Musical instrument

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A musical instrument (from Latin instrumentum , “ tool ”; synonymous with: Greek ὄργανον organon ) is an object that has been constructed or modified with the aim of producing music . In principle, any object that produces tones or even noises can serve as a musical instrument, but the term is normally only used for objects that have been manufactured or modified for this purpose. Sometimes the human voice is also referred to as a musical instrument.


There are many different attempts to divide the variety of musical instruments into groups. Practically all classification systems have advantages and disadvantages as well as more or less numerous exceptions.

Classification according to the type of sound generation

In the classification scheme published by Curt Sachs and Erich von Hornbostel in 1914, the instruments are subdivided accordingly; the group of "electrophones" was supplemented in 1948 by Karl-Heinz Dräger. Mixed forms are possible within these schemes. The growing understanding of the physics behind the phenomena, the introduction of “electrical” instruments and even electronic music made it necessary in the 20th century to classify musical instruments from a physical point of view, which is becoming more and more popular among instrument makers. In particular, the distinction between jukeboxes that played well-known classical instruments and the electronic sound generation, which can only be made audible by electro-acoustic converters, resulted in the following superordinate structure:

  • Mechanical musical instruments, instruments in which classical mechanics can be used for description. (e.g. violin, timpani, flute, xylophone) These instruments are often referred to as "acoustic" or "natural", although all musical instruments necessarily have an acoustic component, since the ears cannot perceive them without acoustic wave propagation. These instruments are also human artifacts of the highest perfection and precision and not of natural origin. The processes are described using terms such as static friction or sliding friction , fluid mechanics , mass , spring, damping , etc.
  • Mechanical jukeboxes, like mechanical musical instruments, but with an automatic gaming device. (e.g. Orchestrion , Pianola )
  • Electromechanical musical instruments based on mechanical-electrical energy conversion (e.g. electric guitar, Hammond organ). "Electrical" musical instruments do not exist in this sense, since a circuit consisting only of passive components such as a coil , resistor and capacitor , such as is used in electric guitars, is not actively involved in sound generation, but only in amplifying the Output oscillation is used. Thus, such instruments actually belong to the groups to which the producers of the actual vibrations can be assigned (an electric guitar to the chordophones).
  • Electronic musical instruments are based on analog circuits, with the sound being generated by oscillators based on electronic components such as vacuum tubes or transistors (e.g. theremin ), which is often filtered or supplemented by a number of additional circuits (e.g. trautonium ). A modular synthesizer combines a large number of electronic sound generators of different waveforms with numerous analog effect devices that allow the analog sound signal to be further modified.
  • Digital musical instruments generate the sound purely mathematically with the help of universal microprocessors or special processors for digital signal processing. The conversion into a physical oscillation is only carried out at the end of the signal processing by a digital-to-analog converter . Such instruments can be implemented both in the form of dedicated hardware (e.g. digital synthesizer ) and as a pure software application (e.g. software instrument , software synthesizer ).

Classification according to use by the player

Regardless of the type of tone generation, classification according to use by the player is also possible. A distinction is made here:

If no player is required to generate the sound, one speaks of a jukebox (see in particular mechanical jukebox ).

Classification according to the raw material

In East Asia, musical instruments were differentiated according to their raw materials. The system of eight sounds ( Chinese  八音 , pinyin bāyīn , Japanese "Hatchi-In system") distinguishes eight material groups: metal (gold, bronze, steel), stone, yarn (silk, wool), bamboo, pumpkin fruits, clay, Leather and wood.

Further classifications

See also


  • Friedemann Otterbach: Beautiful musical instruments. Schuler Verlagsgesellschaft, Munich 1975.
  • Erich Valentin : Handbook of musical instrument science. Gustav Bosse, Regensburg 1954.
  • Wieland Ziegenrücker: General music theory with questions and tasks for self-control. German Publishing House for Music, Leipzig 1977; Paperback edition: Wilhelm Goldmann Verlag, and Musikverlag B. Schott's Sons, Mainz 1979, ISBN 3-442-33003-3 , pp. 169–191 ( From the musical instruments ).

Web links

Commons : Musical instrument  - collection of images, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Musical instrument  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Explanatory text by the Japanese composer Maki Ishii on a Sanukitophone in the Japanese-German Center Berlin . Found June 19, 2010.