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Klarinet Archive - Posting 000162.txt from 1999/04

From: "Steven J Goldman, MD" <>
Subj: RE: [kl] Wood/plastic, etc...
Date: Sat, 3 Apr 1999 19:44:48 -0500

Ah, a trip down memory lane. It was 11 months ago to the day, that while in
the hospital awaiting my back surgery, I finally worked up enough nerve to
send a post to the list on this very subject.

First, a few comments to various posts:

Someone mentioned the possibility that the reason scientific studies show
know difference between materials may be do to a lack of sensitivity. In a
way, you are correct, and the people doing the studies are well aware of
this; however, even if this is true, and there is a small, as yet
immeasurable difference in woodwinds of different material, the equipment is
sensitive enough that the difference is so small that most if not all
mortals would be unable to detect it.

In some posts, there is a tendency to feel that experience equals truth. If
this were true, the work of Herr Einstein is bunk. It goes against all
experience. The fact is, things are not always what they appear, and it is
the function of science to determine the truth, whether it jives with our
expectations or not.

There have been several posts describing "experiments" which "prove"
material does make a difference. While interesting, they are all badly
flawed in design and would go under the category of bad science.

Finally, to restate what I stated a year ago, part of the problem with the
perception of different sounds from different materials is that while two
instruments made exactly the same way with exactly the same specifications
will sound the same, one rarely has this situation. The machining of wood
requires different techniques then plastic, and more importantly, plastic is
usually used on the lower end instruments to reduce cost, where other
corners are cut in the manufacturing process (for the same reason). This
then helps to solidify ones expectations as to the inferiority of plastic.
The "Green Line" series would be a good test, and I know people who are
considering doing some studies.

Now to the main point of this post.

My first reaction to Rogers excellent post was similar to Dan Leeson's
(didn't think of the burning though, - Leeson always gets the best lines).
However, I have been rereading Rodger's work and something has begun to
bother me.

It strikes me that what Roger is really describing is the placebo effect.
Now I use this to my advantage every day in medicine (in many cases I am the
placebo). While its origins may be in ones head, its effects are real with
real physical manifestations. Now, if a musician truly (if incorrectly)
feels that his/her rosewood clarinet gives a superior sound, it really may
subtly effect their performance. In the placebo effect, it is the
expectation that the medicine will work that for reasons we do not fully
understand helps the body's intrinsic mechanisms to perform better. It
really may be that the expectation of a better instrument will lead to a
better performance, and that in that way the material indirectly caused the
outcome. The question is, can we then claim that it really was the material
that improved the performance. I think not, any more that I can claim it was
my superior medical knowledge that caused a patient with a cold to feel much
better after seeing me. It is only an explanation for why the differences
appear to be real, when they are not.

Steven Goldman
624 Huber Lane
Glenview, IL 60025

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