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UW Ethnomusicology Archives: By Instrument

The UW Eth­no­mu­si­col­ogy Archives has been col­lecting and curating unique ethnographic music recordings, films, and video since 1962.

By instrument

On this page we highlight a selection of recordings that feature different types of musical instruments. They are organized according to the Hornbostel-Sachs classification system (more information about the system available here). Since each region has a wide range of diverse recordings, the featured recordings are inherently unrepresentative of the whole regions. It is important to note that the collections featured on this page represent only a small percentage of the total recordings held in the UWEA. 

Ethnomusicology Musical Instrument Collection

The UW Ethnomusicology Program houses over 400 musical instruments from around the world, drawn from the musical traditions of visiting international artists and additional donations. Images, recordings, and descriptions of these instruments can be found on the collection's page


Aerophones are instruments that create noise by pushing vibrating columns of air through them. Under the Hornbostel-Sachs classification system, aerophones are broken down into free aerophones and non-free aerophones. Free aerophones are instruments where the vibrating air is not confined to the inside of the instrument itself (eg. accordions and pitch pipes). In non-free aerophones, the vibrating air is confined inside of the instrument (eg. ocarinas and bagpipes). Most instruments traditionally referred to as woodwind instruments are non-free aerophones. Free-aerophones instruments are significantly less common than non-free aerophones. 

Featured recordings:


Idiophones are instruments that create sound through vibrating themselves. They differ from chordophones and membranophones because the vibrating is not the result of strings or membranes. Under the Hornbostel-Sachs classifcation system, idiophones are further divided into struck idiophones and plucked idiophones. Stuck idiophones produce sound when they are struck either directly or indirectly (ie. xylophones and gendérs). Plucked idiophones produce sound when part of the instrument (not a string) is plucked. The mbira and the jaw's harp are good examples of plucked idiophones. 

Featured recordings:

Instrument Display in the Music Building


Membranophones are instruments that produce sound by vibrating a membrane. The Hornbostel-Sachs system divides membranophones into five categories: struck membranophones, plucked membranophones, friction membranophones, singing membranophones, and other membranophones. Since the UWEA collection contains almost exclusively membranophone recordings that fall into the struck category, this page is divided into instrument shape in order to facilitate browsing. The drum types used on this page for organization purposes are kettle drums, hourglass drums, frame drums, barrel drums, cylindrical drums, and goblet drums. 

Featured recordings:


Chordophones are instruments that produce sound by vibrating strings. The Hornbostel-Sachs classification system breaks chordphones down further into simple and composite chordophones. Simple chordophones are instruments that do not use a resonator as an integral part of the sound creation, while composite chordophones do relay on a resonator. Simple chordophones are sometimes referred to as zither type instruments. Most western chordophones, excluding the piano and harpsichord, fall into the composite chordophone category. Composite chordophones can be broken down into lute type and harp type instruments. In lute type composite chordophones, the strings run parallel to the resonator. In harp type composite chordophones, the strings run perpendicular to the resonator. The lute type composite chordophones category is the chordophone category with the most instruments.

Featured recordings:

Text sources: Sachs, Curt (1940). The History of Musical Instruments; Dean, Matt (2012). The drum : a history.;

Title image sources:,, (SUMISONG Channel),,

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