Cover image for the musical instruments guide

A Complete Guide to Musical Instruments: Names, Pictures, and Details

Music has been an important part of human culture for as long as written history goes. With that said, humans have always worked on finding new ways to create sound, and as a result, we’ve created a wide variety of musical instruments over the centuries. Some are simple, and some are complex, but all exist to create beautiful melodies within many different genres of music.

With as many instruments as there are in the world, it can be confusing and difficult to remember each and every one of them. In some cases, you may remember the name, but can’t quite picture the instrument itself. In other cases, you might remember exactly what it looks like, but the name has slipped from your memory. Whatever your situation may be, we’ve got the information to help.

We’ve created a comprehensive guide that shows you names, pictures, audio, and several other details on nearly 50 of the most popular musical instruments in the world. See the navigation below to quickly reference instruments by name and image, and click any instrument to learn more details about it.

Percussion

Strings

Wind

Brass

Woodwind

Miscellaneous


Percussion instruments

The first category we’re going to talk about is the percussion family. Rhythm is considered to be the foundation of music, which makes sense considering that the oldest forms of music relied on a beat of some sort. Below are the most popular percussion instruments used today.

Cowbell

Country of origin: Unknown
Listen: Cowbell Audio
Cowbells are one of the more interesting percussion instruments in use today. That is partially due to their sound and partially due to their story. Cowbells got their name because farmers all around the world used to use bells to track their cattle. It wasn’t long before someone came up with an idea to use that bell as a musical instrument.

The use of cowbells in music didn’t really become popular until the early 20th century. It first made its appearance in country music of that time, only to migrate into rock and roll later on. One of the most popular songs that includes a cowbell is ‘Don’t Fear The Reaper’ by Blue Oyster Cult, which many folks claim is what brought the cowbell back for the third round of popularity. The shape of musical cowbells has changed and evolved over time, but these days, the most popular type is the square-profile as shown above.

Drums

Related articles: Best Drum Throne, Best Drum Rug
Just about every type of music we listen to today relies on a rhythm section of some kind, which often times implies the use of a drum set. In that, you could say that drums have shaped the very foundation of what we call music today.

Drums come in many different forms. The most popular is what we know as a drum set, which is a configuration that includes a bass drum, snare drum, and several tom toms. See below for details on each specific drum, and we’ll discuss cymbals just afterwards.

Country of origin: Turkey
Listen: Bass Drum Audio
We can trace the roots of a bass drum all the way to Turkish Davul. This type of percussion instrument was used in both traditional music as well as military. Numerous Turkish and other armies have marched to battle with the sounds of a bass drum dictating the cadence.

The modern bass drum as we know it today is a core percussion instrument, and the best part about them is just how versatile they are. In classical music, the bass drum is a standalone musical instrument, while it is also the foundation of every drum kit. You can find them in anything from the obscure traditional music of the Balkans, to modern electronic music and hip hop. There is yet to be a musical instrument better suited for laying down a rhythm than a bass drum.

Country of origin: Europe
Listen: Snare Drum Audio
The snare drum, although very similar to the other forms of this instrument, is quite unique. It was first used in medieval Europe for a number of occasions, including military marches as well as entertainment. Where snare drums differ from other types of drums is in the way they are constructed. The inventors of a snare drum added one small element to the design, which completely changed the way this type of drum sounds. As you can probably guess, we are talking about the snare portion.

The first snares were just a piece of gut strung over a drumhead (sounds crazy, right?). However, the snare has evolved over time. Today, we use metal snares of different types, which alters the sound of the drum. This percussion instrument is an integral part of every modern drum kit and is essential for a large variety of music genres.

Country of origin: China
Listen: Tom Tom Drum Audio
Tom tom drums are an interesting piece of a modern drum kit. Although we believe that the tom tom was first invented in ancient China, the name we use for today was taken from Anglo Indian and Sinhala language.

Tom toms exist in a variety of forms and depths. In essence, these are cylindrical drums with no snares attached. Even though a tom is found on every modern drum kit, they weren’t added to this musical setup until the 20th century.

The main appeal of tom tom drums comes from their ability to bridge the gap between a snare drum and the bass drum. Form being the highest pitched drum on a kit, and the latter being the lowest pitched one. Toms are right there in the middle. Not only do they add to the complexity of a drum kit, but they’ve completely changed the way drummers are able to express themselves in contemporary music.

Cymbals

Related articles: Best Cymbal Cleaner
At their very core, cymbals are nothing more than flat, round pieces of metal which produce a sound when struck. The type of sound largely depends on its shape, build material and means used to produce it. Cymbals are an essential part of every drum set, but they’re also used independently in the percussion section of marching bands and orchestras. See below for details on each type of cymbal.

Country of origin: United States
Listen: Crash Cymbal Audio
Crash cymbals share a very similar story with ride cymbals. No cymbal was really defined as a “crash” until the 1950’s. Most drummers just considered it to be a smaller ride. However, as rock music slowly become more and more popular, crash cymbals became their own category due to many drummers using smaller rides as accent cymbals. In other words, instead of playing them lightly and forming a ‘ride’ pattern, crashes were played hard and pushed to their edge.

Most modern crashes share a similar profile with rides. The main difference is generally in their diameter as well as the diameter of the bell. While rides are most often 24″ and larger, crash cymbals rarely reach that type of size.

Country of origin: United States
Listen: Hi-Hat Cymbals Audio
Related articles: Best Hi-Hat Cymbals, Best Hi-Hat Stand
A hi-hat is a system of two cymbals being placed together with the bells facing outside. They are fixed on a special stand and can be operated by foot. Mastering the art of hi-hat technique is considered to be one of the more important aspects of playing drums. Overall, you won’t find a more utilized type of cymbal out there.

Compared to other types of cymbals, hi-hats are actually a rather recent invention. It is believed that hi-hats were first produced in the United States during the early 1920’s. Their use was limited at first, but today we have a completely different story. Not only are hi-hats everywhere, but they are the basis of the rock music rhythm section. More recently, hi-hats have also become incredibly popular in hip hop as well as electronic music.

Country of origin: United States
Listen: Ride Cymbal Audio
Related articles: Best Ride Cymbal
In purely technical terms, ride cymbals have been around for a long time. However, it wasn’t until early 20th century that they became popular. We can trace the first use of a ride cymbal to Kenneth Clarke – a famous bebop drummer who was the first person to utilize a cymbal to ride the rhythm. It is worth mentioning that Clarke’s move was met with a lot of disapproval from his fellow colleagues. However, that didn’t stop him from developing one of the most important cymbals on a modern drum kit.

Rides are nothing more than large cymbals with a very small bell and a large diameter. As a matter of fact, rides are inherently some of the largest cymbals on a drum kit. Their popularity can be explained by observing the versatile nature of this cymbal. Overall, it has become an essential tool in any drummer’s toolkit.

Gong

Country of origin: China
Listen: Gong Audio
The gong is another one of those ancient instruments that has become a huge part of modern day music. Gongs can be described as large, thick cymbals which are hung on an equally-large stand. The origins of gongs can be traced to China, while it later spread to neighboring countries as well. For the most part, gongs were used for religious, official and entertainment purposes in the Chinese Empire.

These days, Gongs are most often found in classical music. They are a part of percussion section where they saturate the composition with their deep, lasting tone. With that said, there are numerous types of gongs out there. Some are large while some are small. Their size depends on the country of origin and application. Needless to say, gongs have retained most of their original functions in East Asian countries.

Maracas

Country of origin: South America
Listen: Maracas Audio
Maracas are among the more obscure and unusual percussion instruments. Maracas are generally played in pairs, and the basic design includes a hollow-gourd rattle that is loaded with pebbles or beans. There are numerous types of maracas out there, and each with their own sound and design since they can’t be tuned or altered like most other instruments.

It is believed that this form of percussion instrument was first invented by pre-Columbian Indian tribes who favored rattles and drums over any other type of musical instruments. However, modern day maracas are being used mostly in music genres originating from Latin America.

Tambourine

Country of origin: Egypt
Listen: Tambourine Audio
When it comes to more prolific hand-played percussion instruments, the tambourine has to be near the top of the list. Originating in Egypt, tambourines have been mostly used for religious purposes. However, as music evolved, tambourines found their way into mainstream music. Today, you will see this percussion instrument being used in all kinds of rock, country, and even classical music.

Tambourines come in two main flavors: head or headless. In essence, a tambourine consists of a wooden rim that has jangles built in all around its circumference. Traditional tambourines have a head on one side, while more modern designs have eliminated this feature. A good thing about tambourines is how versatile they are. They can be hand played, mounted on a drum set, or even setup on a pedal.

Triangle

Country of origin: England
Listen: Triangle Audio
Triangles are one of the simplest instruments in existence. Their origin can be traced back to 16th century England, although it is arguable that they didn’t become popular until sometime later. A triangle is essentially a piece of metal tube that is folded to form an equidistant triangle. Contrary to popular belief, triangles most often don’t have a closed form. One corner of the triangle is always left disconnected in order for the instrument to have some range.

While triangles have been used in various forms of modern music, their main application is still reduced to Classical music. Most musicians consider triangles to be extremely low skill musical instruments. In many ways that is true, but there is still a decent amount of technique necessary to properly play one in an ensemble setting.

Xylophone

Country of origin: Unknown
Listen: Xylophone Audio
Xylophones are among the oldest percussion instruments which aren’t associated with drums. It is believed that they have originated in Asia, and were introduced to the African continent around 500AD. The first time a xylophone appeared in western cultures was recorded in the 1500’s. Ever since then, it has been used in one form or another mostly in classical music. Xylophones have found applications in other genres as well, but with limited success.

A traditional xylophone consists of a number of wooden plates, assembled on a frame of some kind. Each plate is cut and formed so it produces a specific pitch. Xylophones are played using mallets, which hasn’t changed from the time this instrument was first used.

String instruments

String instruments represent the backbone of modern music. However, this type of musical instrument has been used since ancient times. Let’s take a look at some of the most popular stringed instruments and how they came to be.

Banjo

Country of origin: United States
Listen: Banjo Audio
Related articles: Best Beginner Banjo
What has become one of the staple musical instruments of bluegrass, country, and other genres, has actually originated in West Africa. To an unsuspecting eye, a banjo might look like a guitar, but it is not. Whereas guitars have resonator boxes, banjos utilize a semi open body with a piece of membrane strung over it. In a way, you can look at it as a type of a stringed drum. Even though this might be a pretty exaggerated comparison, it helps describe banjos pretty well.

Banjos are different from guitars in a number of ways. Aside from the ones we have already mentioned, banjos have only 5 strings, one of which is shortened. The unique nature of this instrument gives it an equally-unique tone, commonly known as “twang”. Banjos are also rarely strummed, but rather picked. Learning proper banjo technique takes the time to master, just like the guitar.

Cello

Country of origin: Italy
Listen: Cello Audio
The cello belongs to the family of bowed string instruments and has been used actively since the 1500’s. It is similar to a violin in a sense that they both share a familiar shape, but the cello is obviously quite a bit larger. Other than that, cellos are also tuned to perfect fifths. In terms of sound, this instrument offers a unique tone and is every bit as expressive as a violin.

Ever since it first appeared, the cello has been used in classical music. Usually, it would be a part of a string quartet or similar ensemble. The use of the cello in today’s world has changed ever so slightly. While it is still dominantly utilized in classical music, the cello has found its way into other genres as well. One thing that helped in this regard was the advent of electric cellos, just like electric guitars.

Double bass

Country of origin: Western Europe
Listen: Double Bass Audio
While we are on the topic of larger bowed string instruments, let’s talk about the double bass. This is by far the largest musical instrument of this type. Double basses were first introduced in Western Europe sometime in the 1600s, becoming an important part of stringed ensembles. Modern day double basses have found many more applications, following the evolution of music. If you are not into classical music, you can easily find a double bass in your local jazz joint.

One more thing that has changed is the way double bass is played. Traditionally, double bass players would use a bow which is similar to that used for the violin or cello, only larger. These days, the double bass is most often plucked, thus fulfilling a role of an acoustic bass guitar to a certain extent.

Guitars

Related articles: Best DIY Guitar Kit
Guitars have completely changed the way we experience music today. From complex classical pieces to pure rock and roll, guitars play a major role in almost every genre. What most people don’t know, though, is that guitars can be traced back to ancient times. The oldest recording of guitar-like instruments dates back to a 3300-year-old stone carving of a bard. Since this piece of art belongs to Babylonia, it is suspected that guitars could have possibly originated there. However, that is yet to be determined.

Modern guitars generally come in several shapes. We have acoustic, electric and bass guitars – each of them with its own unique tone and scope of applications, which we’ll explain below.

Country of origin: Unknown
Listen: Acoustic Guitar Audio
Related articles: Best Martin Guitar
Acoustic guitars are the oldest type of guitars still in use, comprised of several core elements. These include the resonator box, the neck with headstock, and the bridge. The sound is produced when the resonator box catches the vibrations of the strings and amplifies them. With that said, acoustic guitars can be further divided into steel string and classical acoustic guitars. The former is what is most often used in country and rock music, while the latter is more present in classical and Latin music styles.

It is fair to say that acoustic guitars are still the heart and soul of music. Even though they have been technologically rendered obsolete to an extent, it is extremely hard to find an alternative for the natural sound produced by an acoustic guitar.

Country of origin: United States
Listen: Bass Guitar Audio
Related articles: Best Fretless Bass
The advent of electric amplification didn’t stop with acoustic guitars. Bass guitars were very much affected as well. Electric bass has basically brought the performance of a bass into a much more compact form factor, while also increasing the range of the instrument. The deep, rich tone that is the trademark of an acoustic bass is still there, only with a lot more girth behind it.

Most bass guitars feature four strings, although five string versions have become increasingly popular. The first commercially successful bass guitar was designed by none other than Leo Fender. Needless to say, Fender’s bass guitars have pretty much shaped and impacted every bass guitar that came after. These days, a bass guitar is every bit as versatile as an electric guitar, only in somewhat different ways. As such, it is essential in nearly any rock band.

Country of origin: United States
Listen: Electric Guitar Audio
Electric guitars represent the final evolution of an ancient musical instrument. The first successful electric amplification of guitars happened in the 1930’s in the United States. Ever since then, these instruments have grown exponentially in terms of popularity. Modern electric guitars feature a whole array of different flavors, hardware types, and other components.

The advent of electric guitars is important for a number of reasons. First is overcoming the physical limitations of resonator boxes. We no longer need to depend on the size of the resonator component in order to gain volume. The other main reason is versatility. Modern electric guitars can be used with any number of guitar effects, thus exponentially expanding their range of capabilities. This evolution alone has spawned a large variety of most popular modern music genres. In essence, electric guitars have become a “Swiss army knife of modern tone” so-to-speak.

Harp

Country of origin: Sumer
Listen: Harp Audio
When it comes to ancient musical instruments, it’s hard to beat the harp. We can trace its roots all the way back to ancient Sumer, around 3500 BC. However, the instrument was popular with ancient Greeks as well as Egyptians. The core of a harp consists of numerous strings sprung across an angled soundboard. Harps are not to be confused with lyres, which are a much smaller and portable instrument with similar properties.

What’s really amazing is how the harp has withstood the test of time. Even though it is nowhere near as popular as it once was, harps are still used in classical music around the world. Modern versions are different only in materials used, with minimal adjustments made to the design of the instrument. Their unique, warm tone is exactly why we are still infatuated by such an ancient masterpiece.

Piano

Country of origin: Italy
Listen: Piano Audio
While the guitar is overtly the most popular stringed instrument out there, the piano is probably the real king of all stringed instruments. In fact, most people don’t even realize that the piano is actually a string instrument! First invented by Bartolomeo Cristofori di Francesco, an Italian musical instrument maker, pianos use a unique combination of keys and strings to create the beautiful melodies we all know and love.

There are numerous types of pianos out there, but standard concert pianos are the most appropriate representative for this musical instrument. As far as application goes, there are only a handful of music genres known today which don’t utilize a piano. This instrument is so prolific that you will find its sound in just about any kind of music from all over the world. Naturally, though, classical music is where it feels most at home.

Ukulele

Country of origin: Portugal
Listen: Ukulele Audio
Ukuleles, or ukes for short, are most often associated with the islands of Hawaii. However, their origin actually goes back to Portugal. Ukuleles were introduced to the population of Hawaii by Portuguese workers who have moved to the island, but modern ukes hardly resemble the instrument they were based upon, the Madeira.

Contrary to popular belief, ukuleles are not miniature guitars. They actually use a different chord system, and they’re available in four different sizes – soprano, concert, tenor and finally baritone. Soprano is the most popular version for a number of reasons, but mainly due to its iconic sound. Ukes have a strong root in Hawaiian music, but they have found their way into various genres thanks to their newly gained popularity.

Viola

Country of origin: Western Europe
Listen: Viola Audio
The viola is another bowed string instrument which is very similar to a violin. In fact, it is only slightly larger than one. However, the different choice in build materials makes it feature a deeper pitch that makes it a completely different instrument altogether. Violas are not as popular as they used to be, at least not outside classical circles. With that said, they’ve seen some use in various genres of music, and they are an important element of a stringed quartet.

Violin (also known as fiddle)

Country of origin: Europe
Listen: Violin Audio
The violin is by far the most popular member of the bow stringed family of musical instruments. Its origin is hard to determine as it has evolved from a variety of East Asian, Middle Eastern and Byzantine instruments. However, violins as we know them today come from Italy, where some of the most famous luthier families lived.

Violins are one of the few musical instruments of its type that has seen quite a bit of use outside the realm of classical music. As a matter of fact, you can see a violin in all kinds of traditional and country music all around the world. It’s also important to note that musicians involved in some of these genres often use the name ‘fiddle’ for a violin. Contrary to popular belief, the fiddle and violin are the same instrument.

Even so, its role in classical music is still the dominant one. Modern day violins are among the most popular stringed instruments people choose to learn as kids, ensuring that we will be seeing violins for a long time to come.

Zither

Country of origin: China
Listen: Zither Audio
Compared to most stringed instruments out there, the zither comes across as pretty unusual. Even so, zithers share the same ancestry as modern day guitars. It was first invented in ancient China, from where it spread in pretty much every direction. Modern day zithers are mostly used in Germany and the Alpine region. They’ve become an important part of the Alpine traditional music, where they are still used to a great extent.

The design of zithers is similar to that one of a lap steel guitar. In other words, the instrument is designed to be played on the lap while the player is sitting. Zithers generally feature anywhere from 29 to 38 strings, which makes them extremely versatile. There are 5 or so fretted strings, depending on the model, and two sets of 12 unfretted strings. Each cluster of strings has its purpose, where the fretted strings are used for melody, and the rest are bass and accompaniment strings. Zithers are not prolific in modern music, although there are a handful of artists who use them.

Wind instruments

Unlike stringed instruments, wind instruments are dependent on air passing through a set of tubes in order to create sound. There are many types of wind instruments which can be divided into two subcategories: brass and woodwind. Let’s take a look at some of the best representatives of both.

Cornet

Country of origin: France
Listen: Cornet Audio
The cornet is often overlooked when discussing brass instruments. It was invented in France back in early 19th century. At the time, it was considered to be a far more advanced instrument compared to trumpets. Despite their similar appearance, these two instruments are very different. The cornet was first to utilize piston valves, while its sound was much mellower than that of a trumpet. This led to almost a century of cornets taking the prime spots in a brass section.

However, these days, things are very different. Cornets are no longer used that often outside classical music. Old school jazz musicians preferred cornets due to their mellow tone and the ease with which they laid down complex melodies, but the more recent school of thought in jazz music has completely shunned that idea in favor of a trumpet.

Flugelhorn

Country of origin: Germany
Listen: Flugelhorn Audio
The flugelhorn is another variation of a standard trumpet. It originated in Germany where it developed from a type of hunting trumpet. Interestingly enough, when put next to a trumpet and cornet, the flugelhorn is the deepest pitched of the three and the one that has the most mellow sound.

Unlike cornets, flugelhorns are actually used a lot in modern music. You can primarily find it in classical melodies, but it is often found in jazz as well. Its deeper and mellow tone has just the right type of properties that make it attractive even in a more modern setting. It is even quite expressive for solo applications.

French horn

Country of origin: Europe
Listen: French Horn Audio
The French horn is more of a blanket name for a whole variety of horn instruments. The true origin of a French horn can be traced back to ancient times when people used actual horns. The brass instrument we call horn today is far more complicated, as expected. In the grand order of brass instruments, the French horn is the third highest pitched brass instrument we know.

Looking at the applications of French horns, they are most often found in brass sections, but are very versatile to handle several different genres. Modern French horns come in the form of single horns, double horns, and triple horns – the difference between each simply being the number of tubes connected to the valves.

Tenor horn

Country of origin: Belgium
Listen: Tenor Horn Audio
Tenor horns were first made by a Belgian brass maker who used a bit of ingenuity to create something new and different. Being a fairly young brass instrument, the tenor horn didn’t really become very popular in classical circles. However, British brass bands have adopted it as a replacement for the French horn we just talked about above.

Tenor horns come in a variety of shapes, with a couple of popular versions dominating the scene. Those commonly found in UK and US sport a tuba-like design, only much more compact. For the most part, tenor horns are not soloist instruments. Rather, they play within the middle of the band.

Trombone

Country of origin: Europe
Listen: Trombone Audio
Trombones have been around for a while; we’re talking the 15th century and onward. However, it is worth noting that trombones didn’t really become popular until the 19th century. Before then, they were mostly being used on the very outskirts of music scene by specialized ensembles. These days, trombones are extremely popular, and almost anyone can recognize one.

You can find trombones in a variety of genres ranging from classical to Ska music. The most dominant feature, which is why it stood out so much from the rest of the brass instruments, is its slider. This one feature allows the user to elongate the tube and thus considerably drop the pitch of the instrument. It is one of the most popular choices for marching band members, while a large majority of military bands around the world also depend on it.

Trumpet

Country of origin: Unknown
Listen: Trumpet Audio
Related articles: Best Trumpet Stand
If there is one brass instrument that has maintained its popularity from ancient times, it is the trumpet. Trumpets were originally used by hunting parties and military formations as far back as 2000 BC, but only around the 15th century did this instrument to find its way into entertainment. Naturally, trumpets have come a long way since those olden days. Modern trumpets come in a variety of formats, most of which are different in subtle ways.

Compared to other brass instruments, trumpets are among the highest pitches. Their current use includes classical ensembles, brass sections, jazz solos, and so much more. It is by far one of the most prolific brass instruments known to man. We are yet to determine where this instrument originally came from, due to its presence in just about every continent of the world.

Tuba

Country of origin: Prussia
Listen: Tuba Audio
Tubas hold a pretty special place in the brass world. They are the lowest pitched instrument from this family, but also the largest. The first patent for a tuba was submitted in Prussia back in mid-19th century. Ever since then, it was recognized as a powerful addition to any brass section or orchestra.

What the original inventor did was add valves, thus allowing tuba players to have complete control over the notes even though they are so low in the register. In modern day music, the tuba is enjoying a decent amount of popularity, used mostly in classical but also some alternative genres of music. Being from Prussia, it is not so strange that a tuba is also an essential element of military marching bands.

Bagpipes

Country of origin: Unknown
Listen: Bagpipes Audio
Bagpipes are truly one of the most interesting and unusual woodwind instruments out there. Even though bagpipes were made popular by British traditional music, this instrument was in fact invented elsewhere. The exact place of origin still remains unknown, but we can trace its roots all the way to ancient Middle East, Greece and Roman Empire.

Bagpipes consist of a number of elements, the most important being the bag. This is where the air is stored and later used as necessary by applying arm pressure. Traditionally, bags were made of animal skin, but these days we have them made using synthetic materials. It is also worth noting that there are numerous different types of bagpipes including versions from other parts of the world. Bagpipes are still very much centered around traditional British music, although we have seen use in various genres of music.

Bassoon

Country of origin: Europe
Listen: Bassoon Audio
There are several theories as to where bassoons came from. The most supported theory states that it originated from a woodwind instrument called the dulcan, which makes sense as these two instruments are very much similar. Bassoons appeared in the 15th century, and have ever since been a part of classical ensembles in one form or another. It wasn’t until the 19th century that bassoons came back into the focus of many composers. There was a need for a different type of woodwind instrument and bassoons were there to fill the void.

This instrument is known for its fairly unique tone that sometimes even sounds like a baritone voice. Bassoons are dark and full of warmth, which is why you can find them in a number of concert bands these days.

Clarinet

Country of origin: Europe
Listen: Clarinet Audio
Clarinets are generally known for their cylindrical bore and the use of a single reed mouthpiece. From a distance, clarinet comes across as one of the simplest woodwind instruments. However, this instrument is anything but simple. It first appeared in the 18th century when Chalumeau, its predecessor, was modified to include a register key. This was the birth of a first clarinet.

Today, clarinets play a major role in the woodwind section, often time being the center of the entire section. Clarinet’s tone can be described as defined, textured and powerful. Even after all that time, clarinets are still one of the most popular woodwind instruments.

English horn

Country of origin: Silesia
Listen: English Horn (Cor Anglais) Audio
Contrary to popular belief, the English horn, or Cor Anglais as it is known outside of United States, did not originate in England. This instrument actually appeared first in Silesia, which is current day Poland and the Czech Republic. The instrument is often times compared to an oboe, with which it actually shares a lot of similarities – so much so that many oboists are easily capable of playing English Horn with no special training. The use of English Horns in modern music is actually quite prolific. Up until not so long ago, there weren’t even any soloist pieces written for this instrument. These days, the repertoire is rather large.

Flute

Country of origin: Unknown
Listen: Flute Audio
Flutes are a very special instrument; their inherent simplicity makes them incredible in so many ways. This tends to explain why some of the oldest flutes were carbon dated to be 43,000 years old. A flute started out as a hollow wooden tube with drilled out holes, and they haven’t changed all that much so far. Naturally, modern day flutes are much more refined and perfected, but it’s the same concept nonetheless.

Flutes are actually a family of instruments, with a variety of different versions being available and considered standard. In terms of music genres, it is really hard to define a dominant one. Flutes are a standard part of classical music, but they are the essential part of so many traditional folk genres from all around the world as well.

Harmonica

Country of origin: Europe
Listen: Harmonica Audio
The impact harmonicas had on blues, jazz, and bluegrass is hard to put into words. These genres would be very different without harmonicas. They first appeared in Vienna back in 19th century. Since then, the design has been altered and perfected in a number of ways. They have become smaller, easier to play and more tonally defined.

Modern harmonicas come in a whole range of different versions, each offering a different experience. Interestingly enough, harmonicas are not that present in classical music. On the contrary, they are considered standard in traditional folk sound of the continental United States.

Oboe

Country of origin: Europe
Listen: Oboe Audio
The oboe is another staple woodwind instrument that has been around for a long time. It originated in Europe sometime near mid-17th century and has since evolved a couple of times. The oboe is a fairly unique instrument in the sense that its sound differs from most other woodwind family members.

Original oboes were traditionally built out of wood, which is a practice still used today. In its core, it is a wooden tube with a conical bore. The choice of wood and craftsmanship can really dictate the quality of sound, especially considering some of the more modern oboes are made of synthetic materials. While oboe was initially exclusive to classical music, it has found its way into rock, jazz, and other modern genres.

Piccolo

Country of origin: Europe
Listen: Piccolo Audio
A piccolo is often times described as a miniature flute, and that is exactly what it is. To be more precise, it is a half-size flute. Piccolos originated in Europe somewhere around late 18th century. The main advantage of such a shorter body is the fact that piccolos are one octave higher than traditional flutes. This has introduced a whole new flavor of the already familiar tone.

Piccolos have stuck around to this day, finding their main purpose in classical compositions and orchestras around the world. There are certain artists who use piccolos in other forms of music, mostly traditional folk music. Even though it is not as wide spread as flute, the piccolo is still a very important member of this tight woodwind subcategory.

Recorder

Country of origin: Europe
Listen: Recorder Audio
Like the piccolo, recorders belong to the flute subcategory of woodwind instruments. On a first glance, a recorder might look extremely close to a standard flute; however, there are numerous differences that make it stand out. Most notably, a recorder has a whistle mouthpiece and an internal duct. They also come in a variety of sizes, covering a wide spectrum of pitches.

Recorders first appeared in Middle Ages in Europe. Due to their unusual nature, it didn’t take long before this instrument became increasingly popular all across the continent. Recorders were an essential part of the renaissance and baroque music, with their impact diminishing later on. Modern day recorders are still very close in design to their origins, mostly used in classical music.

Saxophone

Country of origin: Europe
Listen: Saxophone Audio
When Belgian instrument maker Adolphe Sax invented the saxophone back in the middle 19th century, chances are he didn’t know just how popular this instrument was going to become. Saxophones are a family of woodwind instruments which are fairly independent of other woodwind designs. Sax initially intended the saxophone to be a military instrument, however, that didn’t last too long.

The saxophone is one of the rare instruments with a heavy presence in numerous genres of modern music. Pop, rock, and funk probably wouldn’t be the same without it. Same goes for jazz. Modern saxophones are a bit more advanced than their original counterparts but still share the same core design that we all know good and well.

Other instruments

Some instruments are so unique that the don’t fit into any traditional class like percussion, strings, or wind. There are only a few, but some are widely used in music today.

Keyboard

Country of origin: United States
Listen: Keyboard Audio
By definition, the term keyboard relates to a wide array of instruments which utilize keys. However, the context we are looking for today is focusing on electric pianos and electronic keyboards. The first electronic piano appeared in the 1950’s and was made by Wurlitzer Company. Until the advent of a transistor, electric pianos and keyboards weren’t really that practical. Once that technology was achieved, keyboards became not only viable, but highly useful.

Modern day keyboards are almost all digital with a whole array of built-in functions. You can essentially mimic an entire band with just one keyboard, which is a powerful force multiplier for solo artists. This allows it to be used in just about every modern genre of music.

Melodica

Country of origin: Germany
Listen: Melodica Audio
Related articles: Best Melodica
One of the more unusual and obscure instruments available today are melodicas. This keyboard instrument has been invented by Hohner back in late 20th century. The idea was to create a keyboard-like instrument that was portable, lightweight, and independent of power sources. Hohner achieved their goal by combining the elements of a pump organ and a standard musical keyboard.

To play the instrument, the user has to blow air into the chassis, usually by using a hose. Once there is air in the system, pressing the keys would release some of that air and create musical tone. Melodicas never really became popular in mainstream music. However, they have proven to be a great tool for learning how to play piano, considering that they have the same key layout.

Wrapping it up

Musical instruments are a marvel to see, play, and learn about. We’ve done our best to cover the most important instruments you could run into today, but there are many niche instruments that exist as well, so keep that in mind in case you didn’t find exactly what you were looking for. Furthermore, if you think we missed something or would like to see another instrument covered in our guide, feel free to comment below and we’ll make the addition!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *