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Classification of Musical Instruments

Sachs-Hornbostel System


Curt Sachs (1881 - 1959) was a German musicologist known for his extensive study and expertise on the history of musical instruments. Sachs worked alongside Erich Moritz von Hornbostel (1877 - 1935), an Austrian musicologist and expert on the history of non-European music. Their collaborative work is now known as the Sachs-Hornbostel system, a method of classifying musical instruments according to the type of vibrating material used to produce sound.

Classification of Musical Instruments

Idiophones - Musical instruments in which a vibrating solid material is used to produce sound. Examples of solid materials used in such instruments are stone, wood and metal. Idiophones are differentiated according to how you make it vibrate. Such as:

  1. Concussion - A pair of similar instruments that are struck together or struck against each other to create sound. Examples: cymbals, castanets

  2. Friction - Instruments that produce sound when rubbed. An example of these are musical glasses in which the musician rubs his moistened fingers on the rim of the glasses to produce sound.

  3. Percussion - Musical instruments that produce sound by striking or using a striker. Examples: xylophones, triangles, bells, gongs, steel drums

  4. Plucked - Also known as linguaphones, these are musical instruments that need to be plucked to create sound, such as the Jew's harp in which the player plucks the "tongue" of the instrument.

  5. Scraped - As the name implies, these are instruments that when scraped, produce sound. Examples of these are cog rattles and washboards.

  6. Shaken - Musical instruments that need to be shaken to create sound. A perfect example are maracas which are believed to have been invented by native Indians of Puerto Rico.

  7. Stamping - Instruments that produce sound when stamped on a hard surface, such as the shoes used by tap dancers.

  8. Stamped - When sound is produced by the material itself that's being stamped on.

Membranophones - Musical instruments that have vibrating stretched membranes or skin that produce sound. Membranophones are classified according to the shape of the instrument.

  1. Kettle Drums - Also known as vessel drums, these are rounded at the bottom and may be tunable or non-tunable. The vibrating membrane is either laced, nailed or glued to the body and the player uses his hands, a beater or both to strike it.

  2. Tubular Drums - Are further classified into barrel, cylindrical, conical, double conical, goblet, hourglass and shallow. Tubular drums may either be tunable and nontunable. Like the kettle drums, it may be played by using both the hands or a striker and the vibrating membrane is either laced, nailed or glued to the body.

  3. Friction Drums - Instead of striking, the stretched membrane vibrates when there is friction. These are non-tunable and the player uses a cord or stick to create sound.

  4. Mirlitons - Unlike other musical instruments belonging to the membranophones, mirlitons are not drums. The membranes produce sound with the vibration of a player's voice or instrument. Mirlitons are non-tunable, a good example of this type are kazoos.

  5. Other membranophones are called frame drums in which the skin or membrane is stretched over a frame such as tambourines. Also, pot drums and ground drums fall under the membranophone category.

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