What musical instruments would be difficult/impossible to play in a weightless environment?

Does a violinist rely on or rely on an **assist **from gravity to keep the bow in contact with the strings? Obviously the violinist’s hands hold the bow to the strings, but if the bow were truly weightless (and the violin, too), wouldn’t that throw things off?

What about clarinet and flutes and other keyed instruments.

Or piano hammers striking the strings then returning to a rest position. Is that gravity or a spring-loaded thingy-bob?

Heck, what about drums??

My thoughts are that a violinist wouldn’t be much affected by a lack of gravity (but I don’t play fiddles). Neither would most woodwinds and brass (and I do play some of those). Pianos – gravity is the spring in most acoustic units, but they “bounce” a little, too. You might have trouble getting keys to return to normal position.

Drums…would be minimally affected. Hit a cymbal on a stand, and it relies partly on gravity to return to rest. A snare, not so much. A cowbell, not at all.

Can’t forget the rainstick.

Woodwind key systems and brass valve systems are sprung, so they should work in space.

Maybe the upright bass, because it’s large, and the player stands it on the floor. In zero G, it might be hard to keep it in proper position.

I wasn’t thinking about the vibration of the drumhead, but thinking of the sticks, which “rest” in your hands due to their weight. I’m not saying this quite right… I don’t play the drums, but it seems like the weight of the sticks facilitates the drumming process and weightless sticks might be hard to control.

Actually it’s hard to imagine **all **the implications of weightlessness, what with the ubiquity of gravity and all.

Glass harmonica
Glockenspiel/xylophone type instruments, if the bars sit in place by means of gravity (some do)
Tubular bells
Handheld percussion stuff such as the triangle (it could be played, but would need more attention)
Hand bells (again, could be played, but normally, they stay where they are put)

Percussions like piano and drums, unless both player and instruments are bolted down.

Chris Hadfield had a guitar on the ISS (he recorded an awesome cover/video of Space Oddity). He has talked about having to adapt to playing in microgravity - very subtle differences in feel due to the expectation of weight that you might not ever realise. But it was pretty subtle.

That’s about what I’d expect for drums and guitars; subtle differences, not major screwups.

I think you could adjust the position of sticks in your hands slightly so gravity wouldn’t be required (they might balance at a little different place in your hands). Once you start the stick-on-drumhead bounce, gravity is less of a factor for each stroke.

I’ll venture to guess you wouldn’t want to play anything with a spit valve.

Is there a name for the makeshift “instrument” consisting if partially filled glasses of water, tapped on like a xylophone? That would depend on gravity holding liquid in the bottoms of the glasses, influencing the vibratory pitch of the glasses when struck…

I think piano keys depend on gravity to return the hammers to their neutral position after they are struck. But a spring loaded piano could easily be adapted to overcome that.

It was his book that kicked off the speculation.

Ewww, no kidding.

I can see issues with mechanical keyboard instruments. But why bother hauling an acoustic piano up there when there are electronic keyboards that are smaller, lighter, and can duplicate the sound and/or many other instruments? They’d have to find a workaround for any pedals (volume, sustain, leslie, etc. , I suspect.

Brass, violins, violas, and woodwinds? I think it’d be easier as they won’t have to support the weight. A bass or bari sax in gravity probably put some weight on the players’ neck from that strap.

Lots of issues with a drum kit. In G, cymbals rest on felt pads and wing nuts keep them from flying off. In zero G, they’d be often contacting the wing nut. That’s not going to help the tone. And the at rest angle of the cymbals would be constantly changing. You can’t really clamp those down without muffling them. The whole set would need to be secured to something and the drummer would have to belt in to her seat. The clamp for the snare would have to be tightened more.

Strings? I can’t see how gravity or lack of G would effect fretting/fingerboarding or picking, strumming, or bowing. Holding or positioning the instrument would be the issue. Upright bass? It’d have to be fixed in position and maybe some foot clamps for the player. Cello? Do players just place them between their knees or hold them with their knees? I guess put the leg thing in a ball joint fixed to a surface with the seat and strap the player in. Guitars, mandolins, banjos and instruments of that type would be an issue. They’re usually played either hanging from a strap or resting on your thighs. Yeah, you could hold the body against your chest with the palm of your picking/strumming hand but that could limit your playing. They’d have to come up with an alternative type of strap. I remember years ago seeing a strap in a catalog that was a wide belt, a plug (I guess you’d call it), and an adjustable harness for the strap buttons on the instrument with a socket in the middle. The idea was, put the belt on around your waist with the plug in front, put the harness on the guitar with the socket in back, put the plug in the socket and you could play the guitar and do windmill spins with it too. ZZ Top may use these. For smaller instruments (ukes and mandolins) you might have to put the belt around your chest.

That would work

On the plus side, it would be nice to be able to play my F horn without it starting to gurgle halfway through the concert. Though emptying it afterwards would be a bear.

So you’re saying you don’t want tickets to the concert?

Actually, I was thinking more about the action of the instrument that makes it a musical instrument and how gravity would affect that, not so much the practicalities of bolting a Steinway grand to the inside of the space shuttle. (I guess it would have to be Schroeder’s piano at the present time.) It’s a theoretical problem, after all. At least right now it is.

But along those lines… can you picture a b-i-i-i-i-g spherical concert “hall” in space with the musicians and their instruments distributed all over the inner surface of the sphere (instruments and players velcroed to the walls), and the audience suspended in a listening space in the center of the sphere-- talk about acoustics!

And as long as I’m speculating… the walls of the sphere would be transparent… so while you’re sitting/lying/standing in your audience space and looking all around at the musicians, you’re seeing past them into the infinity of space.

I have a picture in my head from some space travel book of my childhood that showed a space station of the future (as big as a shopping mall) and there was a recreation area (bar, restaurant, dance floor) with an elongated pyramid shape that stuck out from the side of the structure. You could dance OUT into space in this protrusion, or sit at a table and be surrounded by galaxies. The **ultimate **space needle.

Unfortunately named. The instrument does not accumulate spit. It accumulates condensation from the player’s breath. So the output is not quite as gross as people imagine.

For the drummer, as long as the kit and the drummer were strapped down, most of it would be unchanged. The bass drum kicker works partly on gravity, and so does the hi-hat cymbals, but they could be modified with springs.

Horns would be unplayable after a while. Without gravity, moisture just clings to itself instead of falling to the low spots to be easily emptied. It probably wouldn’t gurgle in a low spot, but the pitch would go off from the change in volume.

Have you seen the “Wring out a towel” video? The astronaut squirts water onto a towel, and he wrings it out. The water doesn’t fall off, though. It stays there, wrapped around the towel in a big glob.

Cow Bell. While it would work it would be hard to get more Cow Bell without gravity acting on the striker mechanism.

Youtube Clip of wringing out a towel. Hadn’t seen it before. It’s pretty cool. I love how he just casually lets go of the microphone and lets it hang there so he can use two hands.
I think an interesting companion thread could be…what instruments could we make to work in space, that wouldn’t work in the gravity of earth?