Ruins of Adventure
Glossary of Musical Instruments
Wikipedia is, as always, a great resource for additional details.
AEolian harp: Named after the Greek god of winds, this instrument is played by the wind. AEolian harps resemble flat boxes with strings.
Alphorn: An alphorn is a 6- to 12-foot-long, “J”-shaped, Swiss horn used to call cattle, among other things.
Bagpipe: This ancient instrument was used throughout the world: Rome, Northumberland, Scotland, Ireland, Brittany, France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Norway, Finland, Poland, Russia, Greece, Persia, China, India, and the Balkan countries.
Balalaika: This is a three-string Russian triangular guitar. It comes in various sizes, the largest resting upon the ground when played.
Bells: These are sometimes attached to clothing to accentuate rhythm in dance.
Bones: A simple instrument in which two pieces of bone are clacked together.
Castanets: This Spanish instrument consists of two small, hollow-shaped pieces of wood. Castanets are worn on the finger and thumb. Like bones, they are clacked together.
Cembalo: This was the old Italian name for dulcimer (but it was later used to refer to the harpsichord).
Chitarrone: This double-necked lute is very large, often six feet long, and has 20 wires. It was also called the Roman theorbo.
Citole: This instrument was invented in Italy. It has a flat body, a short neck, four brass or steel strings, and is plucked with a quill. By 1550 this was known as the cittern.
Cittern: A member of the guitar family, the cittern is shaped like a fig, with a flat back, fretted fingerboard, and wire strings (usually four pairs). It is a descendant of the Medieval citole. The bass cittern is also called the pandora.
Clappers: Two pieces of hard material (wood, bone, metal, etc.) struck together are called clappers. They have existed for thousands of years in all parts of world (as spoons, bones, etc.).
Clarsach: An ancient small harp of the Scottish highlands.
Clavecin: French harpsichord.
Claves: When these short, round sticks of hardwood are used, the hollow of one’s hand acts as a resonating cavity for sound amplification.
Clavicembalo: This is the Italian harpsichord and is often abbreviated as “cembalo.” The word derives from latin “clavis”-a key, and “cembalo”-a dulcimer, which describes the instrument-it’s a keyed dulcimer.
Clavichord: This keyboard instrument is small, often just an oblong box placed on the table. It can have its own legs and stand on the floor, but this was a later development. Sound is made when a small piece of metal hits a string, producing a soft, quiet tone.
Clogs: Wooden shoes.
Cornett: The cornett (not cornet) is a woodwind with a cupped mouthpiece (like that of a trumpet) that comes in three sizes: treble, small treble, and tenor. It is shaped either as a straight tube or as a tube curved like an S.
Crumhorn: This double-reed woodwind comes in all sizes: trebles, tenors, and basses.
Cymbals: These are brass dishes that are slammed together.
Drums: Drums have existed for thousands of years. The many types have one thing in common: a skin or membrane stretched tightly over some kind of hollow vessel. The membrane is beaten with sticks or the hands.
The exception is the friction drum, which has its skin pierced by a stick or string that is rubbed or pulled, causing the skin to vibrate.
Kettledrums are metal bowls with parchment stretched over them.
Side drums are wooden or metal cylinders with skin over each end. The lower end has string or gut, called snares, stretched over it that causes the drum to rattle when it is beaten.
Bass drums are very large, double-headed drums from two to three feet in diameter and of equal length.
Gong drums are like bass drums but they have only one head (membrane).
Bongos are two small drums that sit side by side.
Tom-toms are small Oriental drums with pigskin heads stretched over a bowl-shaped shell.
Cylinder drums are a type of base drum that is beaten at both ends.
The changgo is a Korean two-headed lap drum.
Talking drums are used to send messages.
Slit drums can be made by hollowing out a tree or log through a long narrow slit. The wood is then beaten to produce the sound.
Dulcimer: Used in Hungary, Rumania, and Czechoslovakia, the dulcimer is a shallow, closed box over which are strung wires that are struck with a wooden hammer. In Hungary and Rumania this is called a cimbalom, and in Greece, a santouri.
Fanfare trumpet: This is often hung with a heraldic banner and used for state and ceremonial purposes.
Fiddle: There are two types of fiddles: folk (or spiked) fiddles and medieval fiddles. A spiked fiddle is a type of bowed lute and either has a long neck (typical of Africa, Asia, and the Middle East) or a short neck as found in Europe. Most spiked fiddles have one to three strings.
Medieval fiddles were replaced by the viol family and usually had three to five strings with both flat and rounded backs.
Fipple flute: This type of flute is held vertically and is winded from the end.
Flute: There are two types of flutes: the vertically winded fipple flute and the horizontally held transverse flute. The transverse is made of wood or metal stopped at one end. The player blows in a side hole, with notes made by closing holes along the flute’s body.
Gemshorn: This is an ancient type of recorder made of chamois or goat horn.
Gittern: A medieval guitar.
Glaur: This valved horn has a versatility that other trumpets cannot begin to match. Its curved shape makes its tone a brash, metallic roar that stirs the heart of anyone. By blowing continuously while operating the valves, swooping pitch changes occur, to great effect.
Glokenspiel: This originated in Germany and was used in war bands.
Gong: A gong is a large metal plate that is struck with a mallet.
Harmonica: This instrument originated in Asia and China around 1100 B.C.
Harp: The harp is an ancient instrument. It consists of a sound box near the player and numerous strings that are each plucked to produce a specific tone.
Harpsichord: This is much like a keyboarded psaltery in that its keys cause the string to be plucked.
Horns: Horns have existed all over the world throughout recorded history. The earliest form was the animal horn or large sea shell. Most are end-blown, but some side-blown horns exist. Metal horns arose in the 14th century and were made of brass, copper, and occasionally silver. They were slender tubes 6 to 12 feet long, often coiled in several circles with a flared bell.
Hurdy gurdy: This mechanical instrument resembles a viola with a handle to crank. Cranking it causes a wheel to revolve under its four to six strings like an endless bow. A small keyboard is used to silence certain strings.
Jew’s harp: This instrument is called a feugdtromp (child’s trumpet) by the Dutch. It has no connection to the Jewish religion. It is a bottle-shaped wire frame with metal tongue held in teeth, allowing the mouth cavity to alter the sound it produces.
Kazoo: Although considered a humorous instrument today, the kazoo is of ancient origin.
Kit: A small violin.
Koto: The most famous Japanese instrument is the 13-stringed Japanese zither known as the koto. The instrument is played on the ground or while resting on a low table.
Lira da braccio, lira da gamba: These are Italian stringed instruments. The lira da braccio has seven strings and is played like a violin. The lira da gamba is a bass instrument held between the knees and has 11 to 16 strings.
Lur: The lur is an ancient trumpet of Scandinavian origin. It is made in pairs twisting in opposite directions to resemble horns or the tusks of an animal.
Lute: The lute is of Persian-Arabian origin and came to Europe at the time of the crusades. The body resembles a pear split lengthwise. Thus, it has a curved back, a flat belly, and a fretted neck. It ranges in size from the large chitarrone and theorbo to the small mandora.
Lyre: The lyre has existed since 3000 BC. It has four components: a sound box, two arms, and a crossbar. Strings run from the cross bar down across the sound box.
Mandoline or mandolin: A lute-shaped, small stringed instrument.
Metallophone: This resembles a xylophone, but it has metal bars that are beaten with small hammers.
Nakers: These are small kettledrums of Arabian origin that came west during the crusades. They are made of metal or wooden bowls covered with skin and are used in pairs like bongos.
Nightingale: This toy whistle of glass is lowered into water to emit a bubbling sound not unlike the nightingale ( i.e., the bird).
Ocarina: This vessel flute is globular or pear-shaped with a mouthpiece on one side and holes cut in its body. The holes are opened and closed with the fingers.
Organ: An organ has pipes connected to a wind supply that is controlled by a keyboard. There are two types of organ pipes: flue pipes and reed pipes. Flue pipes produce sound like a whistle-flute. Reed pipes contain a thin strip of metal that vibrates. Organ pipes range from lengths of a few inches to 64 feet.
If an organ is keyed with the hands it is called a “manual,” if played with the feet it is a “pedal boards.”
Pandora or Bandora: This is the bass cittern; it has a flat back with wire strings and frets. It usually has three pronounced ridges, making it easy to identify.
Panpipes: Panpipes are simply a set of whistle-flutes supposedly invented by the god Pan.
Posthorn: A posthorn was used to announce the arrival of a mail coach. Most were straight, although a few were coiled.
Psaltery: This type of dulcimer has a square or triangular box over which are strings. It is held on the lap or against the chest and plucked.
Rackett: This is an early double-reed woodwind.
Rattle: A rattle can be made of a gourd, clay, wood, or leather, and it is filled with pellets.
Rebec: This is the stringed ancestor of the violin family. The rebec evolved from the Arabian fiddle but has a rounded back, unlike the fiddle. The body is pear shaped and has three strings. The rebec is played on the shoulder or against the chest.
Recorder: Also known as the English flute, the recorder is blown at the end. It has eight holes with which to alter the produced sound.
Sansa: The sansa is African in origin and has a metal or cane tongue attached to a wooden board or box. It is also called the thumb piano.
Scraper: When you scrape a stick over a series of notches in wood or bone, you have a basic scraper.
Serpent: This woodwind is shaped like a pronounced S.
Shamisen (samisen): This Japanese long-necked lute has a square wooden body. Its belly and bottom are made of cat skin and it has frets with three strings that are plucked hard.
Shawm: This early double-reed is an outdoor instrument that produces a loud buzzing sound.
Sheng: This is a Chinese mouth organ.
Sistrum: The sistrum is an open, U-shaped rattle that contains metal discs or other objects that rattle when shaken.
Sitar: This three- to seven-stringed Indian lute was invented in Persia.
Stamping stick: One of the oldest known instruments is the stamping stick. It is simply a length of hollow wood or bamboo that is beaten on the ground. It was often used to beat grain or other food into pulp while providing simple music during work.
Tabor: This early side (snare) drum is usually slung from the waist. Smaller versions can be played with just the left hand while the bard plays a small whistle flute in the other hand.
Tambourine: The tambourine likely originated in Rome. It is a shallow wooden hoop parchment stretched over a frame that is struck with knuckles or rubbed with the thumb. The hoop has imbedded metal plates that jingle when shaken.
Tam-tam: Bronze gong of Chinese origin.
Thelarr: A kind of rustic longhorn, the thelarr or whistlecane is a dried swamp reed cut to produce a specific pitch. The dry fibers within a whistlecane produce a buzzing sound. Several pipes (and several players) can produce melodies or chords.
Theorbo: A double-necked instrument.
Tocken: These carved wooden bells lie upon a crossbeam and are struck by a hammer (they have no clappers). Tocken thus create a very pleasant ringing tone that contains the dark subtleties of the wood itself.
Triangle: A triangle is a steel bar bent into a triangle that is struck with a metal rod.
Trumpet: The Medieval trumpet was nonvalved and was played from the side or end.
Violin: This instrument evolved from the fiddle, rebec, and lira da braccio.
Viols and Viol family: These instruments produce a soft sound; they resemble violins. However, their shoulders slope, their backs are flat, their sound holes are C-shaped, they have broader necks, and they have six strings, not four.
Wood block: A Chinese percussion instrument made of a hollow wooden block that is struck with a stick.
Yarting: All our yartings feature sturdy spruce construction, a fretted fingerboard, coiled steel strings, and a leather case.
Zither: The zither has a flat box that is strung with strings of metal or gut. It is plucked while resting on a table.
Zulkoon: Zulkoon are portable organs. By means of a bellows contraption that lies upon the ground and is pumped by the player’s feet, air is forced over what amount to a set of odd organ pipes. The constant flow of air from the zulkoon produces a loud drone that underlies the other tones.
Xylophone: This consists of hardwood blocks that are hit with a mallet.