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Special Topics

In this section, essays focusing on a variety of topics from aspects of musical instrument design and construction to the extra-musical cultural meaning of instruments are presented. Links to special topics pages are grouped below under general subject headings, and alphabetically in the right sidebar.

INSTRUMENT DESIGN CLOSE-UPS: Focused examinations of design details are found on the pages to follow. 
Of Tubes, Slides, and Valves--How Brass Instruments Work
Drawing Distinctions--Violins and Viola da Gambas
On the Edge--Sound Production on End-Blown Flutes
Creating Tension I--Technologies for Attaching Drumheads to Shells
Tying Things Together--Membranophone Lacing Patterns
Creating Tension II--Mechanisms for Tensioning Chordophone Strings

INSTRUMENTS AND CULTURAL MEANING: Topics exploring ways people construct meaningful and often extra-musical associations between the world as they know it and musical instruments are presented in the following essays.
Souvenir Instruments--Identity, Travel, and Memory
Online Musical Instrument Collections

INSTRUMENTS OVER TIME: Side-by-side snapshot comparisons of different moments in an instrument’s design evolution. Most instruments undergo significant changes in their design if not throughout their entire history at least during segments of their existence. Whether a particular instrument is made by the musician who plays it or is constructed by a craftsman specialist, there is, in general, a tendency for humans to apply to their instruments newly available materials, new techniques of working materials, improved placement of instrument components, new mechanisms of operation, and new design features for the improvement of sound quality and intonation. The musical instruments that exist today are in a way the products of generations of experimentation and improvement that have resulted from the combined activities of instrument makers, performers, and, in societies that recognize such roles, engineers, acousticians, and entrepreneurs. Music instrument museums such as the National Music Museum in Vermillion, South Dakota, are populated with hundreds if not thousands of examples of the combined creativity of such individuals in regard to instrument invention and design evolution, objects which had their moment in the musical world of their time but that were eventually rendered obsolete by subsequent ideas and innovations. The eleven Western classical music instruments featured in this ‘Then and Now’ series have been selected to illustrate this reality of musical instrument evolution within the constraints of the Grinnell College collection holdings.
Then and Now--Flute
Then and Now--Oboe
Then and Now--Clarinet
Then and Now--Bassoon
Then and Now--Recorder
Then and Now--Violin
Then and Now--Piano
Then and Now--Harp
Then and Now--Guitar
Then and Now--Trumpet
Then and Now--Horn
Then and Now--Trombone