An orchestra’s brass and woodwind instruments form a lengthy list, but the idiophones instruments list includes many more. But what is an idiophone, how does it produce a sound, and what instruments are classified as idiophones? You are in luck because we’ll answer these questions and more in this article.
What Is an Idiophone Instrument?
An idiophone instrument is part of the Hornbostel-Sachs Membranophone Musical Instrument Classification or Hornbostel-Sachs system for short. Unlike chordophones and membranophones, idiophone instruments do not rely on membranes or strings to make a sound; it makes sound by vibration.
The same goes for aerophones or wind instruments like trombones, saxophones, and clarinet. They don’t have strings and are technically free-reeds but rely on air to vibrate. Reed instruments like trumpets also need air to produce sound.
In the case of idiophones instruments list, again, the sound is from the instrument itself.
You can play an idiophone instrument by either directly or indirectly striking it. You can also make it sound by plucking or creating friction.
Fact: Erich von Hornsbostel and Curt Sachs created the Hornbostel-Sachs after noticing a pattern with musical instruments.
What Instruments Are Considered an Idiophone?
Any instrument that produces sound by the method of vibration (without strings, membrane, or air) is considered an idiophone. And, as mentioned earlier, you can play idiophones when you directly or indirectly strike them, pluck them, or if you create fiction. Castanets, cymbals, and steel drums are part of an idiophones instrument list.
The castanet stems from the Mediterranean, although it originated in Phoenicia in about 1000 BC. This idiophone musical instrument comes with two hollowed-out shells, bones, or ivory held together by a rope. You can play castanets by inserting the loops through your thumb and then using your other fingers to close and hit the shells together.
Musicians play the castanets in pairs. The right castanet is called hembra, while the left one is referred to as macho. You can play both in the same beat or have one (the macho) for rhythm.
Chimes is also part of this idiophones instruments list, and it’s perhaps the most common. You will find it in churches, schools, offices, and other settings.
In an orchestra or band, a set of chimes may hang from a block of wood or sit on a platform of wood. To create the musical vibration, the player uses a small stick with a rounded end called a mallet. A set of chimes typically includes eight-round, metal chimes with a hollow center. This provides the player with a full octave range of notes.
The single and double cowbell offer a hand percussive instrument that originally aided herdsmen in tracking their flocks. Those vibrations came from a metal mallet inside the metal bell hung on a cow’s or oxen’s neck. Classical music initially adopted the metal bell to create a quick, single note using a separate mallet to strike the outside.
Unlike other percussion, these wooden drums is drum head free. As a matter of fact, a slit drum has a hollow sculpture with three narrow groves or slits shaped like an H. The ends of the drum are closed and typically can produce two different pitches.
Tubular bells look like chimes when they take the hanging form but typically include a two-octave range or 16 distinct tube-shaped bells. A hand percussion version also exists though that resembles a pipe twisted into an X shape with one side solid pipe. Musicians also refer to tubular bells as orchestral bells. They emit a sound similar to church bells or a carillon when struck with a mallet.
A cymbal may take the form of a single hollow round plate of metal or two such plates coupled so that the hollows meet. It may also attach to a rod and function as a part of a drum kit, such as rock and country band use.
There are hand-held cymbals that the player brings together to create a clashing sound. Cymbals offer a diversity, including splash cymbals, ride cymbals, crash cymbals, t-natural cymbals, etc.
Originating East and Southeast Asia, this circular, flat disk struck with a mallet, issues a loud and resounding sound. The note of a gong sounds for many counts unless stopped. These large disks hang from a supporting post. Some progressive rock bands and jazz ensembles use the gong. The instrument became famous in popular times when featured on an entertainment show called The Gong Show.
The gourd rattle called maracas stems from South American and Latin music, especially their orchestras. Typically egg or oval in shape, the objects sealed inside create a rattling sound when shaken. The materials used within the gourds vary from beans, stones to beads. Modern music also uses maracas crafted of leather, wood, or plant pods.
The African musical instrument the marimba strongly resembles a xylophone. A traditional marimba uses wooden bars with a tuned calabash resonator beneath each. In Latin America, musicians adopted the design but replaced the calabash with gourds.
When crafted for use in the orchestra, this six-and-a-half-octave instrument combines wooden bars attached to a frame with tube or metal resonators beneath each bar. Some marimbas hang around the player’s waist.
The musical instrument vibraphone, also known as the vibraharp or vibes, shares its shape with the xylophone. It uses metal bars and mallets covered in wool or felt to strike the metal which has a tuned, tubular resonator beneath it. Striking the metal creates a mellow tone. The resonator helps the vibraphone bars sustain the tones for long note counts.
From the French word for drum, tambour, the tambourine consists of a wood frame with small pieces of metal called zils. When you shake the frame, the zils hit each other and produce sound. Some tambourines also have a drum head, but others do not.
Triangle or triangle bell was traditionally a dinner bell. And, as its name suggests, it’s a triangular shaped idiophone instrument made from either steel or cast iron. You can play the triangle by hitting the triangle with a short metal stick.
Wood block, as its name suggests, is an instrument featuring a block of wood. This common aboriginal instrument features a slit in its center and can produce sound when you hit with a mallet. This idiophone instrument is common heard in Dixieland music.
The handpan or hang drum only came to existence in 2001. This idiophone instrument uses a lenticular shape similar to a turtle shell or an upside-down wok. It creates a soft sound similar to raindrops when struck with your hand.
A hole on the bottom of the handpan provides the amplitude for the deep bass note of the instrument. Although easy to play, they have yet to catch on because they cost a lot to produce.
You can’t conclude an idiophones instruments list without the xylophone. It feature resonators beneath each wooden bar. So, when you hit this instrument with a mallet, it emits a note. This idiophone instrument typically includes more than three octaves.
Fun info: A metal version of a xylophone is called a Glockenspiel.
Other Musical Instruments Classified as Idiophones
- Jaw Harp / Jew’s Harp
Idiophones – Instruments of the World
From complex instruments such as the marimba to the simple xylophones, the world of idiophones is massive. And, hopefully our idiophones instruments list gave you a closer glimpse of the instruments classified as an idiophone.