Chapman Stick – Extraordinary Instrument

I came across the Chapman Stick a couple of days ago for the first time and fell in love with it at once.  It is the most amazingly versatile and pleasing electronic instrument I have heard, one that is capable of being played in real time without any pre-programming of its various voices.

chapman stick

As you can see, it owes its form and to a lesser degree, its function to a simple electric guitar, but it is way more than that.   Unlike a guitar, which is essentially a plucked string instrument, this one is much more a sort of keyboard in which the strings are hit rather than being plucked, though you can of course, pluck the stings if that is the effect you desire.

I think probably it would be best to show you a video made by the guy who invented the instrument, in which he describes in fine detail exactly what and how it works and is played. And for those of you who prefer to get your information by reading it, here is how good old Wikipedia describes it.

A Chapman Stick looks like a wide version of the fretboard of an electric guitar, but with 8, 10 or 12 strings. It is, however, considerably longer and wider than a guitar fretboard. Unlike the electric guitar, it is usually played by tapping or fretting the strings, rather than plucking them. Instead of one hand fretting and the other hand plucking, both hands sound notes by striking the strings against the fingerboard just behind the appropriate frets for the desired notes.

For this reason, it can sound many more notes at once than some other stringed instruments, making it more comparable to a keyboard instrument than to other stringed instruments. This arrangement lends itself to playing many lines at once, and many Stick players have mastered performing bass, chords and melody lines simultaneously.

So now you know what it looks like and roughly how it works, here is a video in which Emmett Chapman (the guy who invented this wonderful instrument) describes it, tells us how it works and demonstrates it as well.

See what I mean?  Isn’t that the most amazing instrument you have ever heard?   Such a versatile and intuitive instrument, and capable of so many different tones, colours and styles.

As you will see in the following videos, it is an instrument that lends itself easily to just about any sort of music you can think of.

So lets start with a pretty straightforward piece, the well known and gentle While my Guitar Gently Weeps played on the Chapman Stick by Bob Culbertson – one of the best Chapman Stick players.   This piece gives a really good idea of what an amazingly full and round sound can be produced with this instrument, and also the fact that it is effectively an entire group of musicians in one hand…

I can imagine that you are feeling that this is an instrument that is properly only to be used to play more or less Rock music on, but this is absolutely not the case, it lends itself superbly to all manner of musical genres, as I hope to demonstrate with the following videos, which I hope will show you how easily this instrument lends itself to any sort of music.

So off we go.   Not much more to be said about it, but lots to let you listen to…………….

Lets start with it being used to play some wild Celtic music. filmed on a suitably windswept and wild landscape.  The piece is something called A 13/8 piece.  Not sure what that means, and played by Hector Hellion.

Rather fine wasn’t it?

Next I thought we could see how it copes with some classical music, so here we have it being used to play two Lute pieces by Renaissance composers Adrian Le Roy and Vincenzo Galile. The musician and arranger of these two pieces is Greg Howard.

As I said above, the Chapman Stick is capable of so many moods and colours, and obvioulsy has no trouble with the feelings of those two medieval lute pieces.   Carries them effortlessly, yet adds a warmth and gentleness to them that the plucked string sound of a real lute misses.

Now to a sort of funk like sort of music……..   The Chapman Stick has no trouble working with this either, as you will now see (or hear better said I suppose).

So, that was Kevin Keith playing the Chapman Stick on a piece called Voices in my head.   Not really my sort of music, but it has its place in the Chapman Oeuvres I suppose.

Now for some jazz played on the Stick.. This is a video made by a couple of Russians, one on the stick the other on drums, playing a piece called Jazz Illusion.  Not sure who the musicians are, but it shows yet again what a versatile instrument the Stick really is.. Listen to how it moves all over the place in this track.. amazing stuff.. From calm and introspective to explosive.

Good stuff eh?    Sounds like an entire orchestra, yet it is simply two men, and not a synthesiser in sight…

And now to finish things off, here is good old Pachelbel’s Canon in D arranged for two Chapman Sticks. Performed by Matt Rogers and Mark White..   Gentle and pleasing as always with this piece of music.

So now you have a good idea of what the Chapman Stick is all about, and what can be done with it…   Almost anything musical it seems.  Love it.

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If you have any thoughts on this instrument, do please drop a line here and let us share them with you…


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