by Wade Brooks
Historians believe that flutes made from animal bones over 37,000 years ago are among the first devices to make music. It’s not sure when exactly the first musical instrument was made, but it is known that music has been a part of all cultures, past and present. There are so many different musical instruments, but they can basically be broken down into four main categories.
One category is string instruments. These types all have one thing in common, their sound is made by vibrating strings.The strings can have varying thickness, weight, length, and tension. They can be made out of metal and other synthetic and natural materials. The heavier and longer the string is the deeper the pitch will be because the string will vibrate slower, and vice versa for short, light strings. For example, in pianos and harps the strings are all different lengths, but for guitars, violins, and such, the musician presses on the string at different intervals to shorten it.
The category of strings can also be subdivided by how the strings are made to vibrate. Strings can be plucked, like on guitars, harps, and other similar ones. The violin, cello, bass, and others, use a bow to make the strings vibrate. For the piano, the musician presses a key, which activates a hammer to strike a string and make the sound.
Another category is the wind instruments. In this category, all of these types make sound from air vibrating in a tube or pipe. The frequency of air vibration depends on the size of the tube. Therefore, the larger the tube, the deeper the sound. Most of these types have many valves, or holes, on the tube that must be covered or uncovered to change the sound pitch. Also, many of these use a reed on the mouthpiece. The reed starts to vibrate when blown on and it then sends the vibration through the rest of the chamber.
The next category is brass instruments. These are named as such, well basically because they’re made of brass. Just like the wind category, the pitch is related to the size of the air chamber. Often the tubes on these types are coiled so that the length of the pipe can be longer without making the instrument outrageously long. Valves are used to change the air path, changing the length of the air chamber. However, these only have three valves so pitch is largely controlled by the mouthpiece and musician’s lips. The position of the mouth on the mouthpiece and the tightness of the lips are how the pitch is changed.
Some brass types don’t have valves, like the bugle, so pitch is controlled solely by the mouth. This is also the case with the trombone, however it has what is called a slide. It’s a long movable tube which can slide back and forth changing the air chamber size, consequently changing the pitch.
The last category is percussion. This is perhaps the biggest group as there are many different types. They are played by being hit or shaken. They can be hit with a stick, a hand, or against themselves. Different sorts of materials used for different types make different sounds. The thickness or size of the material can make different sounds, too.
These four categories are based on the process, system, and mechanism of how each instrument produces its sound. Classifying the many different types into categories helps allow people to understand how an instrument operates and can make for easier explanation and description of all musical instruments.
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