Backcountry music

7:18 p.m. on November 12, 2009 (EST)
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I was just curious if anyone carries any musical instruments with them when backpacking? I carry a wooden Bedouin flute. I hear instruments help keep the bears away. Is this true?

8:14 p.m. on November 12, 2009 (EST)
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Only if you play badly!

8:23 p.m. on November 12, 2009 (EST)
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Years ago, people used to carry all sorts of instruments into the backcountry - guitars, violins, mandolins, banjos for the strings, flutes, recorders, and all sorts of woodwinds, harmonicas, bugles (for military units training and for scout troops), etc. However, since the 1970s, that seems to have largely died down, with most people wanting peace and quiet, and preferring the sounds of nature. This seems to have a lot to do with the huge increase of people in the backcountry in the 1970s and 1980s - no more solitude, just increasing crowds.

On the other hand, Vern Tejas often carries a "backpacker's fiddle" with him on mountaineering expeditions. Basically it is a cut down violin. I have seen him play it at 17,000 ft on Denali, and heard of him playing it on many other mountains. Vern is a professional climbing guide, I think for Alpine Ascents International.

Answer to your bear question - no, it does not keep the bears away. I have seen bears come right into camp (mostly car campgrounds), both when people were playing acoustic instruments and when playing loud boomboxes. The bears are after food and could care less what the source of noise is, though they are apparently attracted to the sounds of helpless young when they are foraging for food.

8:58 p.m. on November 12, 2009 (EST)
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Only if you play badly!

That would be me!

12:42 a.m. on November 13, 2009 (EST)
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I take a penny whistle, and play it only when I know I won't bother anyone. In fact, last summer, a person across the lake from me gave a marvelous concert on a penny whistle I was very sad when he quit!

I have found that most people are pretty thoughtful about playing stuff when they are out. Maybe it's because I make sure I pick hikes that don't include crowds :)

4:40 p.m. on November 20, 2009 (EST)
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f_klock said:

"Oh GREAT! Now I'm going to have to figure out how to lash my Stihl onto my pack!"

As soon as he f_klock figures out the strap I'll start bringing my trombone. I could bring a harmonica, but I know so many more songs on the bone. LOL

5:46 p.m. on November 20, 2009 (EST)
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Noise pollution in my book, but hey, I once took my clarinet all the way thru the Shenandoahs in '84 and my wooden recorder pretty much everywhere for a while. Dead weight to me now, won't bother. It's just an irksome boombox to me now.

9:31 p.m. on November 20, 2009 (EST)
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It doesn't bother me to hear musical instruments IF they are well played, practice at home, not in the campground. I have heard and liked Native American Flute, Acoustic Bluegrass, & Guitar on the trail before. Harmonica as well, but depending on how it's played I sometimes find it annoying.

Having said that, it's good to hear music when you are receptive to it, sometimes I just want quiet solitude.

I enjoy just listening to the sounds of nature, I think you can learn a lot by listening. Nature has its own language and every sound means something, the more you listen the more you understand.

I would also say that someone who tries to be in tune with nature can enjoy these sounds as much as music.

The sound of the first few early morning raindrops hitting the dry leaves just outside your tent in the fall, or mid morning Cicada's during the summer, or even the 1000 or so little tree frogs that just will not shut up at dusk, or one of my favorites, the Hoot Owls that start up just as you begin to fall asleep.

At first these things can be annoying sometimes, but as you spend more time in the woods you learn to embrace these sounds as a reassurance that you have joined the local ecosystem, at least for a while. Even the large sticks that you occasionally hear cracking at 2:00 am remind you that you are not alone.

Of course it probably doesn't hurt to pay the tree frogs back with a little flute.

10:28 p.m. on November 20, 2009 (EST)
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Just for the record, the horn won't be coming into the woods with me. If it's not paying, I'm not playing. Besides, I do enjoy the rhythms of the woods much more than bringing work into the backcountry. Not to say I hate to blow, because I do enjoy playing more than anything short of my little girl. The backcountry has some great sounds that can easily be understood in western music, and yeah, if you can't play the instrument, please don't subject it to others.

9:00 a.m. on November 27, 2009 (EST)
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Slightly off topic.

I personally listen to my ipod before I go to sleep. The collection of miscellaneous noises and being solo is enough to keep me awake. It helps me sleep, and I feel comfortable and 'at home' doing it, so I do. I have one earphone in and one out. I find I can tune out all the random noise the forest makes while still being able to hear any imposing threat. Of course this assumes any threat is going to make lots of noise, thus alerting me of its presence and giving me time to make a swift getaway or pull out my bear spray.

I guess having my music with me gives me the false sense of safety I need falling asleep in a foreign area.

I've yet to cross paths with any instrument toting hikers. If they were packing them, I certainly did not hear them. Of course, at every car campsite I've been to there is always some guy with a guitar that never really knows how to play it. The song Kumbaya anyone? Alicia mentioned this else where on the site.

10:49 a.m. on November 27, 2009 (EST)
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Must say that i both like and am envious of those who can play a musical instrument.But the bottom line is that i go into the wilderness to get away from man made noise.It is so nice to just hear the sound of the wind,wildlife and water that i just can not seem to get enough of it.If you love music so much please keep the headphones on.ymmv

12:37 p.m. on February 15, 2010 (EST)
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Leading some hikes with a Summer Camp I would take a small travel guitar in a waterproof case out on the trail. Soft acoustic worship music is a great experience in the back country, and the kids really enjoyed it. We always played early in the night, as to not keep others awake! If I'm going out with my buddies I wouldn't think of bringing it with me- added weight no thanks!

11:42 p.m. on February 15, 2010 (EST)
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I heard bagpipes once. It was fitting or the evening sunset.

I don't take any musical instrument but I've been trying to learn the penny whistle for about two years now. Still not good enough to compete with mother nature.

4:21 a.m. on February 16, 2010 (EST)
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i bring a harmonica but only when i solo.i feel its spiritual and private and im the only one who has to here it.

3:38 p.m. on February 17, 2010 (EST)
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Though I am certain it would be quite bothersome to frequently have someone playing a loud instrument on the trail or at camp, one of the most beautiful, viscerally felt, deeply moving things I have ever experienced were pipes being played in the mountains. But then, that might have something to do with my ancestry.

I am not one who thinks people are a foreign element in the wild, and believe all true art is in harmony with nature. So if it is with courtesy, skill, grace, and sensitivity to the moment that an instrument is played, I find nothing more appropriate. But likewise, if it is something used to distract or hide from your surroundings and fellows, then there is nothing more discordant even if the instrument is played well.

A blaring radio or badly played instrument in the backcountry is just plain obnoxious.

7:30 p.m. on February 17, 2010 (EST)
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Wouldn't leave my house without a blues harmonica - for some trips I'll tote along a martin backpacker guitar - being a songwriter it sometimes helps to have something along I can figure out a melody on ...

December 19, 2014
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