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Sounding Off On Frozen Trumpets

Sounding Off On Frozen TrumpetsWhile many trumpet players swear that freezing their instruments improves their sound, a new Tufts study says otherwise. Medford/Somerville, Mass.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [11.12.03] Before playing their horns, many trumpet players subject their instruments to a deep cryogenic freeze. It may sound like an unusual practice, but musicians swear it improves the trumpet's sound and tone. But a new study by Tufts engineers appears to show that science has little to do with the phenomena.

Listen to Tufts' Chris Rogers talk about the research on CBC Radio's As It Happens [here] (Requires RealOne Player; set player to 21:00/29:30)

"A faction has developed within the trumpet players' culture that believes a cryogenically treated trumpet has a better tone," Tufts engineering professor Chris Rogers and graduate student Jesse Jones wrote in a new study released Tuesday.

At the request of a national instrument manufacturer, the duo designed a unique study to test the theory.

"Researchers froze and then thawed five Bach Stradivarius trumpets over the course of two days," reported the Boston Herald. "They then mixed them with five unaltered trumpets, and all were played by six musicians of different skill levels."

According to the researchers from Tufts' School of Engineering, the musicians involved in the study couldn't tell the difference between the "frozen" and regular trumpets.

"As far as we can tell, the differences from trumpet to trumpet, player to player and session to session far overshadow any difference brought on by cryogenic treatment," Jones said.

An analysis of the trumpets showed the freezing had no impact on instruments' composition either.

"Data analysis showed neither the sound nor the structure of the trumpet were different from the others," reported the Herald.

The theory appears to have more to do with a musician's confidence in an instrument than actual science.

"One of the great things about studying musical instruments is if the player believes it will make a difference, he or she will play better," Rogers said. "It acts as a sort of placebo."

The Tufts team was asked to perform the research by Selmer Musical Instruments - maker of many orchestra wind instruments including the Vincent Bach Stradivarius trumpet. The company was interested in offering the cryogenic treatment as a factory option to its customers, but wanted the Tufts team to independently verify the legitimacy of the freezing process before moving forward.

The trumpet research is part of Tufts' Musical Instrument Engineering program launched by Rogers and Jones in 1998. An interdisciplinary partnership of the University's music, mechanical engineering and electrical engineering departments, the program is one of just a handful of its kind in the country.

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