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UW Ethnomusicology Archives: Chordophones

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


What are chordophones?

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.

Sitar Demonstration

Text adapted from: Sachs, Curt (1940). The History of Musical Instruments

Title image sources (left to right):,,,,

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