Musical instruments are timeless tools that allow varied expression and interpretation of music. From ancient times and even in medieval times in England, musical instruments were used to accompany simple chants and stories of bravery, adventure and hope. The popular instruments back then were bagpipes, harps and organetto. Today, musical instruments are coupled with modern technology to create contemporary sounds. However, there are still classic instruments that surpass the changing of times.
Different classifications have been attempted for musical instruments. According to "The Columbia Encyclopedia," most anthropologists and musicologists recognized the classification system created by Kurt Sachs and E. M. Hornbostel in 1914. This is because the system can apply to primitive and exotic instruments, as well as modern Western instruments. The system is made up of five major classes. These are membranophones (percussion instruments, with a membrane stretched over a hollow resonator), chordophones (strings), aerophones (reeds and winds), idiophones (made of sonorous material that does not require added tension, like rattles and xylophones) and electrophones (electrically amplified or vibrated instruments, such as an electric guitar or organ).
The oldest regular instrument in the symphony orchestra is a membranophone, the timpani. Membranophones also include the series of tom-tom drums that need manual turns for tuning, called roto toms. Roto toms were conceptualized by Remo, an American manufacturer. The tenor drum requires the same techniques used in playing snare drums and produces deep, resonant sounds. The bongos always come in pairs and are popular in Latin America.
The most common orchestral instrument is the violin, a chordophone. The violin is the smallest string instrument in the orchestra. It has also the highest pitch. The violin is referred to as the fiddle when it is played in country and bluegrass music. The opposite of the violin in size is the bass, which is the largest instrument in the string division of the orchestra. It can be played in different music genres, such as classical and jazz.
Among the aerophones, the piccolo is a close relative of the flute but is less popular. It is the smaller version of the flute but has identical features, such as note arrangements and fingering patterns. Aside from the size difference, it has a higher pitch than the flute. The flute was originally a wind instrument made out of wood. Modern flutes are now made of metal but still produce the same vibrant and joyful sounds.
Most idiophone instruments produce only rhythmic sounds though striking, shaking and stamping. The xylophone is an idiophone that can be tuned to create a melody. Djembe and ankle shakers are classified as secondary idiophones because they are not played directly by musicians; instead, they are attached to another idiophone or to the ankles and arms.
Instruments like piano and guitar transform into electrophones when an electric amplifier is used to alter and magnify their sounds. Another category of electrophones includes instruments that create sounds from electrical vibrations, such as the electric organ. This musical development only began in the 20th century.
- Encyclopedia: The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition, 2008: Musical Instruments
- Datadragon: Learn About Instruments
- Iowa State University: A Guide to Medieval and Renaissance Instruments
- California Association for Music Education, Bay Section: Instruments
- African Music Safari: African Idiophone Instruments
- Musical instruments flying image by TekinT from Fotolia.com