Robert (gurdonark) wrote,

My Can-Jo is My Axe

My Can-Jo is My Axe

The Can-jo is a one-string mountain dulcimer which uses a tin can rather than a box for its resonator (or, if we may be less technical, for that box-like end of a guitar or dulcimer or mandolin or banjo).

The Can-jo is supremely easy to play. Mine has a range of ten notes, from A up to C. The "diatonic" bit is a description of how the can-jo plays no sharps or flats. In this way, a can-jo is just like a diatonic 8-tone glockenspiel, and plays the same sheet music. If I ever started an acoustic band, I'd advertise for an 8-tone glock player. I am not sure if I would advertise in "Dallas Musician" or in "Dallas Child". Perhaps I'd compromise and advertise in the jazz department of the University of North Texas. That reminds me--I must get on the mailing list for all the great concerts this incredible music school sponsors and creates.

Unlike a guitar, the can-jo is rather easy to tune, for the reason that it is nearly impossible to tune. It won't, strictly speaking, hold a tune in perfect pitch, so you have to tune it until it sounds good to you, and that's good enough. So often music-making is thwarted by an over-punctiliousness about how it is made.

People debate which instrument should be a child's first instrument. Some argue for the piano, which is a very traditional way to learn a lot about music in a hurray. Others argue for the recorder, which is much simpler to play and yet can be an introduction to the simultaneous fascinations of baroque music and of "This Old Man".

I feel that the can-jo is the "first instrument of choice". One can play frere jacques with fifteen minutes of assiduous effort. A number of classic rock songs, like the first umpteen notes of "Smoke on the Water" and the entirety of the Joy Division classic "She's Lost Control", can be played in the can-jo. "Amazing Grace" and "Greensleeves" are just a can-jo fret away.

The can-jo has a simple, honest sound. Its simplicity is appealing in and of itself.
Lately, though, I have been using my can-jo to create short sound pieces which I then "sample" with my little software synthesizer. This allows me to create sounds using the can-jo foundation which can sound like harpsichords or primitive blues guitars.
I will never set the world on fire with my can-jo, though at least I will never be flat.
But my can-jo is my axe, and, along with a nose flute, it helps give my electronic music voice.
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