Lyrics & Knowledge Personal Pages Record Shop Auction Links Radio & Media Kids Membership Help
The Mudcat Cafemuddy

Post to this Thread - Sort Descending - Printer Friendly - Home


Historical quill & other plectrums

Stower 24 Mar 10 - 07:58 AM
John MacKenzie 24 Mar 10 - 08:03 AM
Jack Campin 24 Mar 10 - 09:02 AM
Geoff the Duck 24 Mar 10 - 09:13 AM
GUEST,leeneia 24 Mar 10 - 01:04 PM
Little Robyn 24 Mar 10 - 02:42 PM
Stower 24 Mar 10 - 06:06 PM
Jack Campin 24 Mar 10 - 07:56 PM
catspaw49 24 Mar 10 - 09:18 PM
Jack Campin 24 Mar 10 - 09:27 PM
Stower 25 Mar 10 - 08:02 AM
GUEST,Russ 25 Mar 10 - 12:45 PM
GUEST,leeneia 25 Mar 10 - 02:54 PM
foggers 25 Mar 10 - 07:06 PM
catspaw49 25 Mar 10 - 07:20 PM
Jack Campin 25 Mar 10 - 07:45 PM
Geoff the Duck 26 Mar 10 - 06:09 AM
Stower 26 Mar 10 - 12:49 PM
Geoff the Duck 26 Mar 10 - 04:36 PM
GUEST,Tunesmith 26 Mar 10 - 05:09 PM
Bert 26 Mar 10 - 09:14 PM
Stower 27 Mar 10 - 08:53 PM
Share Thread
more
Lyrics & Knowledge Search [Advanced]
DT  Forum
Sort (Forum) by:relevance date
DT Lyrics:









Subject: Historical quill & other plectrums
From: Stower
Date: 24 Mar 10 - 07:58 AM

I have just started playing the cittern. Not this (great playing, though), which was a new instrument created in 1973 by Stefan Sobell, but this, the renaissance instrument (which Sobell used the name of for his new instrument).

Until Playford's time the cittern was played with a plectrum, either of bone, shell or quill. I am planning to make my own quills, and was wondering if any knowledgable Mudcatters know the historical method of making quill plectrums. I know this is obscure, but this has never defeated Mudcatters in the past!

So ... my questions. Do I play with ...

(a) The whole quill as is, with feathers stripped (except the end)?
(b) Feathers stripped and the quill sliced to half the width to make a more stream-lined playing end? I find this makes a very satisfying sound and is easier to play than (a), but the life of the quill is short due to it being now less robust.
(c) In the middle east, I believe that shells are soaked in olive oil for two weeks before they are used as plectrums. Should I use any process on the quill and what would the advantage be?

I have searched the web and have drawn a blank. Any music historians with an eye for obscure details? Any practical types who could make any interesting suggestions?

Cheers all
Stower


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Historical quill & other plectrums
From: John MacKenzie
Date: 24 Mar 10 - 08:03 AM

I know that raven's quills were used in early plucked keyboards, like the harpsichord and the spinet.
Perhaps you may glean some information on quill preparation from someone who builds or restores such instruments.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Historical quill & other plectrums
From: Jack Campin
Date: 24 Mar 10 - 09:02 AM

The Middle Eastern ud plectrum was soaked in oil for several months. You didn't use the hollow base end - cut it off at the bottom of the solid part. The standard feather to use was an eagle's pinion. The most upmarket ones these days are made from buffalo horn.

Feather was a mediaeval innovation. The older ones were strips of hazel bark.

The genuinely traditional Middle Eastern plectrum is cut from a soft drink bottle. I prefer industrial packaging tape. Look at the cumbus and cobza pages on my website.

Cumbus page
Cobza page


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Historical quill & other plectrums
From: Geoff the Duck
Date: 24 Mar 10 - 09:13 AM

I have used goose quills with an appalachian dulcimer, mostly because a goose owned by a friend shed a load of flight feathers. I trimmed the nib at an angle like pen making. The sound was gentler than a plectrum. What I found was the feather being less durable than plastic tends to fray at the end, but the frayed edges can be trimmed back to give fresh quill a number of times before the feather has to be abandoned.
When pens were made from feathers, I believe they were hardened by inserting the point into hot sand. I did not, however experiment to see what effect this might have on a musical quill.
As for removing the rest of the feather, the longer the bit that sticks out, the more likely it is to catch on things, slow the movement of the point or be a nuisance. That said, a long untrimmed feather looks good, so it depends on how you want to look. Real quill pens were trimmed, it is only the ones in films and on book covers that stay feathered.

Quack!
GtD.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Historical quill & other plectrums
From: GUEST,leeneia
Date: 24 Mar 10 - 01:04 PM

Well, Stower, I congratulate you on the ownership of a nifty instrument. I listened to the video and plan to look for 'The King's Bouree' for my band.

But if I were you, I wouldn't play the way Dante is playing for very long. Just looking at his hand position made my own hand hurt. To see what i mean, do this:

Drop your hands to your side at a relaxed position. Pretend you are thinking of something else. Looking in store windows, perhaps. When your hand is nicely floppy, pick up something round and as small as that 'plectrum.'   Notice how much you have to tighten your hand? Then imagine how long you will hold your hand tight while mastering a fascinating new instrument.

I would try a thumbpick, the kind that wraps around the thumb and allows you to relax your hand. Experiment with the quills if you wish to replicate the ancient sound, but don't use them all the time.

Keep in mind that when this instrument was new, few people lived past 40. Modern people have to keep using their hands till they are 80 or even 90.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Historical quill & other plectrums
From: Little Robyn
Date: 24 Mar 10 - 02:42 PM

I tried using a quill to play my dulcimer many years ago.
It looked impressive but I kept getting this dandruff stuff all over the place as the fine metal strings shaved the feather.
So I went back to fingernails and they work fine!
Robyn


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Historical quill & other plectrums
From: Stower
Date: 24 Mar 10 - 06:06 PM

Thanks, Geoff, I'll try the method you mention.

Leenia, all the contemporary icongraphy - and there's lots of it - points to Dante's hand position being exactly right, as do the written tutors of the period. That hand position was typical for playing any wire or gut strung plucked instrument (except harp, of course) through the middle ages and renaissance right up until the point where renaissance practice was giving way to baroque, when hand technique changed dramatically to suit new instruments being created (and technique on the old instruments still in use changed along with it).

Taking the lute as an example (simply because it's the instrument I'm most familiar with), here is the renaissance hand position. It developed from plectrum playing - as we see on the cittern video above. There's good reason for that position, and it really does make playing fast passages much easier and gets a richer, fatter sound. In this position, the hand and arm are very relaxed, not tense at all. The hand has to be relaxed to facilitate effective playing. And, to compare, here is the baroque hand position, which changed to accomodate increasing numbers of extra bass courses.

Most lutenists - and other players of historical instruments - will try to play with a technique close to the historical period of their instrument and the piece they're playing. If they don't do that, believe me there'll be an army of early music authenticators ready to spring into action, eyes rolling and lips tutting, showing their amazement that you even dare ...

Folkies aren't the only ones who like internecine squabbling. Care to define 'early music' anyone? :-)


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Historical quill & other plectrums
From: Jack Campin
Date: 24 Mar 10 - 07:56 PM

Complete sidetrack, but thanks to Stower for helping me find this video on the related list for Dante Ferrara's:

Asteria

which is one of the sexiest performances of any kind of music I have ever seen.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Historical quill & other plectrums
From: catspaw49
Date: 24 Mar 10 - 09:18 PM

The Mother of the Appalachian Dulcimer and American Folk Music, our own kytrad, aka Jean Ritchie, left the feather behind and was well known to cut her own from plastic bottles.....Chlorox I believe was a favorite.

Spaw


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Historical quill & other plectrums
From: Jack Campin
Date: 24 Mar 10 - 09:27 PM

Where can I get an authentic Kentucky-style 1950s Clorox bottle in the UK?


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Historical quill & other plectrums
From: Stower
Date: 25 Mar 10 - 08:02 AM

Jack, thank you so much: "... one of the sexiest performances of any kind of music I have ever seen" indeed! They are extraordinary. The sound is exquisite, and I feel weak at the knees watching her smoulder and sing like that. I've not come across Asteria, but I will certainly be seeking them out now.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Historical quill & other plectrums
From: GUEST,Russ
Date: 25 Mar 10 - 12:45 PM

Spaw,

I seem to remember a concert where Jean recommended cutting picks from the lids of margerine tubs.

Don't know whether this pre or post-dates the clorox bottle phase.

Russ (Permanent GUEST)


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Historical quill & other plectrums
From: GUEST,leeneia
Date: 25 Mar 10 - 02:54 PM

Thanks for the link, Jack. It's beautiful.

I too tried a quill as a plectrum. It didn't have the strength required and shed little bits of itself onto my instrument.

So it was back to a nice plastic thumbpick.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Historical quill & other plectrums
From: foggers
Date: 25 Mar 10 - 07:06 PM

I too have dabbled with a goose quill on the Appalachian dulcimer, but found the grip quite a strain on the right hand and the flaky bits rather messy.

Having read of Jean Ritchie's preference for margarine tub lids, I was inspired by this queen of folk. I have experimented with a variety of materials and can recommend Carte D'Or ice cream tub lids as having a perfect rigidity for cutting into outsized picks for noter and drone style playing of the dulcimer.

Maybe that could work for the cittern too?


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Historical quill & other plectrums
From: catspaw49
Date: 25 Mar 10 - 07:20 PM

That's it Russ...MARGERINE TUB LIDS!!!! I remember the Chlorox from her talking about things she'd tried but she settled on the tub lids.

And Fogger.....Somewhere around here is that conversation where like you, Jean listed some of the many things she tried.

Damn....Old age is killing me already.........

Spaw


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Historical quill & other plectrums
From: Jack Campin
Date: 25 Mar 10 - 07:45 PM

The packaging tape I use on the ud or cumbus is a lot springier than polyethylene (it's reinforced with fibreglass or kevlar). It comes in several different strengths (for bundles of plastic pipe, timber, concrete slabs, whatever) - look in scrap bins at building sites. The harder varieties take a while to shape and smooth (use an emery board), and you need a polished surface to eliminate friction noise, but they give you a lot of options.

I don't think you could disguise any of them as feathers, though.

Incidentally, the usual Turkish grip on the ud is different from the Western lute pick grip. To get started: hold your hand palm-up, lay the pick across it along the crease at the base of your fingers, on top of your thumb as well, so it hangs out both sides of your hand (or at least at the thumb side, if it's a bit short). Curl your fingers over it, bring your thumb up to flex the tip upwards, then turn your hand over. At the end nearest the instrument, the pick is fixed between the distal joints of your thumb and forefinger, *not* the tips, and the rest of the pick in anchored inside your curled fingers. Adjust the grip so that the pick hits the string with its flat side parallel with the string and its axis at 45 degrees to the string. At first sight this seems hamfisted, but it's far more relaxed than squeezing with finger and thumb tips and gives you just as much control. I think this should be explained in one of Cinucen Tanrikorur's YouTube tutorials.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Historical quill & other plectrums
From: Geoff the Duck
Date: 26 Mar 10 - 06:09 AM

I think one point we all could consider is that a great many things we use today are different from what was used in the past. In many cases this is for the simple reason that modern materials do the job better than traditional.
A bus on tarmac is faster than a horse carriage on rutted mud tracks, a mild steel axe does a better job than chipped flint tied with leather to a stick, a microwave oven is more controllable than a log fire, plastic plectrums fit are designed to fit the hand and take more beating than a goose quill.
I'm not saying don't use traditional materials, but at least consider the reasons you might want to use them. Looking authentic in a period setting may be all the reason you need, but don't be beguiled by a "chocolate box" image of the past. If Shakespeare had the option of a word processor with spell checking, do you really think he would have written plays using parchment and quill?
Quack!
GtD.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Historical quill & other plectrums
From: Stower
Date: 26 Mar 10 - 12:49 PM

Thanks, all.

You make a perfectly valid point, of course, Mr. Duck. I suppose it all depends how "authentike" we want to be. In my view, we never can be fully authentic, since so much of what we do is guesswork. For example, modern gut strings are still in development for early instruments, because the renaissance and baroque gut string makers kept all their secrets. And indeed, for much medieval music, if we only played what we're sure of in terms of instruments and actual notes, we'd never play anything at all!

And surely we play music for the love and joy of it. (In any activity, you can always tell those who are forever watching others to see if they are dancing or playing in the 'correct' or 'authentic' way - they never smile.)

And you're right: modern inventions often do the job better. Machine heads are a damn sight more reliable than wood on wood pegs, I can tell you. Who was it in the late renaissance who said that a lutenist spends a third of their life playing - and the other two thirds tuning?

Still, I like the idea of discovering how to play in an historically informed way. I just don't want to be bound to it because, as I've already, we really can't be if we want to play anything.   

So ... plectrums from household plastic, eh? I use a modern plectrum on the oud, but today cut up a plastic drink bottle and found that, though the shape was much better, the plectrum wasn't stiff enough. So I'll try a margarine tub for the oud and cittern. Damn, I've only just started a new one. Bread and butter pudding, anyone?

Stower


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Historical quill & other plectrums
From: Geoff the Duck
Date: 26 Mar 10 - 04:36 PM

In fact, just to follow up my theory about Shakespeare and word processors, I am going to try playing my banjo by hitting it with a laptop computer...
Quack!¬)
GtD.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Historical quill & other plectrums
From: GUEST,Tunesmith
Date: 26 Mar 10 - 05:09 PM

Basically, I'd use the devise which produced the desired sound, and although using a quill may be an exotic and "folky" way to go, if a modern plectrum can produce the desired sound, I'd look no further than that.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Historical quill & other plectrums
From: Bert
Date: 26 Mar 10 - 09:14 PM

An Ud player I used to know in Bahrain always used a strip from a plastic bottle.

About half an inch wide and four inches long, tapered and rounded at the playing end.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Historical quill & other plectrums
From: Stower
Date: 27 Mar 10 - 08:53 PM

I would never try this on the cittern (because I know it just wouldn't work), but today I tried using a thumbpick on the oud, inspired by the thinking of this thread. I don't use the thumbpick anything like I would on a guitar, of course. I place it on my thumb in the usual way but hold my hand as I would for a standard long oud plectrum. It works beautifully. It is in precisely the same position I would normally have it for an oud, but it gives me more freedom, since the pick is attached to my thumb, there's nothing to grip.

Completely 'inauthentic', of course, but hey, someone at some point must have thought of cutting up plastic bottles. And it works for me.

Thanks, all.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate
  Share Thread:
More...

Reply to Thread
Subject:  Help
From:
Preview   Automatic Linebreaks   Make a link ("blue clicky")


Mudcat time: 20 July 8:32 AM EDT

[ Home ]

All original material is copyright © 1998 by the Mudcat Café Music Foundation, Inc. All photos, music, images, etc. are copyright © by their rightful owners. Every effort is taken to attribute appropriate copyright to images, content, music, etc. We are not a copyright resource.