Are Musical Instruments Becoming Obsolete?

Profile picture of the author thunderbird by thunderbird Posted: 06/20/2013
In researching musical instruments, I come across a recurring theme: Synthesizers now produce sounds that are indistinguishable from the original instruments. Are musical instruments no longer necessary, apart from the synthesizer that can deliver the sounds of the original instruments? For me, the question kind of answers itself.

The original musical instrument being electronically mimicked had to exist in the first place and its sounds extensively sampled, therefore possesses desirable qualities in and of itself. And you don't need electrical outlets to play a saxophone, guitar, or fiddle.

However, I keep coming across assertions that most musical instruments are passť and unnecessary to produce the sounds you want. Are musical instruments becoming obsolete?

  • Profile picture of the author Horny Devil
    Horny Devil
    Originally Posted by thunderbird View Post

    Are musical instruments becoming obsolete?

    I dunno, but the wife still throws in a good one now and then. They say there's many a good tune played on an old fiddle.
  • Profile picture of the author Ephrils
    Ephrils
    I see a lot of concerts these days because of my work and I spent the past 2 years seeing my favorite artist on tour whenever I could. Plus there are rich music scenes in New York, Los Angeles, and New Orleans. I think we're safe from electronic instruments right now
  • Profile picture of the author Steven Wagenheim
    Steven Wagenheim
    As long as people want to go see real musicians play, musical instruments will
    never become obsolete.

    Never.
  • Profile picture of the author seasoned
    seasoned
    Synthesizers have been around a LONG time! Piano types have ALSO! For DECADES you could buy a tiny little $100-$200 synth and STILL the HUGE EXPENSIVE pianos STILL exist and are STILL sold. HECK, English is spoken by MANY on the planet, and europe, UK, australia, new zealand, US ARE big markets. Other languages STILL exist, and translators STILL get business.

    Humans are funny! HEY, I could REALLY go out there and show you how people are trying to $%^&*() BUT....

    Steve
  • Profile picture of the author ThomM
    ThomM
    They can imitate the notes an instrument plays, but not the soul a musician puts into those notes.
  • Profile picture of the author Brandon Tanner
    Brandon Tanner
    I'd like to see someone try to play something like this on a synthesizer!

  • Profile picture of the author Steven Wagenheim
    Steven Wagenheim
    Originally Posted by Brandon Tanner View Post
    I'd like to see someone try to play something like this on a synthesizer!

    Tommy Emmanuel - Classical Gas (by Mason Williams) - YouTube
    Sadly, it can be done. But I don't think that's the point or the problem. When I
    saw Mason Williams actually play this on Ed Sullivan with that orchestra
    behind him, well, no words.

    But watch for yourself. One of the all time great TV performances.

  • Profile picture of the author seasoned
    seasoned
    That IS another thing! Musicians have been playing with the little qualities of instruments like using a part of the instrument for percussion, and resonance, etc... And YEAH, I have NEVER heard of a way to notate it. Until they can notate it, a synthesizer won't be sold that can do it. BTW they have probably thought about this for thousands of years. They can map octaves, notes, and timing, ad that is really it. For instruments, pace, tweaks, etc... they resort to writing notes, etc... And even THAT couldn't replicate that classical gas piece.

    Steve
  • Profile picture of the author ThomM
    ThomM
    And then there's this.
  • Profile picture of the author Steven Wagenheim
    Steven Wagenheim
    Originally Posted by seasoned View Post
    That IS another thing! Musicians have been playing with the little qualities of instruments like using a part of the instrument for percussion, and resonance, etc... And YEAH, I have NEVER heard of a way to notate it. Until they can notate it, a synthesizer won't be sold that can do it. BTW they have probably thought about this for thousands of years. They can map octaves, notes, and timing, ad that is really it. For instruments, pace, tweaks, etc... they resort to writing notes, etc... And even THAT couldn't replicate that classical gas piece.

    Steve
    Steve, I am a musician and a composer going on 35 years of my 55 years on
    this planet and I have no idea what you're talking about. In English please?

    Aside from that, I could go into a big long spiel on how synthetic sound is
    created (not that anybody would care) but ultimately, in general, yes, a
    synthesizer CAN duplicate a piece of music note for note and have it sound
    almost indistinguishable from the real thing.

    The key word is ALMOST. To the very trained ear, they can tell that the flute
    attack on the runs is a little unnatural or the up bow on the violin isn't crisp
    enough.

    But to your average Joe on the street, trust me, if I played them two pieces,
    one by an orchestra and another by a synthesizer or program, they could NOT
    tell the difference.

    In fact, here is the program that I use to produce my classical recordings.

    Listen to this. It's downright scary.

  • Profile picture of the author seasoned
    seasoned
    Originally Posted by Steven Wagenheim View Post
    Steve, I am a musician and a composer going on 35 years of my 55 years on
    this planet and I have no idea what you're talking about. In English please?

    Aside from that, I could go into a big long spiel on how synthetic sound is
    created (not that anybody would care) but ultimately, in general, yes, a
    synthesizer CAN duplicate a piece of music note for note and have it sound
    almost indistinguishable from the real thing.

    *****DUH*****! It is IMPOSSIBLE to create a sound that is sent to the masses and not be able to reproduce it ******EXACTLY******! WHY? Because ALL methods have, for many decades, been relayed over a speaker. And HEY, if years manner, I HAVE worked with this to some degree for 43 years. I am WELL aware of how such devices work.

    So can it be duplicated? ******OBVIOUSLY****** after all, we did NOT hear Tommy emmanuel play! We heard a SPEAKER convey a recording transmitted through youtube.

    I NEVER disputed THAT! That would be DUMB! What I said is that I don't believe that there is a way to NOTATE IT! Want a sample? OK, let's look at classical gas by mason williams! Classical Gas Sheet Music | OnlineSheetMusic.com Listen to the sample! Does THAT sound like what tommy played, or even STANDARD classical gas? NO WAY! BOTH however, were played here NOT by piano or guitar, but by SPEAKER. MOST speakers are basically paper diaphragms that just click.

    If you can't notate it, HOW can you control the system in a synthesizer in a standard way. There is resonance, harmonics, etc.... and these can vary.

    Steve
  • Profile picture of the author thunderbird
    thunderbird
    Originally Posted by seasoned View Post
    <snip>
    If you can't notate it, HOW can you control the system in a synthesizer in a standard way. There is resonance, harmonics, etc.... and these can vary.

    Steve
    Could variance of resonance, squeaks made when changing frets, accidental knocks, harmonic quirks, etc. and be included in the synthesizer's algorithm?

    (that was a joke, sort of)
  • Profile picture of the author SandraLarkin
    SandraLarkin
    Absolutely not. You can't synthesize a raw guitar performance ever.
  • Profile picture of the author Steven Wagenheim
    Steven Wagenheim
    Originally Posted by seasoned View Post
    *****DUH*****! It is IMPOSSIBLE to create a sound that is sent to the masses and not be able to reproduce it ******EXACTLY******! WHY? Because ALL methods have, for many decades, been relayed over a speaker. And HEY, if years manner, I HAVE worked with this to some degree for 43 years. I am WELL aware of how such devices work.

    So can it be duplicated? ******OBVIOUSLY****** after all, we did NOT hear Tommy emmanuel play! We heard a SPEAKER convey a recording transmitted through youtube.

    I NEVER disputed THAT! That would be DUMB! What I said is that I don't believe that there is a way to NOTATE IT! Want a sample? OK, let's look at classical gas by mason williams! Classical Gas Sheet Music | OnlineSheetMusic.com Listen to the sample! Does THAT sound like what tommy played, or even STANDARD classical gas? NO WAY! BOTH however, were played here NOT by piano or guitar, but by SPEAKER. MOST speakers are basically paper diaphragms that just click.

    If you can't notate it, HOW can you control the system in a synthesizer in a standard way. There is resonance, harmonics, etc.... and these can vary.

    Steve
    Okay, before you bust a blood vessel, calm down. I never said you could duplicate the sound of an instrument exactly. What I said is that you can come damn close.

    But that isn't even the point. So what if synthesizers can sound "almost" like real instruments. There are people in this world who want to watch a real violinist play a concerto and as long as we have that desire, no synth will ever replace a real instrument.

    I can't believe I'm even getting into this argument.
  • Profile picture of the author LeeLee
    LeeLee
    Originally Posted by Steven Wagenheim View Post
    Sadly, it can be done. But I don't think that's the point or the problem. When I
    saw Mason Williams actually play this on Ed Sullivan with that orchestra
    behind him, well, no words.

    But watch for yourself. One of the all time great TV performances.

    Mason Williams - Classical gas - YouTube
    Never had synthesized music make me tear up. Thanks for the share.
  • Profile picture of the author Dennis Gaskill
    Dennis Gaskill
    Originally Posted by thunderbird View Post
    I Are musical instruments becoming obsolete?
    I hope not, I dusted off my old guitar and started monkeying around again a few months ago.

    Originally Posted by Brandon Tanner View Post
    I'd like to see someone try to play something like this on a synthesizer!

    Tommy Emmanuel - Classical Gas (by Mason Williams) - YouTube
    Whoa! That was awesome. The best version of Classical Gas I've ever seen or heard. Thanks, Brandon.

    A synthesizer can imitate sounds, but can it imitate the love, the pain, the loneliness, the joy and so forth that pours through a musician into his instrument? I think not. Therefore, musical instruments will remain.
  • Profile picture of the author HeySal
    HeySal
    Obsolete? So much for loving to toot your own horn.

    I'm thinking the same as everyone else - won't happen. Humans have the need for creativity and self expression, and electronics just won't cut it as a complete replacement.
  • Profile picture of the author Steven Wagenheim
    Steven Wagenheim
    Originally Posted by Dennis Gaskill View Post
    I hope not, I dusted off my old guitar and started monkeying around again a few months ago.



    Whoa! That was awesome. The best version of Classical Gas I've ever seen or heard. Thanks, Brandon.

    A synthesizer can imitate sounds, but can it imitate the love, the pain, the loneliness, the joy and so forth that pours through a musician into his instrument? I think not. Therefore, musical instruments will remain.
    This is actually a very complicated subject that would take me a week to explain
    accurately and you know how long winded my posts can get.

    In a nutshell, and I'm all for the love and pain and heartache that goes into
    making music with "real" instruments, but that's all subjective. Let's face it,
    if a guy plays the Tibetan Gong in a symphony orchestra, how much love and
    pain and heartache can he actually put into beating that thing with a stick?

    And the truth is, some instruments are easily synthesized because they don't
    have a lot of dynamics. But then look at the violin. I have yet to hear a
    violin patch that I really loved.

    Why?

    For starters, it's probably the hardest instrument in the world to play. You
    can hit a key on the piano and it will sound the same as that same key struck
    by a concert pianist. But a violin? You can scratch that bow across a string
    and it can sound like pure shit. So now you have to make sure you sample
    violin sounds played by somebody who can actually play.

    But then it gets really deep. There's all the different ways of sliding the bow
    across the strings, the crescendo and decrescendo and on and on and on.

    That's why most violin patches suck wind. It doesn't matter if you sampled
    each note, which with today's technology can easily be done and not end up
    with a memory nightmare. You simply can't duplicate the subtle dynamics of
    the violin. Even the flute is tough to get 100% exact if you listen to the
    different breath and tongue techniques.

    So forget about heart and soul. To the incredibly trained ear, the difference
    between a synth and a real instrument, in many cases, if night and day. But
    to the novice, a lot of people can't tell the difference especially if the patches
    are really well done and the programming of dynamics is painstakingly done.

    Again, watch the video I posted of the Garritan strings. I don't have the ear
    required to tell that that's not a real orchestra. But it's not. It's my Finale
    2012 program, granted, run through a crap ton of post processing.

    Heart and soul? Believe it or not, an electronic piano plays almost identical
    to an acoustic piano. The action today is amazing. And the technical aspect
    of playing it is no different than playing an acoustic. You still have to run
    your hands up and down the keyboard. Just because the sound is generated
    from computer chips and not hammers striking the strings, doesn't make the
    emotional feel of playing any different.

    In short, we've come a long way.
  • Profile picture of the author hardraysnight
    hardraysnight
    easy

    i will stop collecting guitars and strat [very freudian] collecting antiques, but i wont arp on it too much
  • Profile picture of the author seasoned
    seasoned
    Originally Posted by thunderbird View Post
    Could variance of resonance, squeaks made when changing frets, accidental knocks, harmonic quirks, etc. and be included in the synthesizer's algorithm?

    (that was a joke, sort of)
    SURE, but they would have a hard time creating something that could relatively easily approximate the instrument. There is a LOT affecting the sound in the average accoustic instrument. Even in an electric guitar, you have resonance of the strings, and various things that affect them.

    Steve

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