Musical InstrumentsExploring the Families ofMusical Instruments, andMore!
Overview:• Musical instruments have beenused by people to create music foralmost as long as people couldthink creatively.
Categories:• Musical instruments, like plantsand animals, are categorized intofamilies. Traditional classicalorchestra instruments are dividedinto four distinct families. Today,we recognize a fifth family. Also,non-traditional instruments, newcreations, and odd-ball instrumentsare classified in the familystructure, based on theircharacteristics.
• Brass instruments weretraditionally made of brass, buttoday, we recognize that someinstruments are classed as “brass”although they’re made of othermaterials. Some instruments madeof brass are in fact not in the brassfamily!
• Brass instruments create sound bythe musician ‘buzzing’ their lipsinto a round mouthpiece. Here is atrombone mouthpiece:
• Brass instruments usually have long, sometimescoiled tubing which leads to a ‘bell’ where thesound comes out.French HornTrumpet
• The Tuba and the Euphonium look verysimilar, but the Euphonium has longer,narrower coils, and makes a less abruptsound.Left: Tuba Right: Euphonium
• Here are some brass instruments that are notin common use. They look similar to othermore familiar instruments, don’t they!Ophicleide(Off-i-clyde)Cornett
• Here are some really different instruments,that are (believe it or not) members of thebrass family. The player must buzz their lipsas they play:DidgeridooConch Alphorn
• Woodwinds are, like brass,instruments whose sound is createdby the musician’s breath.However, these instruments do notrequire the ‘buzzing’ that the brassneed. There are two types ofwoodwinds, flutes and reeds.
• The Flute family consists of instruments with whichyou blow over a hole or edge to create the sound.These include all flutes, recorders, and various typesof whistles.Flute Recorder
• Most of the woodwinds have a mouthpiecewith either one or two reeds. When themusician blows into the mouthpiece, the reedvibrates to create the sound.ClarinetComparison of thesizes of 4 differentwoodwinds.
Top: BassoonBottom: OboeThe bassoon and the oboe are two-reed woodwinds.The bagpipes can have either oneor two reeds
• Beware!• The Saxophone is classified as awoodwind instrument. Althoughit’s body is made of brass, themouthpiece contains a reed, andonly exhaling is necessary to maketo work.Didgeridoos, Cornetts andAlphorns, althoughthey’re made of wood,are not woodwinds.
• Instruments whose sounds arecreated by manipulating tightenedstrings are members of the stringfamily. The strings may beplucked; they may be scratchedwith a bow, and they may bestrummed.Right: Jeff HealeyFar right: Jimmy Page(Led Zeppelin)
• String quartets consist of two violas, oneviolin, and one cello. The viola is slightlylarger than the violin, and has a lower register.Check out the difference in size! The cello istoo large to hold to your chin; it rests on thefloor and the player sits to play it.String Quartet Left: Violin Right: Viola
• There are many different types of guitars, andthey can be found in cultures all around theworld. The Classical Guitar is used morefrequently in modern symphonies. Modernrock music is largely guitar-based.Left: Classical Guitar Center: Mandolin Right: Banjo
• Many guitars are uniquely crafted to createnew, innovative sounds. They often go bytheir inventor’s name:Left: Warr GuitarAbove: DobroRight: Chapman Stick (Bass Guitar)
• There are too numerous string familyinstruments to list here. The string family isone of the most diverse, with countlessdifferent styles found everywhere, and invirtually ever genre of music.Top Left:Hurdy GurdyTop Right:SitarBottom Left:Mouth BowBottom Right:Zither
• Harps are also part of the string family; theharp is included in the classical orchestra.Left: Classic HarpRight: Lyre (ancestor of the harp)Below: AutoharpThe musicianpushes keys whilestrumming.
• Percussion instruments are thosethat are played by striking orshaking.• All drums are percussioninstruments.• Often, drums are used to keep therhythm in a musical piece. They areused for effect and add dynamics tocomplex compositions.
• Here are some examples of different types ofdrums:Left: Snare drum; Bottom Left: Concert Tom DrumsBottom Right: Timpani
• Some percussion instruments are tunedinstruments, which means you can play notesin a scale on them:Left: Chimes (Orchestra)Bottom Left: GlockenspielBottom Right: XylophoneRight: BellsGlockenspiels aremade of metal;xylophones are madeof wood.
Here are some other familiar percussioninstruments:Left: Tambourine Center: Cymbals Right: MaracasLeft: Triangle Center: Cowbell Right: Wood block
What family of instruments does this belong to?
• Today, many people recognize that there isnow a fifth family of instruments. Thekeyboard family includes pianos, organs,electronic keyboards and synthesizers, amongothers.• One could argue that a piano is a percussioninstrument, because you strike the keys to playit. It has also been considered a stringinstrument, because it has tightly bound stringswhich produce the sound.Left: Strings inside a grandpiano.Right: Felt mallets thatstrike the strings inside anupright piano
Some other keyboard family instruments:Top Left: Mellotron – popular in the 1960’s and70’s, replicates string sounds.Top Center: Early model Moog SynthesizerTop Right: Harpsichord, very common Baroquekeyboard, ancestor of the pianoLeft: Pipe organ – found in churches andcathedrals around the world.
It is called a Theramin. It is played by movingyour hands closer and further from the device,causing the radio frequencies to change pitch.Like the theramin, there are other ‘oddball’instruments that defy classification. Whoknows, maybe there will be more families ofinstruments some day!