This section is from the book "Feeling Better? Amusements and Occupations for Convalescents", by Cornelia R. Trowbridge. Also available from Amazon: Feeling Better.
HAVE your breakfast tray brought back to you some morning with half a dozen glasses from the pantry and a pitcher of water. The glasses should stand on a piece of thick cloth, such as a folded bath towel. You must also have a beater. A wooden spool, wound with a bit of felt and stuck on the end of a pencil, will serve. Tap the glasses in turn and set aside those that give a clear note. The beater should be swung freely from above the glasses. When you have found three that sound nearly alike, work out with them a three note scale by adding water in different quantities to two of them to lower the pitch. Start with the glass which gives the highest note as its natural tone and from it work down the scale. Even a teaspoonful of water will sometimes affect the tone. The scale of G is usually a good one to work for with glasses. Tint the water of the glass giving the tonic note with a drop of ink and arrange them in sequence.
You have created a musical instrument. Can you play upon it "Hot Cross Buns"? As it is written out below, the numbers represent the glasses, No. 1 the tonic note of the scale. The vertical lines separate the measures. Brackets around two notes mean that they count as one beat. The dashes indicate the holding of notes.
You can sing to them
Hot Cross Buns,
Hot Cross Buns,
One a penny, two a penny,
Hot Cross Buns.
Can you find some other melody of three notes or compose one of your own? With five glasses properly attuned you can aspire to Mary Had a Little Lamb, Lightly Row, Cuckoo Calls from the Wood. Here is Robin, Goodbye, which you may know as Winter, Adieu, written out for glasses.
You may discover some motifs of great music written in five tones which can be played on glasses. One of them is the Choral of the last movement of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, which in the key of G goes thus:
To work up a whole octave glasses of different sizes will be required. Send to the pantry again for a greater variety of shapes and kinds. In her delightful book, Creative Music in the Home, Mrs. Satis Coleman tells of as many as fifteen glasses in a row, from tall beakers to tiny cordial glasses, tuned to cover four or five notes above and below the main octave. On such a sequence almost any song can be played. Mrs. Coleman suggests a number of simple airs and folk tunes from every nation, beginning with those of only three notes, and annotates them so that the veriest tyro can play them. She suggests also collecting bottles for their musical possibilities. One should blow directly across the mouth of a bottle, whispering the word two with as much breath as possible behind it. Adding water will vary the pitch. Test tubes are more convenient to handle than bottles and can be bought at drug stores. Melted paraffin, used instead of water, will not evaporate and necessitate retuning. Several tubes can be held together and played upon like the pipes of Pan.
An assortment of bowls from the kitchen will provide another instrument. It can be played with a pair of those shoe-trees that have wooden toe and heel pieces connected by a strip of flexible steel. Tap the wooden ends against the inside surface of the bowls, which may range in size from a custard cup to a large mixing bowl.
Have you considered how many musical instruments can be played in bed? There are of course the Jew's harp and the harmonica, the flageolet and the fife. Do not scorn the ocarina, the delight of the school boy, which he has dubbed the "sweet potato." Its tone at its best is suggestive of the flute and it plays the full scale. Dealers carry it in different keys and sizes, all sold at a dollar or less.
A xylophone of fourteen or eighteen notes is easily played on a bed-table. Mrs. Coleman has given the xylophone the name used by African tribes, the marimba, and written another entrancing book telling of the many forms it takes among primitive peoples and the range of tunes that can be played upon it. Complete material for a home-made marimba can be secured from the Industrial Arts Cooperative Service, described in the chapter on Contacts. You may like the fun of making your own instead of ordering a xylophone from a music dealer or a toy shop. Some xylophones play both sharps and flats. Metallaphones are similar instruments made of metal. Chinese gongs sometimes come shaped like a xylophone, sometimes as a series of bells or of metal tubes. There may be one which you could borrow for your amusement. You might begin by working out with your family a musical code to call different members of the household or to signal for water or food or other needs.
Instruments of the psaltery type are played with little physical effort. The autoharp, a modern invention, plays only chords but within its limitations is full and sweet in tone and it is easily mastered. The zither plays both chords and melody. It gives a clear, delicate tone, reminiscent of the days of dulcimer and harpsi-cord. What other stringed instruments you attempt must depend on how freely you can move your wrists and arms and how erect you can sit against your pillows. Mandolins, ukeleles, tenor guitars, smaller and sweeter in tone than a banjo, may all be possible, and even a German accordion, which comes in a small size. If you are a beginner in music, you can get books for self-instruction from any music dealer. While you are a privileged invalid, the household will suffer in silence if you produce discords.
To solve the problem of getting the pitch, there are chromatic pitch pipes to be had nowadays, small, inexpensive and easy to handle, which give every note of the chromatic scale. They are used by music teachers, groups of players, cantors and other leaders of choruses. One within reach will reconcile you to the handicap of not being able to strike the keys of a piano. You will be able to tune any instrument with it from musical glasses to a guitar. When you want to burst into song, it will start you off on the right key.
The following books by Mrs. Satis N. Coleman, offer a wealth of suggestion for the creation of music by simple means from the foremost writer in this field:
Creative Music in the Home. Lewis E. Myers Company, Valparaiso, Indiana. 1927.
Creative Music for Children. The John Day Company, New York. 1930.
The Marimba Book. The John Day Company, New York. 1931. The Drum Book. The John Day Company, New York. 1931. The Psaltery Book. Creative Music Studio, 15 Claremont Avenue, New York. 1932. Rhythm Songs, Walter Damrosch and others. The New Universal School Music Series. Hinds, Hayden & Eldredge, New York. 1933.
A number of simple melodies adapted to musical glasses and the xylophone.
musical instruments Carl Fischer, New York. Branch in Boston.
Wurlitzer, Cincinnati, Ohio. Branches in a score of cities.
Lyon and Healy, Chicago.
International Music Corporation, Hoboken, New Jersey.
Makers of the Psaltery of which Mrs. Coleman writes. William Kratt, New Brunswick, New Jersey.
Manufacturer of an excellent chromatic pitch-pipe.