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Topic: Simulating Train Whistle

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  1. #1

    Simulating Train Whistle

    I'm polishing one of the numbers in my score for a musical theater piece. I'd like to include the sound of a train whistle. Not having a sample library of that percussion "toy", I want to try to simulate it with two of the reeds. I have a picclo, flute, and Bb clarinet available at that time. I suppose I will need two of those instruments, but I am not sure what interval to use.

    Obviously, I'm looking for something that immediately says "train whistle" to the audience. However, there will be other clues (dialog and reactions of other characters) to indicate that a train is pulling out of the station. The rest of the orchestration also helps suggest this (clanging bells, shaken marachas to suggest steam, etc.) I'm satisfied with the effect except for the fact that I think it needs the whistle and I don't want to add another instrument to be used for just this one instance.

    Thanks.

    Allegro Data Solutions

  2. #2

    Re: Simulating Train Whistle

    I needed a train whistle sound once for a children's musical I was writing for my students. The best solution? A simple and cheap wooden train whistle! No muss, no fuss. Toy stores often have them or google and they are easy to find. They actually sound great.
    MacPro 2.66 - Tiger & Snow Leopard / 16GB RAM / several TB of HD space/ Garritan Libraries / EWQLSO Platinum PLAY / Omnisphere/ Kontakt 2 & 3 / Finale 2010 /DP5/ a VERY patient wife!

  3. #3

    Re: Simulating Train Whistle

    Quote Originally Posted by indianamusic View Post
    I needed a train whistle sound once for a children's musical I was writing for my students. The best solution? A simple and cheap wooden train whistle! No muss, no fuss. Toy stores often have them or google and they are easy to find. They actually sound great.
    +1 to that suggestion, Charles. I bought a neat wooden train whistle years ago, and it would be perfect for a stage production. I'm not sure what the interval is - There are two clashing tones that may be just 1/2 step apart.

    But it's definitely something the percussionist or any available musician could pick up and toot on cue.

    EDIT: After posting, I got curious if I could find info about what the interval is for the two tones in a train whistle. On one page, someone said that it's a perfect 4th. Another page said it's a minor 3rd. Both sources mentioned that there's a short gliss up and down.-- But I still think the wooden toy whistle is your best bet, Ejr.

    Randy

  4. #4

    Re: Simulating Train Whistle

    Thanks. That was going to be my next try. There is a local discount store nearby that sells them for $1. I was hoping not to have to record it, though, because it will be impossible to block outside noise where I live now. I was also intrigued by the idea of whether it could be achieved by two reeds. I may play around with them first, using the intervals you mentioned, just to see what I get.

    Allegro Data Solutions

  5. #5

    Re: Simulating Train Whistle

    Quote Originally Posted by ejr View Post
    Thanks. That was going to be my next try. There is a local discount store nearby that sells them for $1. I was hoping not to have to record it, though, because it will be impossible to block outside noise where I live now. I was also intrigued by the idea of whether it could be achieved by two reeds. I may play around with them first, using the intervals you mentioned, just to see what I get.
    Ah, I get you now - You mean you need to get the whistle effect in your demo recording. Right, some reeds for that bit in that case - But I'm going to go look for an audio clip you could use - I'll be back.

    Randy

  6. #6

    Re: Simulating Train Whistle

    EDIT: The link wasn't right earlier. I've fixed it so it takes you right to the whistle - You may have to sign in.

    Found a recording you could use in the demo for your show, Ejr. It's a good recording of a toy train whistle that you could plop into your project file several times as needed.

    It's at my favorite sound effects site:

    Freesound.org

    When you're there, the exact name of the file I just heard is - "Toy Train Whistle3.aif" - Just type that into the search box and you'll have it. Click the name of the file so it opens in a new window, then you can download it.

    If you have to sign up before downloading, don't sweat it. Freesound really is totally free - it's a cooperative group of people who record and share SFX. Great stuff there. Go get it!

    Randy

  7. #7

    Re: Simulating Train Whistle

    Yeah, I just found tons of sites where I can download recordings of train whistles (everything from the orchestra percussion toy, to real air horns from trains of various periods) -- so that would relieve me of having to record the sound myself.

    I guess the key concept here is that, in the heightened and romanticized reality of my play, musical instruments are simulating the sounds of a train (to one of the recurring musical motiffs) -- so introducing a very realistic sound effect would kind of break the illusion and make the rest of the effects sound less convincing by comparison. I could see using the train whistle toy, though. Audiences are used to hearing them in orchestras. But my preference is for using the woodwinds, if it sounds reasonably like it.

    Allegro Data Solutions

  8. #8

    Re: Simulating Train Whistle

    Quote Originally Posted by ejr View Post
    ...introducing a very realistic sound effect would kind of break the illusion and make the rest of the effects sound less convincing by comparison. I could see using the train whistle toy, though. Audiences are used to hearing them in orchestras. But my preference is for using the woodwinds, if it sounds reasonably like it.
    I get ya. If you do use an audio file, you wouldn't want one of a real train for sure - That recording I posted of the toy whistle is good and clean, and would work into the music just as it would in a live performance. I think your point is good that the orchestral toy is one most people have heard, and it's unrealistic yet suggestive, that's why it would work. Woods tooting away could work too. Fun little challenge!

    Randy

  9. #9
    Senior Member Tom_Davis's Avatar
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    Re: Simulating Train Whistle

    On an actual steam locomotive whistle, the interval is a minor 3rd or its inversion. In the key you are in, base the lower tone on the dominant and the upper tone a 6th above; specifically in E major, bottom tone is B natural and the upper tone wavers back and forth on G and G#. Makes a nice lonesome sound in the upper register and is most effective with strings but could also be done with woodwinds. Also note that within the intervals mentioned a steam whistles includes a rising glissando from the lower pitch to the upper pitch. I hope that helps a little.

  10. #10

    Re: Simulating Train Whistle

    Thanks for that very detailed description of how to achieve the effect with reeds or strings. I can't wait to try it. Unfortunately, I hurt my back very badly yesterday and I am finding it extremely painful to work at my computer today. It may be a while before I can work on my music again.

    Allegro Data Solutions

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