Wah-wah (music)

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Wah-wah (or wa-wa) is an imitative word (or onomatopoeia) for the sound of altering the resonance of musical notes to extend expressiveness, sounding much like a human voice saying the syllable wah. The wah-wah effect is a spectral glide, a "modification of the vowel quality of a tone" ( Erickson 1975 , p. 72).

Onomatopoeia word whose pronunciation imitates sound of its denotation

Onomatopœia is the process of creating a word that phonetically imitates, resembles, or suggests the sound that it describes. As such words are uncountable nouns, onomatopoeia refers to the property of such words. Common occurrences of words of the onomatopoeia process include animal noises such as "oink", "miaow", "roar" and "chirp". Onomatopoeia can differ between languages: it conforms to some extent to the broader linguistic system; hence the sound of a clock may be expressed as tick tock in English, tic tac in Spanish and Italian, dī dā in Mandarin, katchin katchin in Japanese, or "tik-tik" in Hindi.

A spectral glide is a music-composition concept, consisting of a "modification of the vowel quality of a tone". Since the vowel quality of a tone is determined by the overtones, spectrum, or timbre of that tone, a spectral glide is a move from a spectrum characteristic of one vowel to a spectrum characteristic of another vowel. A spectral glide may be accomplished through a wah-wah, mute, or pedal, or through the modification of one's vocal tract while speaking, singing, or playing an instrument such as the didgeridoo. Lip-vibrated instruments with large mouthpieces such as tuba and trombone allow extensive modification of vowel quality, while woodwinds have a smaller range, with the exception of the flute in air-sound mode. Strings have the smallest range.

Contents

Etymology

The word is derived from the sound of the effect itself; an imitative or onomatopoeia word. The effect's "wa-wa" sound was noted by jazz player Barney Bigard when he heard Tricky Sam Nanton use the effect on his trombone in the early 1920s ( Nadal n.d. ).

Barney Bigard American musician

Albany Leon "Barney" Bigard was an American jazz clarinetist known for his 15-year tenure with Duke Ellington. He also played tenor saxophone.

Tricky Sam Nanton American musician

Joe "Tricky Sam" Nanton was an American trombonist with the Duke Ellington Orchestra.

History

Acoustic

The wah-wah effect is believed to have originated in the 1920s, with brass instrument players finding they could produce an expressive crying tone by moving a mute, or plunger, in and out of the instrument's bell ( Du Noyer 2003 , 375). In 1921, trumpet player Johnny Dunn's use of this style inspired Tricky Sam Nanton to use the mute with the trombone ( Nadal n.d. ).

Johnny Dunn was an American traditional jazz trumpeter and vaudeville performer, who was born in Memphis, Tennessee. He is probably best known for his work during the 1920s with musicians such as Perry Bradford or Noble Sissle. He has been compared in sound and style to both King Oliver and Louis Armstrong. In 1922, he recorded as a member of Mamie Smith's Jazz Hounds, together with Garvin Bushell, Coleman Hawkins, Everett Robbins, Bubber Miley and Herb Flemming.

Electronic

By the early 1960s, the sound of the acoustic technique had been emulated with electronic circuitry (Keen 1999; DuNoyer 1993 , 375). For electric guitar the wah-wah pedal was invented.

Technique

The method of production varies from one type of instrument to another. On brass instruments, it is usually created by means of a mute, particularly with the harmon (also called a "wa-wa" mute) or plunger mute. Woodwind instruments may use "false fingerings" to produce the effect.

Mute (music) device fitted to a musical instrument to alter the sound produced

A mute is a device fitted to a musical instrument to alter the sound produced: by affecting the timbre, reducing the volume, or most commonly both. The use of a mute is usually indicated in musical notation by the Italian direction con sordino and removed with the direction senza sordino or via sordino.

Any electrified instrument may use an auxiliary signal-processing device, or pedal. Often it is controlled by movement of the player's foot on a rocking pedal connected to a potentiometer. An alternative to players directly controlling the amount of effect is an 'auto-wah'. These devices, usually make harder hit notes more trembly with a more prominent wah wah effect ( Hunter 2008 ). Wah-wah effects are often used for soloing or for creating a "wacka-wacka" funk rhythm on guitar ( Du Noyer 2003 , 375). Although these electronic means are most often on electric guitar, they are also often used on electric piano ( Kernfeld 2002 ).

Signal processing models and analyzes data representations of physical events

Signal processing is a subfield of mathematics, information and electrical engineering that concerns the analysis, synthesis, and modification of signals, which are broadly defined as functions conveying "information about the behavior or attributes of some phenomenon", such as sound, images, and biological measurements. For example, signal processing techniques are used to improve signal transmission fidelity, storage efficiency, and subjective quality, and to emphasize or detect components of interest in a measured signal.

Potentiometer Type of resistor, usually with three terminals

A potentiometer is a three-terminal resistor with a sliding or rotating contact that forms an adjustable voltage divider. If only two terminals are used, one end and the wiper, it acts as a variable resistor or rheostat.

Auto-wah

Auto-wah is a type of wah-wah effects pedal typically used with electric guitar, bass guitar, clavinet, and electric piano etc. The distinctive choppy rhythm guitar sound on many funk and disco recordings from the 1970s popularized the effect.

Theory

The wah-wah effect is produced by periodically bringing in and out of play treble frequencies while a note is sustained. Therefore, the effect is a type of spectral glide, a "modification of the vowel quality of a tone" ( Erickson 1975 , 72).

The Electronic wah-wah effects are produced by controlling tone filters with a pedal ( Keen 1999 ). An envelope follower circuit is used in the 'auto-wah'.( Hunter 2008 ). Subtractive synthesis can produce a similar effect.

Notable uses

Tricky Sam Nanton's wah-wah on trombone in Duke Ellington's Orchestra became well known as part of the so-called "jungle" effects of the band in the late 1920s ( Nadal n.d. ). This technique has been used in contemporary music. Karlheinz Stockhausen notates the use of the wah-wah mute in his Punkte (1952/1962) in terms of transitions between open to close using open and closed circles connected by a line ( Erickson 1975 , 73). Although the most common method of producing wah-wah on brass instruments is with a mute, some players have used electronic filtering, notably Miles Davis on trumpet ( Kernfeld 2002 ).

See also

Sources

Further reading

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