Music Around the World
Every culture around the world has invented a form of music, and use it to serve many purposes—it can be part of religious ritual, it can be part of celebrations, it can be a form of storytelling, or it can be a form of artistic expression.
Although materials vary widely from place, the instruments of the world can be broken into several basic categories that classify instruments based on how they make sounds. The Museum of International Cultures has examples of each, including:
As their name suggests, wind instruments are those whose sound comes from vibrating air, generally by the player blowing air through the instrument.
Wind instruments are present in virtually every culture around the world. They come as diverse as the Australian digeridoo, the Solomon Island panpipes and the Chinese sheng. They can be made of bamboo, reed, wood, metal, even materials like shells, bones, and gourds.
Although they are typically played with the mouth, wind instruments can also be played with the nostrils. At the MIC, we have examples of nose flutes from Papua New Guinea, along with a wide variety of other wind instruments from all over the world, including China, the Solomon Islands, India and many others.
It is believed that percussion instruments (like drums and rattles) are the oldest musical family. These are instruments whose sounds are caused by striking the instrument, whether it is drumsticks, hammers, bows, body parts or other tools. Like wind instruments, percussion instruments can be made from a wide variety of materials. Typically, drums are made from a form of skin stretched over the drum’s rim, but some drums, such as our Barbados steel drum and our New Guinean slit drums, are not.
Drums, rattles, gongs, xylophones, and cymbals fall into the percussion category. At the Museum of International Cultures, we have examples of percussion instruments like xylophones, ceramic drums, Native American drums and tambourines, along with many others.
String instruments are instruments whose sound comes from strings, which can be plucked with a human hand or other materials, like guitar picks. This category contains commonly-known instruments like the guitar, violin and harp, but also lesser known instruments like mandolin, lute and zither.
As with all musical instruments, string instruments are made of a variety of materials. However, string instruments are slightly more restrictive in their materials, as the string must be able to vibrate and create sound. Typically, strings were made of gut, twine, hair, or metal. The rest of the instrument can be made of many different materials, including wood, metal, bone or gourd.
The MIC has examples of zithers, harps, violins and many other string instruments in our music room.
Any instrument display would be incomplete without audio samples. At the Museum of International Cultures, we have an electronic display that viewers can use to sample music from around the world, including instruments we have on display.