Ilusions of simplisity in music

The modern world is full of illusions of simplicity, things which look simple beacouse they where designed to. Under this facade lies a great deal of complexity. A practical example of this idea is a car. Cars are incredibly complicated, they depend on thousands of mechanical parts to function. However a driver only has to know the controls: steering wheel, gear stick, gas, clutch and break pedals. Even less in case of an automatic.

The illusion holds because it's complete, there is no 'catch'. The cars mechanical and electronic systems automate many tasks for the driver. Regulating fuel delivery, engine temperature and balancing power between the driving wheels. Without this automation driving would be a much more taxing experience.

This same idea is present in many musical instruments as well, perhaps the most obvious being the piano. It's metal frame ensures that the strings hold there tuning and the hammers allow notes to be played consistently. Because of this the player doesn't have to worry about there pitch: as long as the right key is pressed the right note will sound.

Toward the other extreme are instruments like the Theremin, Slide whistle and members of the Violin family. Pitch, volume, and in some cases timbre are all in the hands of the player. Consequently it is challenging to begin playing them. To produce a musical sound the player must learn to control many things at once.

Then there are instruments which lie between the two. The recorder and ocarina for example. At first they look simple because there fingering system is approachable, something often touted in marketing materials. Yet this illusion has a gaping flaw.

To play musically these instruments require good breath control and a sense of relative pitch. On the recorder one has to control there breath to avoid squeaking. The same errors on the ocarina cause it to go wildly out of tune. It's trivial to play a 'D' while fingering low 'C'.

Both instruments are highly misleading for someone new to music. If someone plays in ignorance of these issues they will never learn to play musically. It can also lead to an apathy towards music in general. I've performed at numerous venues and had the opportunity to talk with many people. When asked 'do you play music' a considerable number of them thought they where incapable of doing so. They had a bad experience with the recorder as a child and never looked further.

I think this situation is stupid as it's easily avoided. Instead of ignoring breath control, teach an instrument that does not require breath control.

An electronic instrument could easily fill this need. It could provide a simple fingering system, consistent pitch and steady volume. This would allow a player to quickly play tunes they know. It would also be trivial to play in a group and actually sound good.

Of course such an instrument would have limited expressive capacity. Electronic instruments conveniently solve this problem too: they can be reprogrammed. Features can be enabled as a players skill develops. At first everything may be automated so skills like rhythm, scales and sight reading can grow in isolation. Over time features can be enabled to allow more expressive playing.