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Musical Instruments



traditional musical instrument and its use in the country’s music

In addition to the human body (voice for melody, hands and feet for rhythm), there are three major kinds of instruments: woodwind, string, and percussion, that is, pipes, guitars, and drums.

Doktorski’s taxonomy of musical instruments based on Hornbostel and Sachs (1914)

Idea for your final project: Picture, describe, and analyze a musical instrument originating in your country or region. I am especially partial to ancient musical instruments that are still used today. In the past, students analyzed these instruments, among others: jarana jarocha, steel drum, el cuatro, đàn bầu, bandoneon, nyatiti, xalam, djembe, shofar, santur, kemenche, sarangi, sheng, zampogna, lyre, dulzaina. Depending on the instrument, the analysis may include but is not limited to:

  • technical details, specifications, sound properties
  • materials and processes of construction
  • methods of use, history of use, cultural significance
  • musicians and composers associated with the instrument

Look for videos of the instrument in a variety of settings, old, new, concert hall, street, etc. Can find a video of someone making the instrument? If you can find one of these instruments to bring to class, that would be terrific!


Wikipedia’s Music of India

As with so much about India, the music is varied, complex, nuanced, and a challenge for people who grew up in the Western musical tradition


Indian music often features the sitar. Wikipedia: A sitar can have 18, 19 or 20 strings. Six or seven of these are played strings which run over curved, raised frets. The remainder are sympathetic strings which run underneath the frets and resonate in sympathy with the played strings.

Anoushka Shankar plays ‘Pancham Se Gara’


Wikipedia’s Music of China

China has a long tradition of music. Wikipedia: Traditional music in China is played on solo instruments or in small ensembles of plucked and bowed stringed instruments, flutes, and various cymbals, gongs, and drums. The scale is pentatonic. Bamboo pipes and qin are among the oldest known musical instruments from China; instruments are traditionally divided into categories based on their material of composition: animal skins, gourd, bamboo, wood, silk, earth/clay, metal, and stone. Chinese orchestras traditionally consist of bowed strings, woodwinds, plucked strings and percussion.

On the right is a Pipa, a 4 or 5 stringed pear-shaped lute.

Example: White Snow in the Spring Sunlight from the early Ming dynasty (14th century A.D.)

South Korea

Wikipedia’s Music of Korea

K-pop is an umbrella term for the pop culture, especially music. Here’s an older tune: DJ DOC’s Run To You. A little newer: Mirotic

Wikipedia’s Traditional Korean musical instruments

Wikipedia: The daegeum (below) is a large bamboo transverse flute used in traditional Korean music. It has a buzzing membrane that gives it a special timbre. It is used in court, aristocratic, and folk music, as well as in contemporary classical music, popular music, and film scores.

Korean Daegeum

Korean Daegeum


Japanese instruments

Japanese instruments

Wikipedia’s Traditional Japanese musical instruments

Koto – the national instrument of Japan

The koto (Japanese: 箏) is a traditional Japanese stringed musical instrument, similar to the Chinese zheng, the Mongolian yatga, the Korean gayageum and the Vietnamese đàn tranh. Koto are about 180 centimetres (71 in) length, and made from kiri wood (Paulownia tomentosa). They have 13 strings that are strung over 13 movable bridges along the width of the instrument, and there is also 17-string koto as a variant of the koto. Players can adjust the string pitches by moving the white bridges in the picture before playing, and use three finger picks (on thumb, index finger, and middle finger) to pluck the strings, otherwise known as plectra.

Japanese Koto “Tegoto” by Michio Miyagi


Gamelan instruments

Gamelan instruments

Wikipedia’s Music of Indonesia

In Indonesia, percussion instruments are very popular, especially what we would call gongs, for example, this gamelan medley from Java, Sunda and Bali. It is also played in less formal settings, like backyards.

Gamelan instruments

Gamelan set-up

Wikipedia: A gamelan is a traditional musical ensemble, typically from the islands of Java and Bali, featuring a variety of instruments such as metallophones, xylophones, kendang (drums) and gongs; bamboo flutes, bowed and plucked strings. Vocalists may also be included.


Khim - Thai hammered dulcimer, originally Chinese

Khim – Thai hammered dulcimer, originally Chinese

Wikipedia’s Music of Thailand

Wikipedia: Thai music is nonharmonic, melodic, or linear, and as is the case with all musics of this genre, its fundamental organization is horizontal… Thai music in its horizontal complex is made up of a main melody played simultaneously with variants of it which progress in relatively slower and faster rhythmic units… Individual lines of melody and variants sound in unison or octaves only at specific structural points, and the simultaneity of different pitches does not follow the Western system of organized chord progressions.

The above quotation explains what makes this music hard to listen to for those whose ears are attuned to, for example, organized chord progressions.

Wikipedia: The khim is a hammered dulcimer, made of wood and trapezoidal in shape, with brass strings that are laid across the instrument. There are 14 groups of strings on the khim, and each group has 3 strings. Overall, the khim has a total of 42 strings. It is played with two flexible bamboo sticks with soft leather at the tips to produce the soft tone. It is used as both a solo and ensemble instrument.