A is for…

A is an awkward letter for the A to Z theme I have chosen this time.  A musical instrument beginning with Letter A
is eluding me.  There are a few with adjectives before them which include an aeolian harp, an acoustic bass, an alto recorder and an alto saxophone.  The human voice may be classed as an instrument.  Mine is in the range known as alto (for a choral singer like me) or contralto for a soloist.  Musical terms can be a bit confusing.  In a jazz band there might be an acoustic bass, but in an orchestra it would be a double bass.  Acoustic has come to signify not amplified or at least not electric.

Let’s take a look at these adjectives beginning with A.

Aeolian means wind borne.  An aeolian harp has not been blown in by the wind.  (As in, “Look what the wind’s blown in!”)  Rather the wind is the musician and the harp plays as the wind blows over it.  (There could be a problem categorising it.  Is it a string instrument? Yes!  Could it be classed as a wind instrument?  Doubtful.)

Acoustic means relating to sound or hearing.  In the context of acoustic guitars, they can be heard without amplification.  Electric guitars do not make much sound un-plugged.

Alto comes from the Latin word for high.  Now that choral music is mostly written for SATB voices (soprano, alto, tenor and bass), alto is considered to be a low female voice.  However, there are men whose voices are in this range.  In past ages women did not sing in church choirs.  Boy trebles sang the highest parts and the alto parts were sung by men.

One instrument which really does begin with A is the archlute.  It is the biggest member of the lute family.

Arch here is not an architectural feature, but is the same word as in archangel.

It means the greatest (biggest or most important).

Update:  Two readers have provided additional information or corrections to this post.  In case you do not have time to read all the comments, Tim has pointed out that accordion begins with A.  Sarah clarified the difference between a double bass and an acoustic bass (guitar).





20 thoughts on “A is for…

  1. I have totally learned things today. I consider myself to be a “musician” in the broadest term, meaning that I play both piano and guitar but know little about theory (I mostly just look up the chords and then play by ear). That said, this is probably going to be an interesting and informative month for me! Thanks!


  2. Hi Sue .. I’m surprised you faltered at A – yet picked it up with Archlute – interesting as I thought there had to be an ‘A’ … but I’ll thoroughly enjoy these posts .. and their definitions within … fun and thanks for explaining aeolian, acoustic and alto … cheers Hilary


  3. Ooooh – I love your theme! My husband is a middle-school band teacher, so I will have to show him your blog. And three cheers for Timothy Brannan – I recently inherited my grampa’s two accordions and am learning how to play! 😀


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