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Classical Music Gadgets

Advancements in technology benefit classical musicians in more ways than you might think.

by Drew McManus
May 9, 2005

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Classical Music Gadgets
The violin hasn't changed much in the last 50 years but just about everything else associated with the instrument has moved into the realm of James Bond's world. It's almost as though the Q branch has been moonlighting in the music business for a few extra bucks. 
Making a cases for cases
Until recently, an instrument case was a pretty straightforward accouterment; it protected your instrument and helped you transport it from point A to Point B. But that's all changed in the last few years especially among the world of string instruments.
Finding the right violin or viola case more closely resembles a shopping trip to REI, just look at some of the options Musafia offer:
  • Tropicalization: Upgrade Insulation upgrade increases the resistance to sudden temperature or humidity changes in the environment.
  • Waterproofing: The case actually floats.
  • Hidden Pocket: "No Mr. Customs officer. That's not my tortoise shell frog". The exact location of this pocket is so secret; the vendor claims they don't even know where it is.
The insides of string cases now offer digital upgrades:
HygrometerDrastic changes in humidity are a string instrument's worst friend, but now string musicians can purchase a combination digital hygro-thermometer and humidifying like this one made by Stretto ($50.00). HygrometerThe revolutionary element is a micro-fiber bag containing tiny, incredibly moisture absorbent crystals that last up to two weeks at a time and can be re-used for months. For those who prefer a more traditional look, you can always purchase a dial hygrometer, like the one to the right.
Gig BagGone are the days of cases which resemble a plain, black box. High tech materials such as ballistic nylon help protect instruments from violins to trombones.  Ritter Outdoor Ltd. offers a line of gig bags with features like special cell phone, MP3 player, and water bottle pockets such as the violin gig bag shown in the picture to your left ($75.00). Originally marketed toward students, these cases are building a large following among professionals too.
Gig BagThe larger bags, like the trombone gig bag to the right from WolfPak, even have golf bag like kick stands to keep the bag upright and balanced while loading and unloading your instruments ($330.00). If you're looking for some more high tech protection while hiking through the mountains (whether they are the Rocky variety found in Colorado or the concrete variety in New York City), BAM offers their Trekking model ($375.00). It's a lightweight, hard shell case with a high-density polyurethane foam-injected molding interior.  It comes with a self storing rain sleeve to offer further protection over the already water resistant case.
Fit, feel and taste considerations
String players with allergy concerns now have hypoallergenic rosin made from a synthetic resin compound, containing no pine rosin. Provides a clear string response, and is unaffected by humidity ($9.99). 
Protecting fragile reeds is also a high tech business. Woodwind musicians can now protect their reeds in climate controlled reed cases which rival the highest of high end cigarette cases of old. They are waterproof and feature a stunning variety of highly figured wood or leather covers ($30.00 - $329.00).
Now you hear it, now you don't
Practicing a brass instrument can be a tricky business. Apartment neighbors or roommates aren't always amiable to hearing a trumpet player testing the limits of the louder side of dynamics. Unfortunately, conventional mutes distort sound and restrict airflow. 
Silent BrassAs an alternative, Yamaha designed the Silent Brass System to allow brass players to perform with a mute that provides digitally enhanced sound reproduction. An optional performance studio module allows multiple players to connect to one unit which serves like a recording mixer. The system also includes built in tuning and digital effects capabilities ($65.00 - $360.00).
The computer as accompanist
The SmartMusic Studio is a computer driven practice system for woodwind, brass, string and vocal musicians. It accompanies you while you practice via a microphone which connects to your computer so it can improve your musical performance in less time by making practicing more fun. There are numerous versions available, each geared to academic or home use which offer a variety of repertoire and genera ($20.00-$120.00).
"You're slowing down!"
DB-88Metronomes have been around for some time, but now they even talk to you and tell you the weather. The DB-88 metronome, to the left, from Boss ($165.00) will subdivide the beat into a variety of options and even count out loud in a human voice (which sound's like she's from the former East Germany). However, accent aside, it's a very useful tool which offers much more impact than just a traditional clicking sound, which the DB-88 gives you three to choose from.
If you want your tuner to do a bit more than talk to you, the Intelli 5-in-1 Digital Metro Tuner and Thermo Hygrometer claims to have all the features you need in one compact unit; a digital metronome, digital tuner, and a digital thermo-hygrometer with temperature and humidity gauges ($50.00).  
High tech sticks
Lighted BatonWithout question, the last expensive "instrument" is a conductor's baton.  But this simple stick has come a long way since its humble origins. In order to combat the dark depths of an opera or musical pit conductors have tried everything from flashlights through clicking the batons on their stands. 
Lighted BatonsBattery powered, illuminated batons have found a niche of their own among some conducting circles. They come in a variety of colors (apparently, it's a personal choice) but are otherwise similar to standard batons ($74.95-$199.95).
Who needs paper?
eStandTen years ago the idea of reading music from something besides paper was merely a dream. However, advancements in digital music technology have grown by leaps and bounds in recent years. In less than a year, the eStand has evolved from a proprietary hardware based application into a stand alone software solution for anyone who owns a tablet PC.
This technology allows musicians to incorporate existing copies of paper based music as well as the digital music data input as a variety of formats. The company now offers products ranging from a software only solution through proprietary based hardware and software options ($129.95 on up).
These are only a handful of technological advancements which have been sweeping the music business. Although some of them are a bit more practical than others (I'm not sure how well I could follow a conductor who insisted on using a baton fashioned by George Lucas) refinements in tools musicians use to create music aren't bound to slow down any time soon.

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