging, esoteric scale is unlike any other. Incredibly exciting, its strong dissonances lend itself to solo work in the hands of an advanced player…

 

Tune in next time for Part 2, when we explore the forests and temples of Asia and beyond!

Article is written by our partner David Duan

David Duan is a composer, cellist, and sound healer. A Dean’s Recognition Award recipient and multiple concerto competition winner, he has performed around the world with a variety of ensembles and orchestras. He champions the RAV Vast, a modern steelpan poised to revolutionize world music, sound therapy, and music education. A graduate of New York University and the Peabody Preparatory of the Johns Hopkins University, he lives in Maryland.

Please contact david.duan@nyu.edu for information, gigs, commissions, collaboration, and more.

Instagram: davidduan

Youtube: David & Duan