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Will Kirk

What is the Hardest Instrument to play?

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probably French Horn, judging by how many mistakes they make compared to the rest of the orchestra ;)

I know you probably meant this facetiously, but I have to say French horn, IMO, is totally NOT harder than playing any of the strings.

In non-professional orchestras, typically your French horn players will practice maybe an hour a day. Strings not only probably started earlier in life, they probably put in at least twice that amount of practice.

It annoys me, but the standard of excellence in non-pro groups for brass instruments (particularly french horn and trumpet) is lower than other instruments like strings, keys, percussion and voice. So they don't practice as much, ergo more fracks and accuracy issues in an average player.

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Ok, Add Straight Soprano Saxophone to the list, I used to have LOTS of problems to control it, I thought it was because my sax was a cheap one, well, now I have a good one, and is equally difficult :P Sounds great but is a nightmare to control, a real challenge, embouchure must be 98%-100% correct 100% of the time, a minimum fail provokes a horrible notorious disaster.

....if it wasn't for the sound, I would have sold that thing years ago.

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Ok, Add Straight Soprano Saxophone to the list, I used to have LOTS of problems to control it, I thought it was because my sax was a cheap one, well, now I have a good one, and is equally difficult :P Sounds great but is a nightmare to control, a real challenge, embouchure must be 98%-100% correct 100% of the time, a minimum fail provokes a horrible notorious disaster.

....if it wasn't for the sound, I would have sold that thing years ago.

Soprano sax is a small beast! Especially if you're coming from bari or tenor sax. Moving from clarinet, flute, or alto sax to soprano is not so bad, unless you've never played it. And talk about intonation issues! It requires a ton of control.

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I played a couple good sopranos for a good few minutes a couple times in my life, and I have to say it was one of the most enjoyable experiences I've ever had with a woodwind instrument. I thought it was great. Very nimble and easy to control. I came to it as a clarinet/flute player. I've never played a curved soprano.

Funny story about horns...

I think it was the Cleveland at some point. I was told that it was in the principal horn's contract that if he ever had to play this excerpt he was not required to play the last two notes in the bass clef bars and that they would be played by an assistant or the assistant lost his job. :laugh:

straussTE_1_horn1f.gif

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I think you played the soprano very few James.... (btw, I came from both, Tenor Sax and Clarinet)

I'll explain my experiences on Sopranos:

The Soprano Sax is very difficult to control by itself, but is much more difficult when we talk about a sax with "problems"...

The most difficult problem to solve, which is a real nightmare is to play in the low F,E zone, you may not have heard for this, but is a real problem, by "problem" I mean a warble situation that happens in that zone, and usually after the warble in E the whole wave collapses when changing to F# or another note, I've research a lot on this, and is a true enigma, many theories are around, the mouthpiece was too inside the neck, the embouchure was wrong, is surely about licks, the key don't open enough..... blablabla...

I have my own theory, based on what I've seen.

I don't know if the original Adolph Sax design for the soprano was with the 2 necks, (Straight and Curved) but that was a terribly bad idea, the joint is in the most critical part of the sax.

There are Sopranos built in a single tube, I won't talk about those, but the common design with 2 necks (which is to give you the option of using the curved and play the sax closer to you, or the straight but you can hold the sax in around 45ยบ and many find get fastly tired).

The Case makes you to remove the neck each time you end playing, and many don't know that's precisely what damages the sax, but they simply have no idea.

I had that problem with a Cheap Blessing, "apparently" was no lick in the neck, but the neck enter in the sax without any problem, kinda loose...

A few months back I bought a Selmer, I noticed to put the neck was very difficult, very forced, BUT the Low E warble problem was very minimized, (still present with a minimum embouchure fail) but at least not "impossible" to control, I inmediately realized was something to do in the neck joint, I searched one of those cases for straight sopranos where you can place the sax without removeg the neck, but I didn't find any, so I bought an squared violin case, re-made the interior and stop removing the neck, just clean it after playing but nothing more.

Still tin reed makes the warble appears, no less that 2 1/2 can be used. A minimum break in the reed, dirtiness, saliva excess any little problem makes the warble re-appears, no room for mistakes like in Tenor or Alto.

Intonation problems becomes when the embouchure which is already difficult to maintain must be modified at some points to get the proper pitch. There are many many cases where the detuned problem is in the Sax.

0 Licks, or problems are worse.

No Place to nervous performance, air flow must be perfect, in short, this little sax demands 0% of bad habits, and is obviously not recommendable for a new Sax student.

I have this Sax, but I have desided to permanently use the straight neck.

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I would say an organ, just because there are so many things to do! I couldn't imagine trying to memorize all those keys...

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Besides the french horn and violin, the oboe is another difficult instrument to play well. I switched to that after playing flute, and it had a big learning curve.

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The baryton, which Haydn wrote trios for, was incredibly difficult to play. It was a bit like a cello, but the thumb of the left hand also had to pluck strings behind the normal bowed strings as well.

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I play pipe organ, I'm even building one, making one is hard, but control the low E on Soprano Sax is way harder, not a single person on earth has an idea WHY that note is so difficult to sustain without warble, but is truly demanding on perfect embouchure, you even have to soap the read before you play...

any super acoustics engineer here ?

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Personally, it's all about how hard the musical instrument is when you are a beginner, intermediate player, and advanced player. For example, the piano is one of the easiest instruments as a beginner, a so-so intermediate instrument, but a hard-as-heck advanced instrument because of the multiple note chords, complex voicing, and dynamics. On the other hand, an instrument like the violin is rather hard as a beginner because of the awkward technique, but definitely gets easier after that technique has been learned. That said, any instrument is hard to master, but some are harder than others. However, in my opinion, the organ is the hardest instrument because it is hard to play at a beginning, intermediate, and advanced level.

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At a certain level, all instruments become difficult. For starters, though, probably double-reed instruments.

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I disagree with people saying that organ is the hardest instrument. The fact that you need to digest 3 staves and use 4 limbs doesn't make it hard at all. That is only a mindset, many other instrumentalists think is a huge leap. Really it isn't that hard :)

I switched from piano to organ (and I have played oboe for two days) and I think piano is harder in terms of dynamic and phrasing. I think instruments where you have to work hard for a continuous/expressive tone quality are relatively hard.

With the exception for the organ, zewell13 made a good argument:

Personally, it's all about how hard the musical instrument is when you are a beginner, intermediate player, and advanced player. For example, the piano is one of the easiest instruments as a beginner, a so-so intermediate instrument, but a hard-as-heck advanced instrument because of the multiple note chords, complex voicing, and dynamics. On the other hand, an instrument like the violin is rather hard as a beginner because of the awkward technique, but definitely gets easier after that technique has been learned. That said, any instrument is hard to master, but some are harder than others.

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I think they're all difficult in terms of learning to play them well and they all have their idiosyncrasies. It might also depend on the person playing (e.g., if you have large hands, a violin might not be great; conversely, small hands on a piano can be problematic, though not necessarily a deal-breaker).

I've never played a double reed (though I would love to be able to!), but personally, brass instruments are a pain in the butt. Granted I've only ever picked them up and dicked around with them without any instruction, but they just don't seem to be my thing at all. It's been twenty years since I tried a horn...that seemed particularly evil!

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Just to throw my 2 cents in, as somebody who's both studied an instrument and bel canto (classical) style singing, studying the voice is MUCH harder than people realize or tend to give credit.

1) Bel Canto is supposed to be "natural." You're supposed to naturally manipulate your body so that your resonance flows to the back of a hall projecting your crisp and clear vowel structures. While this sounds fairly easy, teaching this can be a nightmare. If a student is singing poorly, they *think* they're doing something naturally b/c it's probably what they're used to doing and/or hearing on the radio. When a teacher goes to correct/shape a student's voice, they don't have an instrument to grab or body appendages to manipulate (like my viola instructor grabbing my hand as I play). Almost ALL of the work that needs to be done involves hundreds of tiny muscles INSIDE the mouth and throat, on the tongue, surrounding the jaw, balancing the head, and hugging the ribcage. Factor in the notion that everybody's physical bodies, resonaters and vocal chords are different, and the teacher has to resort to using guesswork and highly trained knowledge to figure out how to pass along this student to change something they cannot see or feel. BUT WAIT, it STILL gets more complicated. Everybody knows that puberty brings along changes to the human voice (especially men.) The part people tend to not realize is that the voice truly doesn't "Settle" until the upper-mid twenties to the early thirties. This means that ALL college undergraduates and High School students are training and teaching themselves on voices that will change as they get older. I started off as a baritone and my voice decided to rebound back to tenor. Guess what that means? Relearning the balance of where to put my tongue for vowels at which part of my register.

2) Classicaly trained singers have to study other languages. We have to do more than sound like foreigners though, we have to sound like we're fluent, born speakers of (traditionally) up to four languages. This means that I've had to study French, German, Italian AND proper English diction. While we don't have to be fluent in these languages, we still have to master the sounds of them. Lemme tell you something: every singer has at least one language they have to work their hindquarters off at to sound natural on. For me, it's German. I work and work and work and STILL sound foreign half the time I sing it. Oh, to make it more fun, you have to technically learn singer's diction. This means that if you speak that actual language (like, for me it's french) you have to be able to switch on and off a trigger over how to pronounce things. This is even true in English. "I" becomes "ah-ih" On top of that, while you may not be fluent, you have to understand the nuances to understand what the text is trying to say because....

3) Singers have to study acting. Even in simple art song/chanson/lieder, if the person just stands up and says a few melodic notes, people stare at you like you've gone crazy. While most instrumentalists get their music, they can get away with a relatively dry and almost disinterested attitude towards their audience (thankfully most don't!) As a singer, that's just simply no. You're supposed to present the illusion that YOU are making the melody up, and there's a reason you're saying it right there on the spot for your special audience. Multiply that tenfold for opera. Just to clarify, if you've ever acted, you can't just say "oh...I'm happy on this part." Nope. Each word has a SPECIFIC meaning and purpose, and good actors/singers understand the nuance of every single one of these words. Each language (and, by extension, songs written in them) have a diifferent pace, ebb, and flow. A good example is the french negation system. In English, "it's I DO NOT like bread." In French, it's "Je N'aime PAS le pain." Notice the different placement of capital words? Guess how that effects the flow of melody and harmony... Also, you have to know which words are throwaways, or the always fun case of people saying something which means something else completely in another language. To go back to my French example, the french don't say: "I am correct." They say "I have reason." SIngers are expected to know or figure out these subtle nuances in each language and act off of them propery.

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At a certain level, all instruments become difficult. For starters, though, probably double-reed instruments.

I really agree with you on this one here

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I appreciate how difficult it is to learn how to play a double-reed instrument and how to sing bel canto (I can't sing: I've tried, but it truly is underrated in terms of difficulty). However, everyone is dismissing guitar as being easy. Yeah, for beginners and from a third person perspective it is relatively easy, but if you start to try and play classical guitar at an intermediate level the challenges of synchronising the completely different movements of both hands to produce multiple voices of music at a constant and reasonable speed are truly challenges. I'm not saying that it's the hardest instrument to master (I wouldn't know-I haven't mastered it yet!), I'm just saying that saying guitar is easy is a hideous generalisation and classical guitar is underrated.

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