Did Egyptians Dominate Portable Amplification Technology for 5,000 Years? Did They Discover the Overtone Series Recorded by Pythagorus? “Did We Miss Something?” No. 2

King ‘Tut’ is often overlooked for his historical importance as the Pharaoh who restored Polytheism to Egypt and their center of religion to Thebes. Akhenaten, his father, was the Pharaoh who famously emphasized only one God-Aten, the God of the Sun, breaking with the polytheistic practices of the Ancient Egyptians, which were echoed in those of Ancient Babylon, Greece, Rome and Hindu India.

Death Mask of King Tutankhamun

With the discovery of this largely undisturbed 18th Dynasty tomb by Howard Carter in 1922, the world gained a glimpse into the splendor of Ancient Egyptian Art. The tomb contained over 5,000 items and this was thought to be just a small percentage of the items it would have contained had Tutankhamun lived to maturity instead of dying at the age of nineteen-(after his enthronement at the age of nine).

SOUND of Trumpets BBC broadcast from 19 April 2011, based on the original BBC broadcast of 16 April 1939.

Found in the tomb were two trumpets. The first, untested but perhaps made of copper or bronze, was found in an antechamber with military equipment. A BBC interviewee (above), indicated that illustrations of trumpets in Ancient Egypt were often of a single trumpet in a military setting. Of greater interest is the Silver Trumpet found inside the burial chamber, perhaps silver was to denote non military use, sacred and/or indoor use.

DIFFERENT CONSTRUCTION=DIFFERENT NOTES? The dimensions reported during the BBC broadcast were of the Silver Trumpet at a length of 22.5-inches and a copper/bronze trumpet of 19.5 inches, both with interior diameter bores that ranged from 0.5-inch at the mouth and increasing to about 1-inch at the approximately 4-inch bell. Closer observation, seems to indicate that this description is slightly more apt for the Copper/Bronze Trumpet, making it slightly conical-where the inner diameter of the tube gradually increases almost immediately, such as is found in flugel horns, French horns , euphoniums and tubas. While not strictly conical, the Copper/Bronze Trumpet is more so than the Silver Trumpet, which seems to be more nearly cylindrical (or a straight tube) until approaching the bell flare as found in the modern trumpet and trombone.

MUTES”? The inner wooden forms found with the instruments are referred to as mutes-(an object placed inside of the bell of a brass instrument, most often trumpet or trombone, to lessen the dynamic/loudness and/or change the timbre/tone color of the instrument). It seems more likely that they were used by Ancient Egyptians to maintain the shape of the metal and protect it from dents, serving to guard the instrument something like the function a modern trumpet case, but on the inside. Here, the purpose may have been to prevent extensive damage. IT IS IMPORTANT TO NOTE, THAT THESE “MUTES” HAVE SMALLER DIMENSIONS, particularly at the tube portion and most particularly at the part that corresponds with the narrow opening for the mouth. The length of the ‘MUTE’ displayed several photos below, is also of nearly identical length to the accompanying Silver Trumpet, while the two objects held by the second musician from the left in the image directly below seem to be of clearly different lengths.

Partial excerpt of “Musicians”. Temple at Kawa, 25th Dynasty from “Music and Musicians in Ancient Egypt” page 80.

TWO TRUMPETS? In the image above, the second musician from the left seems to be holding TWO TRUMPETS, and not a trumpet and a mute. If the musician were to need to change hands, to move the trumpet from the right hand to the left hand and vice versa, it would be more geometrically feasible, if they were held as indicated by the image of the second musician. One could conceivably join the mouth end of one trumpet to the bell end of another in sort of a “yin-yang” opposing symmetry. This would allow one to easily grasp both trumpets with one hand at the top, and then bring the other hand below, to grasp them both at the bottom and swing them up to switch the positioning so that the other trumpet was now in the playing position. This method would be particularly useful when standing or marching, as depicted in the image.

THE VISIBLE PROBABILITY?! The visible probability of this image seems to indicate that one or both of these trumpet players held and therefore played two trumpets, alternately, and not at the same time. Given the distinct note choice presented in the audio recording from the early twentieth century British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), derived from two trumpets of different tube lengths, this seems possible. Please observe the different tube lengths of the trumpets in the hands of the second musician from the left. An argument could be made that they resemble the Bronze/Copper Trumpet in his right hand, as it is both shorter and more conical and the Silver Trumpet in his left, which is both longer are more cylindrical.

That both trumpeters are performers is further borne out by examination of the complete image-not seen above, which has pairs of all other musicians: harpists, drummers and what appear to be chironomists. The complete parade image: trumpeter, trumpeter, drummer, chironomist, drummer, chironomist, harpist and harpist. (A chironomist is essentially a time-keeper who claps. It could be argued that Egyptians were first to notate the concept of a steady tempo through the artistic depiction of the chironomists found frequently in their music-themed artworks.)

Two guardians of the tomb of King Tutankhamun, One mace each; one spear each. “One each” is the common thinking for trumpets as well.

ONE AT A TIME, PLEASE. For those unfamiliar with the differences between woodwind and brass instruments, it should be noted that playing two woodwind instruments at the same time, such as two recorders, is not a technique that lends itself to brass instruments. One trumpet at a time would be most reasonable to assume, and is a near-certainty. Additional observation of the image would seem to indicate that the trumpet in the right hand of the first musician has been somehow removed, and it seems likely that the original image showed the first musician playing one trumpet in the right hand while holding another in the left. Other faded images from the artwork indicate missing parts of drums, feet, heads, hands, faces, necks and legs.

Partial excerpt of “Musicians”, Temple at Kawa, 25th Dynasty, from “Music and Musicians in Ancient Egypt”, page 80.

VARYING TUBE LENGTH. The basic concept of modern brass instruments is to provide amplification and resonance for the vibrating lips of the brass musician. Different lengths of tube will best amplify certain lip-vibrations (or of notes based on the overtone series), of the brass musician. In 1385 AD, Hans von Neuschel and his sons invented the slide trombone in Nurnberg; it was quite probably the first modern orchestral instrument to reach the state of near-perfection and is known as “The King of Brass”. The telescoping slide could provide numerous lengths of tubing with ease AND the ability to quickly shift from one tube length to another. The trumpet and many other brass instruments were able to most easily change tube lengths much later in the mid-1800’s with the addition of valves that redirected the vibrating air to add different lengths of tubing.

FAIRLY MODERN PRECEDENT! In the days before valves for brass instruments, trumpet players would exchange removable sections of tubing called “crooks” from their instruments. A different “crook” offered a different length of tube which could amplify or efficiently resonate different pitches. While the sound in brass instruments (such as trumpet and trombone), is provided by the vibration of the lips, a given length of tubing is only able to project a limited number of notes. By using different length “crooks” a trumpet player would have access to different tube lengths, which would allow for the amplification of additional notes. Here, the Ancient Egyptians may have switched trumpets in order to access different tube lengths, where most indications are that cultures subsequent to Ancient Egypt, such as the Ancient Greeks, used only one trumpet per player.

THE GENIUS CONCEPT of the Ancient Egyptian designer of the trumpet was greater symmetry. While everything from animal tusks such as the Hebrew shofar, bone trumpets such as the Tibetan kangling and even conch shells can be used in conjunction with lip vibrations, none are symmetrical. By beginning the tradition of starting from scratch with more symmetrical, man-made designs, the Egyptians allowed for more consistent intonation and foreshadowed the discovery of overtone series-which was first notated by the mathematical proportions of Pythagorus, thousands of years later.

Silver Trumpet on left, ‘Mute’ on right.

This is particularly true in the recorded performance of the silver trumpet, which omits the fundamental pedal tone, and plays the first, second and third notes of Pythagorus’ overtone series based on a fundamental of B. From low to high in the soprano register, the Silver Trumpet produces concert pitches that are nearly ‘B’, ‘F#’ and ‘B’. The Copper/Bronze Trumpet initially yields what sounds to be a ‘c’ just above the lowest ‘B’ of the Silver Trumpet, and an ‘a’ just below it. After a few seconds, though, it seems that the Copper/Bronze Trumpet’s tube length is more adept at producing the a# just a half-step below the Silver Trumpet’s ‘B’, and then a ‘c#’ and an ‘f#’ just above it. These pitches could be conceived as the 4th, 5th and 6th overtones above a fundamental of ‘f#’ for the Copper/Bronze Trumpet-or not.

MUSINGS……. (ALL pitches lower on the left, higher to the right.)

Copper/Bronze Trumpet Triadic/Harmonic implications: Dominant (V) F# Major in first inversion; ‘a#’,’c#’ & ‘f#’.

Silver Trumpet Triadic/Harmonic Implication: Tonic B major; ‘B’, ‘F#’ & ‘B’.

Combined scalar Implications: ‘a#’, ‘B’, ‘c#’, ‘F#’ & ‘B’.

Common Tone: F#, particularly useful for repeated unison notes.

IS IT FAIR? Since the recorded performance of these trumpets utilizes the addition of modern mouthpieces and modern brass playing techniques, it is recognized that the firm conviction that all of these notes would have been available to Ancient Egyptians will be held by many to be untenable. While that may seem fair, it is also useful to note the dearth of other examples of similar trumpets, of which there once were likely many, (not to mention recordings of other trumpets like these). As a result, perhaps imagination may be rightly applied. An additional consideration is that some individuals would like to count themselves as those least likely to underestimate the accomplishments of the Ancient Egyptians.

Note the stunning three-dimensional pyramid design of the schenti or ‘kilt’ on one of the carvings of two tomb guards found by Howard Carter. Note the gold-leaf and intricate designs. What a marvel! The imaginative powers and artistic skills of the people of Ancient Egypt is a constant source of inspiration for the aesthetically appreciative.

MOST POSSIBLE SCENARIOS?? Perhaps a conservative view would arrive at the availability of at least one tone per instrument, the middle and most easily producible tones of ‘C#’ for Copper/Bronze and the ‘F#’ above it for Silver. Or, it could imagine only unison. This would render pitch sets as melodic possibilities only. and would indicate the probable use of matched sets: Silver with Silver and Copper/Bronze with Copper/Bronze.

A moderate view might consider the possibility of two adjacent notes on just one of the two trumpets, with one tone on the other. That it could most easily yield: Two notes on a Silver Trumpet, one note on a Copper/Bronze Trumpet: ‘B’, ‘c’#, and ‘F#’. Two notes on a Copper/Bronze Trumpet, one note on a Silver Trumpet: ‘a#’, ‘B’, ‘c#’ or ‘B’, ‘c#’ and ‘f#’. Two notes on one Silver Trumpet and one note on another Silver Trumpet: B, F#, or F# B. Two notes on one Copper/Bronze trumpet and one note on a 2nd Copper/Bronze trumpet: a# c#, c# f#. It seems reasonable to infer that am interval of a Perfect Fourth or a Perfect fifth was most likely in a combination of any two combinations of these two trumpets.

A hopeful view point might consider the possibility of two adjacent notes on each trumpet, with one musician playing a Silver Trumpet while the second musician plays a Copper/Bronze Trumpet. This seems nearly fantastic, and would make possibly available pitches: ‘a#’, ‘B’, ‘c#’, ‘F#’ or; ‘B’, ‘c#’, ‘F#’ & ‘f#’, or; ‘a#’, ‘c#’, ‘B’, & ‘F#’ or; ‘c#’, ‘F#’, ‘f#’, & ‘B’.

Another view would be that they only played matched sets of trumpets, on one or two notes, but not always in unison; either both playing Silver Trumpets or both playing Copper/Bronze Trumpets. Harmonically, this could most easily arrive again at the interval of a fourth or fifth.

From low to high the available intervals would seem to be: Copper/Bronze to Silver ‘a#’ to ‘B’ minor second or half-step; ‘a#’ to ‘F#’ minor sixth; ‘a#’ to ‘B’ minor ninth. Silver to Copper/Bronze: ‘B’ to ‘c#’, Major Second; ‘B’ to ‘f#’, Perfect Fifth. Copper Bronze to Silver: ‘c#’ to ‘F#’, Perfect Fourth; ‘c#’ to ‘B’, minor seventh; ‘f#’ to ‘B’, Perfect Fourth. Silver to Silver: ‘B’ to ‘F#’, Perfect Fifth; or ‘F#’ to ‘B’, Perfect Fourth. Bronze/Copper to Bronze/Copper: ‘a#’ to ‘c#’, minor third or; ‘a#’ to ‘f#’ minor sixth or; ‘c#’ to ‘f#’, Perfect Fourth.

Grammaphones and the like also use the Ancient Egyptian concept of a symmetrical, resonant metal bell.

EGYPT INSPIRED TECH! The conception of a symmetrical, resonant metal bell in Ancient Egypt is still in use today in almost all brass musical instruments. It even held sway as the equivalent of both microphone and amplifier for early recorded music in the form of the Gramophone and similar devices. These were popular well into the 20th century and find limited use to the present day.

WOW, Egypt, just WOW!

PS: If you doubt the genius of Ancient Egypt, consider that most bells for “brass” musical instruments produced today are similar, or of the same type used by the Ancient Egyptians nearly 5,000 years ago! One of the most common secondary bell materials for trumpets is SILVER! The most popular would be an ALLOY of copper, tin and perhaps zinc, in varying ratios, often referred to as brass and of a composition very similar to bronze. In. fact, at least one modern instrument company promotes their alloy as bronze. And, while they may not have completely developed the mouthpiece, they at least deserve mention for the innovation of the mouthpiece rim, and the beginnings of the concept of a mouthpiece.

PPS: (Just for fun: Scalar implications of initial Copper/Bronze & Silver Trumpet notes a B c F# B. The combination of ALL notes produced in the recording by both trumpets: a a# B c C# F# B)

NOTE: Lower case letters represent tones produced by the Copper/Bronze Trumpet; upper case letters represent tones produced by the Silver Trumpet.


“Did We Miss Something?” tm from davidbrubeck.com is:

An invitation to think. To discover. To disagree. To ponder and wonder and gaze. To appreciate and hold in awe. To consider and concur.

c. 2024 David William Brubeck All rights Reserved.

AKA Dave Brubeck-The Younger, at the suggestion of Dave Brubeck

SOURCE OF “Musicians” IMAGE: Lisa Manniche is the author of “Music and Musicians in Ancient Egypt” ISBN 0-7141-0949-5 which she copyrighted in 1991 and had published by the British Museum Press.

Gramophone image is from The Library of Congress, lone tomb guard image is courtesy of CNN, Sliver Trumpet from Wikipedia.

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