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Different Types of Musical Instruments

Music is an art that permeates every human society. We have all listened to the soothing music of a piano or the strumming of a guitar and experienced a sense of thrill. Music is mainly of two types: vocal and instrumental. Vocal music involves a harmonious combination of words and depends upon the sweetness of the singer’s voice. Instrumental music is that part of music which is produced by musical instruments. In a larger context dance is also considered as a part of music.

Musical instruments are classified into 6 categories as follows:
  1. Woodwinds
  2. Brass
  3. Percussion
  4. Strings
  5. Keyboard
  6. Electrical and electronic types
These classes are useful in grouping instruments in a general way for the kind of sounds they produce, even though woodwind instruments are not necessarily made of wood, nor are brass instruments of metal.

Woodwind Instruments

The flute, clarinet, piccolo etc are examples of woodwind instruments. In these, the vibrating length of the air column is shortened by opening lateral side holes in succession. The sound is generated by different means. In flute and piccolo, the player blows across a hole near one end in such a way as to cause periodic puffs of air to enter the tube. These puffs excite the air column longitudinally and a sound is produced. Control of holes controls the tone of the sound.

Brass Instruments

The horn, cornet, saxhorn, euphonium etc fall in this category. A typical brass instrument consists of a cup-shaped mouthpiece, a slightly tapered mouth pipe, cylindrical tubing with valves and a bell. Puffs of air are introduced by the player, via vibrating lips stretched over the mouthpiece. Different tones are produced by tensioning the lips to incite different modes of vibration.

Percussion Instruments

Instruments such as the timpani (kettle drums) and xylophone are called percussion instruments because the sound is produced by a blow or beating. Some percussion instruments such as drums, cymbals, and triangles are useful for rhythmic effects.

Stringed Instruments

Guitar, harp, violin, viola etc are all stringed instruments. For guitar and harp, strings are set into vibration by plucking. For violin and viola the vibration is usually initiated by bowing:

Keyboard Instruments

Instruments such as the celesta, pipe organ, accordion, and piano are put in this category because the respective vibrating pipes, reeds, and strings in these instruments are selected by use of keys in a keyboard.

Electrical and Electronic Instruments

Musical instruments described above become quasi-electrical instruments by the addition of a microphone, an amplifier, and a loudspeaker. A vibration pickup can be used to generate an electrical signal from the vibration of the string. This is the case with electric guitars and electric piano. Electronic circuits have been developed which produce musical sounds. During the last 30 years, tremendous progress has been made in developing electronic musical systems controlled by computers.

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