Review: Yamaha’s Newest Instrument, the Alto Venova

Music Reviews
Woman playing venova instrument
Image By Patrick Maxwell

The alto venova is the “beach guitar” of wind instruments.

What Is The Alto Venova?

The venova is a musical instrument invented by Yamaha. It has a single-reed with recorder fingering. Made of sturdy plastic, it is light-weight. The alto version (there is also a soprano venova) is closer to the sound of a sax or bassoon rather than a clarinet, which I had been expecting.

Although billed as a starter instrument, the venova is not easy to play, although once you get the hang of it, it’s a fun one.

What’s in the Box?

Inside the box from Yamaha is a hard case for the instrument and a carrying strap. Inside the case is the alto venova, which can be taken apart into five pieces (for cleaning purposes.) The resin reed for the instrument comes attached but can be swapped out for a different reed if desired (does not come with other reeds.) A cleaning cloth is also included.

There are two booklets in the box. One is caring for the venova and one is how to play it. It comes in several languages.

Set-Up and Use of the Alto Venova

The venova is assembled and ready to play right out of the box. Except…it’s not that easy to play. Although I am a musician, I have never played a reed instrument, so the learning curve was steep. However, I have played recorder so changing notes was simple.

For those who don’t know what a reed instrument is, think of taking a piece of grass and placing it between your palms and blowing to produce a high pitch honk. Wind instruments require air to make a sound, like a flute. Reed instruments are part of that family, but there is a thin piece of cane or metal (or resin, in the case of the venova) that is attached to the instrument and vibrates to produce sound when air is blown across. Clarinets and saxophones are examples of reed instruments, but pipe organs are as well (we just don’t put our mouths on them!)

The alto venova is played holding it straight out in front of you with two hands, one on the top and one on the bottom portion of the instrument. How you place your mouth on the mouthpiece is the most important step and will determine whether you get a musical tone, no tone, or squeaks.

A picture is worth…etc. There are clear illustrations included with the venova on how to place your mouth on the mouthpiece. Once you are set, you blow and…in my case, nothing happened. No air was going anywhere and no sound came out.

The instruction guide is very well written and has clear trouble-shooting explanations. It took me the third attempt to get a note, it was low and mellow. Nice! I tried again and no sound again! After about five minutes of adjustments, I was able to play a few notes, but I felt like I was using waaaay too much effort and was afraid I would get a headache.

My niece was listening and she told me I sounded like a whale. She was laughing at the time so I don’t think that was a compliment.

I then watched some videos online about the alto venova and that helped in producing more reliable (non-whale) sounds. The fingering guide was the easy part for me, but I could also use my ear to play a tune. It has a two-octave chromatic range which makes it versatile for any song or musical style. Note that the alto version of the venova is an “F” instrument so transposing will be necessary if you are sight-reading music. 

After I was finished playing around, I took it apart and cleaned it, which was simple with the cloth. The cloth has metal beads on the end to enter into one of the small holes of the instrument. These drop through to the other side so you can just pull the cloth through and do a good job of getting the moisture out. Putting it back together again was intuitive and fast, though there are instructions if needed. 

Output

If I put in more time, I know I could learn a new, mellow sounding instrument. However, I have other instruments that I would rather spend my time on, to be honest. This isn’t a blow (ha) to the alto venova, but its a real instrument, not a toy, and one that has a learning curve. (For an easier instrument, check out the recently reviewed pianica)

Who Should Get The Alto Venova?

Despite the fact that I am not going to personally become friends with the alto venova I still recommend it. For whom?

  1. Anyone who already plays a reed instrument that travels. The alto venova is made of plastic and is very light. A player could just toss it into their travel bag (without the case) and hardly notice the weight, and it can take a little banging around, unlike more traditional instruments. The venova is the “beach guitar” of wind instruments. 
  2. Anyone who already plays a reed instrument and has small children. This is the instrument to start teaching kids on that cannot be trusted with your “nice things.” I could see a great duet between a parent with their traditional reed instrument and a child playing the alto venova. Light-weight, it can take a drop or two and keep ticking, and is super easy to clean.
  3. Anyone who wants to learn a reed instrument but cannot afford a traditional one. The alto venova is reasonably priced and is a “real” instrument that can be enjoyed for its own unique sound.
  4. Anyone who likes to collect instruments for fun. Again, the reasonable price and sturdy nature leads the alto venova to be a fun instrument for jamming and trying something new. 

Disclosure: GeekMom received a sample of this item for review purposes. I will be passing it on to a family that will appreciate it much more!

 

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