Musical creativity can be inspired by many different things, but I find that picking up an instrument that isn't one I would normally play can stimulate new ideas. OK, so my music is more ambient/chill than most so maybe more obscure instruments are a better fit, but even so it is amazing what you can come up with. During a visit to a US trade show a few years back, I took a few minutes to look around the ethnic instrument section and came home with a North American Indian flute. These are tuned to a pentatonic scale so pretty much anyone who knows a few blues licks can make sense of one. Learn a couple of tonguing and note-bending techniques and the recorded result can sound most authentic.
Spurred on by this success, I ordered a good quality Irish whistle but found it much harder to play properly, despite the fact that it sounded lovely. It was made by Shearwater Whistles, so I contacted them and asked if they'd ever made something along the lines of an Irish Whistle but with North American Indian flute tuning. After all, the North American Indian flute is really a whistle, not a true flute.
Surprisingly, I got a reply stating that although they'd never made one they'd be happy to give it a go, so I put in my order and a few weeks later a lovely whistle arrived that had all the tonality of an Irish Whistle but with the familiar playability of the wooden flute I already owned. Add a hint of reverb and the magic unfolds.
More recently I was looking around the Times Square Guitar Center when I spotted something on the percussion wall that I didn't know even existed — and it wasn't even a percussion instrument either. It was in fact a travel didgeridoo made by Meinl — so I had to buy it. About the size of a cigar box, the wooden instrument has an internal labyrinth to provide the necessary length of pipe and it really works. It is bit quieter than the real thing but it records well and takes less breath than a full‑sized didgeridoo, so circular breathing is much easier.
There are so many things that can add to a recording and most cost relatively little — thumb pianos, chimes, bells and small percussion instruments. Apparently even old Roland drum machines have their uses. My attempt to play my Chinese two‑string Erhu fiddle, however, was a definite fail — no matter how hard I try, it still sounds like somebody sawing a donkey in half!
Paul White Editor In Chief