Exploring the Families of Musical Instruments, and More!
? Musical instruments have been used by people to create music for almost as long as people could think creatively.
? Musical instruments, like plants and animals, are categorized into families. Traditional classical orchestra instruments are divided into four distinct families. Today, we recognize a fifth family. Also, non-traditional instruments, new creations, and odd-ball instruments are classified in the family structure, based on their characteristics.
The Brass Family
? Brass instruments were traditionally made of brass, but today, we recognize that some instruments are classed as “brass” although they?re made of other materials. Some instruments made of brass are in fact not in the brass family!
? Brass instruments create sound by the musician ?buzzing? their lips into a round mouthpiece. Here is a trombone mouthpiece:
? Brass instruments usually have long, sometimes coiled tubing which leads to a ‘bell’ where the sound comes out.
? The Tuba and the Euphonium look very similar, but the Euphonium has longer, narrower coils, and makes a less abrupt sound.
? Here are some brass instruments that are not in common use. They look similar to other more familiar instruments, don’t they!
? Here are some really different instruments, that are (believe it or not) members of the brass family. The player must buzz their lips as they play:
? The Woodwind Family
? Woodwinds are, like brass, instruments whose sound is created by the musician?s breath. However, these instruments do not require the ?buzzing? that the brass need. There are two types of woodwinds, flutes and reeds.
? The Flute family consists of instruments with which you blow over a hole or edge to create the sound. These include all flutes, recorders, and various types of whistles.
? Most of the woodwinds have a mouthpiece with either one or two reeds. When the musician blows into the mouthpiece, the reed vibrates to create the sound.
Comparison of the sizes of 4 different woodwinds.
The bassoon and the oboe are tworeed woodwinds.
Top: Bassoon Bottom: Oboe
The bagpipes can have either one or two reeds
? Beware! ? The Saxophone is classified as a woodwind instrument. Although it?s body is made of brass, the mouthpiece contains a reed, and only exhaling is necessary to make to work.
Didgeridoos, Cornetts and Alphorns, although they’re made of wood, are not woodwinds.
Which of these instruments are woodwinds?
The Strings Family
? Instruments whose sounds are created by manipulating tightened strings are members of the string family. The strings may be plucked; they may be scratched with a bow, and they may be strummed.
Right: Jeff Healey Far right: Jimmy Page
? String quartets consist of two violas, one violin, and one cello. The viola is slightly larger than the violin, and has a lower register. Check out the difference in size! The cello is too large to hold to your chin; it rests on the floor and the player sits to play it.
Left: Violin Right: Viola
Left: Double Bass, or Contrabass
? There are many different types of guitars, and they can be found in cultures all around the world. The Classical Guitar is used more frequently in modern symphonies. Modern rock music is largely guitar-based.
Left: Classical Guitar
? Many guitars are uniquely crafted to create new, innovative sounds. They often go by their inventor’s name:
Left: Warr Guitar Above: Dobro Right: Chapman Stick (Bass Guitar)
? There are too numerous string family instruments to list here. The string family is one of the most diverse, with countless different styles found everywhere, and in virtually ever genre of music.
Top Left: Hurdy Gurdy
Top Right: Sitar Bottom Left: Mouth Bow Bottom Right: Zither
? Harps are also part of the string family; the harp is included in the classical orchestra.
Below: Autoharp The musician pushes keys while strumming.
Left: Classic Harp Right: Lyre (ancestor of the harp)
? The Percussion Family
? Percussion instruments are those that are played by striking or shaking. ? All drums are percussion instruments. ? Often, drums are used to keep the rhythm in a musical piece. They are used for effect and add dynamics to complex compositions.
? Here are some examples of different types of drums:
Left: Snare drum; Bottom Left: Concert Tom Drums Bottom Right: Timpani
? Some percussion instruments are tuned instruments, which means you can play notes in a scale on them:
Left: Chimes (Orchestra) Bottom Left: Glockenspiel Bottom Right: Xylophone Right: Bells
Glockenspiels are made of metal; xylophones are made of wood.
Here are some other familiar percussion instruments:
Right: Wood block
What family of instruments does this belong to?
The Keyboard Family
? Today, many people recognize that there is now a fifth family of instruments. The keyboard family includes pianos, organs, electronic keyboards and synthesizers, among others.
Left: Strings inside a grand piano. Right: Felt mallets that strike the strings inside an upright piano
? One could argue that a piano is a percussion instrument, because you strike the keys to play it. It has also been considered a string instrument, because it has tightly bound strings which produce the sound.
Some other keyboard family instruments:
Top Left: Mellotron – popular in the 1960’s and 70’s, replicates string sounds. Top Center: Early model Moog Synthesizer Top Right: Harpsichord, very common Baroque keyboard, ancestor of the piano Left: Pipe or
gan – found in churches and cathedrals around the world.
What Is This?!?!
It is called a Theramin. It is played by moving your 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. Who knows, maybe there will be more families of instruments some day!
And then there were…