As you are all aware I used to play the triangle in the Band. The Band in question was, to give it the correct title The Band of HM Royal Marines.
As a percussionist the triangle was one of many percussion instruments I was obliged to master and later as an Instructor at the Royal Marines School of Music I ensured this instrument was not neglected. Whilst we enjoyed the insight that the resident Percussion Professor could bring to this instrument I was also keen to take students in my charge to a Masterclass on the triangle during their intensive training delivered by colleagues in the orchestral field.
Whilst I’ve no doubt the majority of you have already seen the numerous YouTube videos regarding the triangle and playing techniques I have been tasked to enlighten those of you that have not.
Wikipedia: The triangle is an idiophone type of musical instrument in the percussion family. It is a bar of metal, usually steel but sometimes other metals like beryllium copper, bent into a triangle shape. The instrument is usually held by a loop of some form of thread or wire at the top curve. It was first made around the 16th century.
The triangle is rarely viewed as a musical instrument that requires serious practice and study. Nothing could be further from the truth. The tonal texture of a triangle is that of a special nature which cannot be imitated. The instrument was used as early as the Turks with their Janissary music and eventually found its way into the classical orchestra repertoire from the 18th century. It became a permanent member of the orchestra during the early part of the 19th century, and in 1853 was raised to the rank of a symphonic solo instrument by Liszt in his Piano Concerto in E flat, causing, it is said, considerable consternation.
Most triangles range in size from four to ten inches in diameter. The preferred size for orchestra and concert band is between six and nine inches, the larger size being more suitable for literature from the Romantic period. Since there is no “correct” triangle size, it is the responsibility of the percussionist to select an instrument of suitable sonority for each particular work. Although the triangle is of indefinite pitch, it tends to blend with the overall harmonic sound of the band and orchestra.
Each triangle has a unique make-up, acoustically. All pitches are contained in the sound of a quality triangle so that it blends with any tonality in the ensemble. A bad triangle can sound like a dinner bell; a good triangle on the other hand has a complex set of overtones, which produces a rich, shimmery sound.
Firstly an experienced performer would use a professional triangle clip on which to mount the instrument; this is an image of a Grover (other models are available).
|Pro Triangle Clip|
As you can see the density of the plastic cord would have minimal contact with the triangle, therefore absorbing less of the tone from the instrument allowing the overtones to ring cleanly in all their glory (note the back-up second cord).
In the following stock image we observe many errors.
You will by now recognise that the cord is too thick and would naturally muffle the instrument. Also note that when compared to the previous image of the Grover triangle clip the triangle is suspended much lower to the pinch point. This will result in the triangle moving and swaying when being struck making it difficult to produce a constant even tone against a moving object.
[There is too much to be said about the striking position and choice of beater within the image that I frankly don’t have the time to get into within the limited scope of this article.]
|Triangle beaters – Brass beaters|
The choice of beaters for the triangle is vast and an important choice for the skilled performer, selection is obviously based on the music to be performed as is the size and choice of the actual triangle to be used. The size and weight of the beater is of great significance. Generally, heavier beaters of various metals produce the most sonorous sounds. There are a variety of beaters on the market today that are suitable for all types of music and ensembles.
There are many techniques to actually playing the triangle; unfortunately these are far too difficult for me to explain in text, however:
When struck properly, the triangle will produce a fundamental sound with numerous overtones. The production of overtones is important and enables the instrument to blend with an ensemble. The triangle is a “coloration” instrument and must always blend with the ensemble. The instrument may be struck on the bottom or on the side. Wherever the instrument is struck, it must be with a pushing motion since a slapping motion will produce a hard, metallic ping rather than a beautiful, resonant tone.
Whilst much maligned, the triangle is a most wondrous instrument that I have enjoyed playing for many years. Perhaps I miss it too much.