How to choose musical instrument: musician's experience

  • 25 December 2017

reSoundboard interviewed Alexandra Selivanova - musician, the author of Samurai San project (music, words, vocal), the head of Kiana Team artistic group.

Once I came up with a brilliant idea: to make music. I’ve wanted to connect my life with music for a long time, but as for many children, parents did not encourage me for this as a professional activity, and I started to do it pretty late. I think it was on the second year of University. I bought a guitar. How did it happen? I was too shy to ask someone to help me with a choice and to go with me to the store. I went alone. Probably I was afraid to look stupid for people who already knew something.

It took me two months to screw myself up to do it. I organized an expedition to the store on my birthday. There were two typical long-haired musician guitarist. I was standing and in front of me there were three or four identical electric guitars. Later I learned that this shape was called Stratocaster. For me they had different colors and no other differences. I just didn't know anything about their characteristics, I didn't even know how and what was called inside them. For me it was just the strings and the body. I was interested in one guitar and told the seller about this. He began to describe me every guitar that was hanging on the wall. It was the most obscure monologue in my life, because he talked about some nuances, believing that I could understand. I think every starter musician feels in musical stores the same way that I felt – helpless. They talk about things you have no idea about. You just want to sit down and start to play on the guitar. So the seller showed me all the guitars. He played each one of them. I bought one. Red. Yeah, I chose the color. I think if you've never played and nobody has never advised you, then you choose according to what you see. If you look at many manufacturers of guitars in the low price category (people usually begin with less expensive ones), they are all in design, and bright. You took it, looked at yourself in the mirror, you look nice and feel – ok, I’m a cool musician. The idea is to attract your visual attention. Musicians, when they grow up in their musical history, they choose because of sound and convenience, and a whole bunch of other features. But when you, like me, came for the first time to the store, you want a red one or purple with stripes. I bought it, but I did not buy the amp because … attention... I didn't know it is needed! By the way, I had relations with guitars since childhood, but only with acoustic – at home we had guitars and piano, but the instruments working with the magic of electricity were new for me.

At the shop I refused to play the instruments, I do not remember what I came up with as an excuse, but of course I wouldn’t have played a chord and so I was scared to screw it up. And nobody told me about the amp, probably because it was so obvious for the musicians that it would be something indecent to say. The guitar was incredibly heavy. I brought it home. I started to strum and could not understand why it sounded so weird. The instrument should sound differently! Now this is funny of course that I was as Native American and Columbus: everything looks beautiful, but I understand nothing. I asked my friend who played the guitar to show me how to play - at least some basics. He gave me a few lessons. I loved to carry the guitar in my hands. I loved to look at it and I didn't know what to do with it. At the end, I sold it, simply because it stood idly. I didn’t learn to play normally. After the electric guitar I thought that perhaps the guitar is not for, somehow it was very difficult even to start. I thought, maybe keys are for me.

Again, I didn’t understand very well the price range, so I typed on the computer "buy a synthesizer", not keys, not electro piano. When you don't understand what you're looking for, you'll buy some “crap”. I typed "buy a synthesizer". I found a standard website that sold some electronics. You can imagine what kind of synthesizers there were. I bought one of them. It was a little, about two and a half octave range. I now recall with horror the sound it produced. But then again, when you're a starter musician, for you all the sound of the instrument – well, I guess it should be like this. So I had had it for about two months. Then I met my first musical friends. When they saw my synth, they said, "get rid of this nightmare! ". I sold it to a man. When he came, he looked at this instrument the same way I looked at it two months ago. This instrument is suitable to understand that you definitely need something different. You should have such instruments: you bought it, you lived with it for a little, then “thank you”, I think I know what I need.

Actually, in the childhood I studied music as a hobby: song writing, sang, I had a piano at home, so I'm not didn’t begin my journey to “the musical Olympus” at the age of 20. Pitch is ok too. But when you’ve never touched the instrument, you'll be like a monkey with a grenade. I think it is necessary to experience it in order to be able to choose one that is needed.

The next was (just like about lovers =) )a triangle. It was very funny. It was the first group where I sang. I felt insecure due to the fact that everybody had musical instruments and I was just with microphone: where to put hands? =)) But as I didn’t play anything, I was suggested something like maracas. I was against it, because it's not rock-n-roll! And we talked about the triangle. I made a bet with a friend from the group, that in store, he was talking about, there was not this king of instruments. It was not there. Friend lost a bet. The bet was about the triangle, and the loser had to get it. The next day I came to rehearsal, and on my MIC stand there was it. Not a friend. Triangle. Very cool thing, but you have to use it in the right place. As far as I know, it is used by drummers, often in orchestras. The triangle has no particular pitch of tone, no particular notes, so it's used as percussion, though it can be found in the section "percussion musical instruments". The end of triangle was really funny when I lost the wand to it. I was lazy to buy a special wand for it. It is still at home waiting for its moment of glory.

Then I bought a MIDI keyboard – 88 keys, huge thing. I decided it was the time to write music at home. MIDI keyboard is the best option, because you can have any libraries to load into the program and class=SpellE>ypu can record of the parts. What was a small mistake in it: the keys were not heavy enough, that there was not enough sensitivity that a real piano or a Grand piano had, it was extremely hard to achieve it. But at that moment it was not very easy to find and buy a 88 MIDI heavy keys.

I love electro pianos with heavy keyboards, now there are so many of them in different price categories. The first thing to do is to come and feel the instrument. You need to see how it feels: comfortable - uncomfortable. When I bought this MIDI keyboard, I already knew something, so I had this goal: to purchase a MIDI keyboard for 88 keys. I had to play Chopin, Tchaikovsky, learn the parts, besides the composition of my music. And it’s unreal to do it on a small MIDI keyboard in two and a half octaves, to steer the pitch wheel. I took his instrument for several tasks at once: to play, to record the parts and if needed to take it with me to the concerts. I don’t like to connect something to the instrument, so that when you play on it, to “steer” anything other than the instrument itself. On small MIDI keyboards, you can add octaves, but you need to use a roller at the top or bottom, or side, to throw yourself onto the octave. For me it's more of a distraction than a convenience, I'd rather take with me heavy keyboard.

When you choose an instrument, you need to pay attention to your tasks. You need to understand your own goals and not to lie to yourself about them. I encourage everyone to build on this.

Since I'm a vocalist, the choice of microphone for me is the most important and responsible task. There are bunch of them. There are microphones for acoustic instruments, vocals, studio recordings, concerts, and singing friends, so they can spit in this MIC remorselessly. I have a microphone like this at home. For 3 thousand rubles. Now who wants to sing – here it is. Everybody sings, and I'm not worried. But then again, let’s start from the goal. When I was choosing a microphone not for friends singing, I have set the task: I need a microphone for recording demos at home. The task was to find the best to record voice at home, so it wouldn’t whistle, fit under my voice and wouldn’t die three days later. At the end, I think the amount of money that people are willing to spend plays a great role. In each category you can find the best option. If you don't want Neumann for some crazy money... by the way, I sang in Neumann. It was cool. The sound was so transparent!

So, the starting point is how much money do you have and you knowledge of your own voice. Not each cool microphone will catch your voice. I had a case when I was singing in a very cool microphone, it was praised and loved, but my voice sounded bad. Some kind of microphone is made so that it will extinguish the flaws in your voice, and many others will sound awful in it. You need to test the microphone. To sing and listen to. If the microphone is dynamic, it’s better to listen right at that moment. Don’t take friends with you, they'll say you sing bad, and it's not yours, wrap it up. Joke. You need to compare: take 3-4 microphone, 5 are the most. I think more than 5 is not necessary, it will be hard to compare. Like perfumes: 3 spirits, you sniffed them and after it’s better not to try. Everything will be as one. Same here. For me it is necessary to listen to yourself and not to someone else. If you like how you sound it’s all right. And listen to more quality music and good performers – both live and recorded – then your hearing just will not cheat.

Condenser microphone, of course, is difficult to determine "suitable/not suitable": it is necessary to sing, record and listen. And there is such a moment – where do you listen to it. All the way the sound makes from the microphone to the ear is important. And it may be that microphone is ok and your monitor speakers are not. It is important to listen to multiple sources. Each MIC on a different sound source – mathematically you get a lot of options. The point is that you need to listen on very good speakers. “Shit test” – there is such a thing when you're listening to a real “shit”. Ordinary cheap headphones. If you sound fine everywhere that the choice is made. There are microphones that are directly matched with you and sound great, but I think this rarely happens. All microphones are very different. I have a long story with them and sometimes strange things happened. Cheap condenser microphone – it can do nothing but die heroically at some bad studio recording – sometimes they sound better than something expensive. It is absurd, but we must take into consideration that cool expensive microphones transmit all the nuances of sound and it is not always good.

And the final accord. Friends, dear musicians, beginners, intermediate, those who finished and want to start again, we talked about the selection of musical instruments, how it can be difficult. I think the main thing that the instrument has to be yours. Of course, you can start from the popularity of the brand, from the price. But as my teacher of the violin said: the violin should be an extension of your hand. Any instrument should be an extension of you. And if not, then most likely you will only be able to squeeze out the last accord and sell it to someone else. There is such a moment – all the instruments that stayed with me and they have names. Johnny guitar, a MIDI keyboard - Vader (because it's black and white, obviously). This is something that you became one with, what you appreciate, love and will not give it away.