This page is a guide to the instruments I play, mainly intended for composers, musical directors, producers, soundtracks, film, television and computer games. I have a studio at home with Logic Pro and Adobe Audition, and usually record through an AKG 414 as I’ve found it gives a very true sound; also a Behringer XAir XR18 mixer. Please contact me at anna@annatam.co.uk for more information and do tell me what would be useful to you to be included on this page.

Voice (soprano)NyckelharpaViola da GambaBaroque CelloCelloHurdy GurdyVielleRebecHarmoniumFrame Drum

Voice (soprano)

  • Perfect pitch
  • Middle English, Early Modern English, Various Celtic languages, latin
  • Extensive experience in folk, early music, classical music and recording

Nyckelharpa (also viola d’amore a chiavi, keyed fiddle)

Keyed fiddles or nyckelharpas were played in Europe as early as the medieval period – early evidence includes 14th and 15th century depictions on churches in Sweden and Italy. The instrument has a continuous history but from around the 18th century onwards has been played and developed in Sweden where it is used in folk music.

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  • Tuned either C3G3C4A4  or C3G3D4A4 as mine (same pitch as a viola)
  • Lowest note is C3 and the highest key is G6; mine is fully chromatic so there’s no limitation of tonality or scale.
  • The key sound feature are 12 sympathetic strings, tuned chromatically so every note has a lot of resonance
  • Great for melodies; double stops; bariolage (fast played notes and chords across the strings); tremolo; and they can also be played pizzicato
  • Less common sounds include – the sound of the keys moving (lightly pitched clicking); and sul ponticello (bowing very close to the bridge) which creates anything from a wind kind of sound to a harsh metallic or icy sound

Viola da Gamba (bass viol)

Bass member of the viol family; ‘da gamba’ means ‘held with the legs’. Developed in the mid 15th century and popular throughout the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. Played in Europe but also widely travelled as Europeans took them to Americas, Asia etc.

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  • 6 strings tuned D2G2C3E3A3D4 at A=440hz or A=415hz (some viols have 7 strings, mine has 6)
  • Gut strings and shape give the sound a sinewy or nasal quality
  • Great for texture layering, melodies, double stops, spread chords and bariolage (fast played notes and chords across the strings)
  • Really resonant pizzicato, col legno (tapping with the wood part of the bow)

Baroque Cello

The body of the cello hasn’t notably changed from the 17th to 21st century. Baroque (17th and 18th century) cellos differ in their bow, strings, lack of endpin and slightly lower bridge. The sound of gut strings has more texture to it, and the baroque bow encourages strokes that die away however it’s possible to play legato

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  • Generally tuned to A=415hz (baroque pitch) but can be played at A=440hz, A=392hz or between
  • Strings at C2G2D3A3; lowest note C2 although it’s possible to detune to Bb2 and highest note around C6 (the notes speak a little less in that range and are more difficult to play, aside from the harmonics of the A)
  • Great for melodies, bass lines, layering and creating textures
  • Pitch based effects include vibrato, trills, glissandi, harmonics, false harmonics
  • Large and flexible dynamic range
  • Sounds/articulations include rich and warm; intense; flautando (light and fast bowing); sul ponticello (bowing very close to the bridge) which creates anything from a wind kind of sound to a harsh metallic or icy sound; col legno (tapping with the wood of the bow); pizzicato; Bartók pizzicato (harsher pizzicato)
  • Less common sounds – tapping the body of the instrument with hands works well

Cello

Mainly included here to make it easy to compare its sound with other similar instruments (baroque cello, viola da gamba etc.)

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  • Tuned C2G2D3A3; lowest note C2 although it’s possible to detune to Bb2 and highest note around A6 (the notes speak a little less in that range and are more difficult to play, aside from the harmonics of the A)
  • Great for melodies, bass lines, layering and creating textures
  • Pitch based effects include vibrato, trills, glissandi, harmonics, false harmonics
  • Large and flexible dynamic range
  • Sounds/articulations include rich and warm; intense; flautando (light and fast bowing); sul ponticello (bowing very close to the bridge) which creates anything from a wind kind of sound to a harsh metallic or icy sound; col legno (tapping with the wood of the bow); pizzicato; Bartók pizzicato (harsher pizzicato)
  • Less common sounds – tapping the body of the instrument with hands works well

    Further listening:
    Chopin – Nocturne in Eb Opus 9 No 2 with pianist Jonathan Musgrave

Hurdy Gurdy (vielle a roue, wheeled fiddle)

Middle Ages onwards in Europe and the Middle East, evidence of early instruments at least from the 12th century and some unauthenticated evidence going back to the 10th. From c.17th century primarily used in folk music due to the harmonic constraints of being drone based. Played with a cranked wheel which sets gut and metal wound strings vibrating. The Specific instruments vary – the description below is of my hurdy gurdy (made by Claire Dugué)

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  • Strings in 3 groups: 2 bass drones, 3 melody strings and 2 trompettes (high drone with optional buzz). Each string is moved onto the wheel individually so any combination is possible.
  • Bass drone 1 = F2, G2 or A2; Bass drone 2 = C3 or D3
  • Melody strings = D, G and G
  • Trompette 1 = F2, G2 or A2; Trompette 2 = C3 or D3, both with optional chien (buzzing bridge)
  • Chien (buzzing bridge) developed in the Renaissance – it plays rhythms and beats like an added percussion instrument
  • Strings can be put on or taken off the wheel whilst the instrument is played and also altered to their other pitch options i.e. whilst playing G and D strings the G could be moved to A etc. As this is done with the left hand there must be a gap in the melody in order to have a hand free.
  • Many different sounds and effects can be created with the keys and through finding harmonics on the drone strings

Vielle (tenor)

Medieval fiddle (literally fiddle in French), there are depictions at least as early as the 10th century. Tuned with 3-5 gut strings, mine has 5, which can be with or without frets.

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  • Tuned G3D4G4D5D5, the strings are quite flexible so other tunings are possible
  • Lowest note G3 and highest around D6
  • Chromatic so all notes can be played but sounds best where the tonal centre matches the tuning of the strings
  • Bowed and plucked
  • Great for double stops (two notes together) and chords; melodies; pizzicato; layering

Rebec

Medieval and Early Renaissance bowed string instrument, developed from the Arabic ‘rebab’, played in Europe from at least the 10th century. Still used in Eastern European, Spanish and North African folk music today and in British and European dance music until the 18th century however in classical music it was superseded by the viol (viola da gamba) during the 16th century.

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  • 3 strings tuned D4A4 E5 or D4A4 D5 with other tunings possible
  • Lowest note G3 and highest around C6
  • Melodies, bowed and pizzicato; drone strings
  • Unfretted and can play in any key

Harmonium (free reed organ)

Keyboard instrument where sound is produced by bellows worked by the feet pushing air through reeds (similar sound production method to an accordion). Popular in the 19th and early 20th centuries and often used as small or portable organs in churches, ships, homes, schools and in the colonies as they were easier to transport than pianos and more stable. Also associated with British, Appalachian and Nordic folk music. Mine is a bit of a relic, not quite in tune and not worth fixing but that might be what you’re looking for.

  • Pitch range C2 to C7; tuned chromatically; C4 is pitched at A=452hz; slightly sharper at C2 and flatter at C7
  • Various stops include ‘flute’, ‘forte’, ‘sourdine’

Frame Drum

Historical, Medieval, Ceremonial, World music. An instrument that has been around forever. 40cm diameter skin drum with beater. Flexible pitch.

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  • Large dynamic range
  • Various sounds depending on beater or hands

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