Historical approach to the tone hole position on a reed instruments

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Alexander Schneider
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Joined: Sun Feb 25, 2018 1:02 pm

Historical approach to the tone hole position on a reed instruments

Post by Alexander Schneider »

Good day to all. I'm actually not a skilled craftsman, just a hobbyist with a small garage shop. I'm also interested in a historical methods of building the woodwinds.

Recently I was interested in Verona-style crumhorns which is the oldest and most simple form of this instrument described by Virdung in his "Musica Getutscht". Sadly, there are no makers of this type of instrument as everyone makes the fancy and modernized versions of Praetorius-style crumhorns (with a few exceptions like "Milla" crumhorns from the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna) so I decided to try building this one as an exersise in woodturning and tuning.

The question is, of course, the tuning and the tone holes. There are a very good article by Toon Moonen in The Galpin Society Journal about the construction of the crumhorns in the Brussels Instrument Museum. Here he suggests the method of utilising the monochord to tune the lower resonance hole - but there are no information about other sound holes. Also, the physics of the string and the air column differs radically - so I doubt about the good results of this method of tuning.

Also, there are a lot of information about tone hole position on a flutes but not reeds - that's looks strange for me. I have a Flutomat sotware based on Pete Kozel code and TWCalc - but the Flutomat has the limited quantity of frequencies and the TWCalc limited in only 6 holes. An yes - both of them designed mainly for flutes/whistles.

I also have the spreadsheed for crumhorn design - but actually I want to know the historical way to tune the reed instruments. Something tells me that this wasn't a rocket science at all.

So now I see the three ways to place the tone holes on a historical woodwinds:
- place the tone holes with the monochord method with further position/diameter aligning;
- do the same with a kind of a simple formula instead of monochord;
- make a prototype instrument and drill a bunch of holes in it to determinate which ones has the right position/diameter.

Does someone here knows the historical way of woodwind tuning?


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Jim McConkey
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Joined: Thu Jan 05, 2012 4:00 pm
Location: Way north of Baltimore, MD

Re: Historical approach to the tone hole position on a reed instruments

Post by Jim McConkey »

Welcome to the Forum!

It has been a few years, but I used to experiment a lot with PVC "wood"winds, and can share my experience. First, as an engineer, I was drawn to all the spreadsheets and calculators, but was greatly disappointed and gave up on all of the quickly to do it the old fashioned way:

1. layout your finger hole positions and drill small starter holes, maybe 3 mm for a flute, might need to be smaller for a crumhorn with a smaller bore
2. cover all holes and trim the instrument to length for the correct base pitch
3. uncover only the bottom hole, and gradually ream it open until you get to the correct pitch, use a tuner!
4. lift one more finger and ream that hole the correct pitch
5. repeat #4 until all holes have been reamed, then repeat the entire process from the beginning- the additional volume from the finger holes will modify the tuning slightly as you go

This generally goes quickly and doesn't usually take too many iterations. I could tune a PVC flute in about a half an hour. I don't remember if crumhorns are often cross-fingered for accidentals, but getting cross-fingerings to work correctly sometimes takes a few iterations of trading off finger positions with hole size. In general, the closer a hole is to the open end of the instrument, the larger its hole needs to be. if you get too close to the end, the hole approaches the whole diameter of the instrument and is unwieldy to play. Too high up, and the holes are small and very finicky to tune. If you can approximate your instrument in PVC, try that first just to get the hang of it. If you have access to drawings or a historic instrument, try to duplicate the hole positions to start, then use this method to tune.
MIMForum Staff - Way North of Baltimore

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