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Flutes are aerophones Shinobue and other flutes.jpg
Flutes are aerophones

An aerophone ( /ˈɛərfn/ ) is a musical instrument that produces sound primarily by causing a body of air to vibrate, [1] without the use of strings or membranes (which are respectively chordophones and membranophones), and without the vibration of the instrument itself adding considerably to the sound (or idiophones). [2]



Aerophones are one of the four main classes of instruments in the original Hornbostel–Sachs system of musical instrument classification, which further classifies aerophones by whether or not the vibrating air is contained within the instrument. The first class (41) includes instruments which, when played, do not contain the vibrating air. The bullroarer is one example. These are called free aerophones. This class includes (412.13) free reed instruments, such as the harmonica, but also many instruments unlikely to be called wind instruments at all by most people, such as sirens and whips. The second class (42) includes instruments which contain the vibrating air when being played. This class includes almost all instruments generally called wind instruments  — including the didgeridoo, (423) brass instruments (e.g., trumpet, [3] french horn, baritone horn, tuba, trombone), and (421 & 422) woodwind instruments (e.g., oboe, [3] flute, [3] saxophone, clarinet [3] ). [4]

Additionally, very loud sounds can be made by explosions directed into, or being detonated inside of resonant cavities. Detonations inside the calliope (and steam whistle), as well as the pyrophone might thus be considered as class 42 instruments, despite the fact that the "wind" or "air" may be steam or an air-fuel mixture.[ citation needed ]


Neolithic bone flute Neolithic bone flute.jpg
Neolithic bone flute

According to Ardal Powell, the flute is a simple instrument found in numerous ancient cultures. There are three legendary and archeologically verifiable birthplace sites of flutes: Egypt, Greece and India. Of these, the transverse flute (side blown) appeared only in ancient India, while the fipple flutes are found in all three. It is likely, states Powell, that the modern Indian bansuri has not changed much since the early medieval era.

Identifying the origin of the aerophone is difficult, though it is believed that Americans and their descendants developed the largest diversity of aerophones, and they are understood to have been the major non-vocal, melodic instruments of Native America. [5] Archaeological studies have found examples of globular flutes in ancient Mexico, Colombia and Peru, and multiple tubular flutes were common among the Maya and Aztec. The use of shells of Conches as an aerophone have also been found to be prevalent in areas such as Central America and Peru. [6]

Examples of aerophone type instruments in China can be dated back to the Neolithic period. Fragments of bone flutes can be found at the burial sites of the Jiahu settlements of ancient China, and they represent some of the earliest known examples of playable instruments. The instruments were typically carved from the wing bone of the red-crowned crane, and had five to eight holes. The flutes were efficient enough to produce sound in a nearly accurate octave, and are thought to have been used ceremonially or for ritualistic purposes. [7] [8] Examples of flutes made out of bamboo in China date back to 2nd Century BC. These flutes were known as Dizi's or simply Di () and typically had 6 holes for playing melodies that were framed by scale-modes. [9]

Flutes including the famous Bansuri, have been an integral part of Indian classical music since 1500 BC. A major deity of Hinduism, Krishna, has been associated with the flute. [10] [11] Some early flutes were made out of tibias (shin bones). The flute has also always been an essential part of Indian culture and mythology, [12] and the cross flute is believed, by several accounts, to originate in India [13] [14] as Indian literature from 1500 BCE has made vague references to the cross flute. [15]



Free aerophones are instruments where the vibrating air is not enclosed by the instrument itself.


The air-stream meets a sharp edge, or a sharp edge is moved through the air.


The air-stream is interrupted periodically.


Occasionally called "percussive aerophones", plosive aerophones are sounded by percussion caused by a single compression and release of air. [16] An example of a plosive aerophone is the "scraper flute" which has tubes with ridged or serrated edges so that they can be scraped with a rod to produce sound. [17] [18]


Non-free aerophones are instruments where the vibrating air is contained within the instrument. Often called wind instruments, they are typically divided into two categories; Woodwind and Brass. It is widely accepted that wind instruments are not classified on the material from which they are made, as a woodwind instrument does not necessarily need to be made of wood, nor a brass instrument made of brass. Woodwind instruments are often made with wood, metal, glass or ivory, with examples being flute, oboe, bassoon, clarinet, recorder and the saxophone. Brass instruments are often made with silver, copper, ivory, horn, or even wood. Examples include the trumpet, cornet, horn, trombone and the tuba. [19]


A flute is a type of aerophone, as is the Eunuch flute, also referred to as a mirliton. [3] A flute is an aerophone or reedless wind instrument that produces its sound from the flow of air across an opening, usually a sharp edge. According to the instrument classification of Hornbostel–Sachs, flutes are categorized as edge-blown aerophones. Aside from the voice, flutes are the earliest known musical instruments. A number of flutes dating to about 43,000 to 35,000 years ago have been found in the Swabian Alb region of Germany. These flutes demonstrate that a developed musical tradition existed from the earliest period of modern human presence in Europe. [20] [21]


A reed aerophone is a musical instrument that produces sound by the player's breath being directed against a lamella or pair of lamellae which periodically interrupt the airflow and cause the air to be set in motion. Reed aerophones can be further sub-divided into two distinct categories: single-reed and double-reed instruments. The former includes clarinets and saxophones, while examples of the latter are oboes and bassoons.


A brass aerophone is a musical instrument that produces sound by sympathetic vibration of air in a tubular resonator in sympathy with the vibration of the player's lips. Brass instruments are also called labrosones, literally meaning "lip-vibrated instruments". [22] There are several factors involved in producing different pitches on a brass instrument. Slides, valves, crooks, or keys are used to change vibratory length of tubing, thus changing the available harmonic series, while the player's embouchure, lip tension and air flow serve to select the specific harmonic produced from the available series. Unlike all other aerophones, brass instruments can be "muted", in other words, their sounds can be somewhat suppressed as one would use a silencer on a firearm. A variety of mutes exist for these instruments, ranging from those made of plastic to others made of metal, and in various shapes.

List of Aerophones

See also

Related Research Articles

Flute Musical instrument of the woodwind family

The flute is a family of musical instruments in the woodwind group. Unlike woodwind instruments with reeds, a flute is an aerophone or reedless wind instrument that produces its sound from the flow of air across an opening. According to the instrument classification of Hornbostel–Sachs, flutes are categorized as edge-blown aerophones. A musician who plays the flute can be referred to as a flute player, flautist, flutist or, less commonly, fluter or flutenist.

Musical ensemble Group of people who perform instrumental and/or vocal music, with the ensemble typically known by a distinct name

A musical ensemble, also known as a music group or musical group, is a group of people who perform instrumental or vocal music, with the ensemble typically known by a distinct name. Some music ensembles consist solely of instruments, such as the jazz quartet or the orchestra. Some music ensembles consist solely of singers, such as choirs and doo wop groups. In both popular music and classical music, there are ensembles in which both instrumentalists and singers perform, such as the rock band or the Baroque chamber group for basso continuo and one or more singers. In classical music, trios or quartets either blend the sounds of musical instrument families or group together instruments from the same instrument family, such as string ensembles or wind ensembles. Some ensembles blend the sounds of a variety of instrument families, such as the orchestra, which uses a string section, brass instruments, woodwinds and percussion instruments, or the concert band, which uses brass, woodwinds and percussion.

Woodwind instrument Family of musical wind instruments

Woodwind instruments are a family of musical instruments within the more general category of wind instruments. Common examples include flute, clarinet, oboe, saxophone, and bassoon. There are two main types of woodwind instruments: flutes and reed instruments. The main distinction between these instruments and other wind instruments is the way in which they produce sound. All woodwinds produce sound by splitting the air blown into them on a sharp edge, such as a reed or a fipple. Despite the name, a woodwind may be made of any material, not just wood. Common examples include brass, silver, cane, as well as other metals such as gold and platinum. The saxophone, for example, though made of brass, is considered a woodwind because it requires a reed to produce sound. Occasionally, woodwinds are made out of earthen materials, especially ocarinas.

Reed (mouthpiece)

A reed is a thin strip of material that vibrates to produce a sound on a musical instrument. Most woodwind instrument reeds are made from Arundo donax or synthetic material. Tuned reeds are made of metal or synthetics. Musical instruments are classified according to the type and number of reeds.

Musical instrument classification

Throughout history, various methods of musical instrument classification have been used in organology. The most commonly used system divides instruments into string instruments, woodwind instruments, brass instruments and percussion instruments; however, other schemes have been devised.

Hornbostel–Sachs or Sachs–Hornbostel is a system of musical instrument classification devised by Erich Moritz von Hornbostel and Curt Sachs, and first published in the Zeitschrift für Ethnologie in 1914. An English translation was published in the Galpin Society Journal in 1961. It is the most widely used system for classifying musical instruments by ethnomusicologists and organologists. The system was updated in 2011 as part of the work of the Musical Instrument Museums Online (MIMO) Project.

Overblowing is a technique used while playing a wind instrument that causes the sounded pitch to jump to a higher one primarily through the manipulation of the supplied air rather than by a fingering change or the operation of a slide. Depending on the instrument, and to a lesser extent the player, overblowing may involve a change in the air pressure, in the point at which the air is directed, or in the resonance characteristics of the chamber formed by the mouth and throat of the player. In some instruments, overblowing may also involve the direct manipulation of the vibrating reed(s), and/or the pushing of a register key while otherwise leaving fingering unaltered. With the exception of harmonica overblowing, the pitch jump is from one vibratory mode of the reed or air column, e.g., its fundamental, to an overtone. Overblowing can be done deliberately in order to get a higher pitch, or inadvertently, resulting in the production of a note other than that intended.

A multiphonic is an extended technique on a monophonic musical instrument in which several notes are produced at once. This includes wind, reed, and brass instruments, as well as the human voice. Multiphonic-like sounds on string instruments, both bowed and hammered, have also been called multiphonics, for lack of better terminology and scarcity of research.

Single-reed instrument

A single-reed instrument is a woodwind instrument that uses only one reed to produce sound. The very earliest single-reed instruments were documented in ancient Egypt, as well as the Middle East, Greece, and the Roman Empire. The earliest types of single-reed instruments used idioglottal reeds, where the vibrating reed is a tongue cut and shaped on the tube of cane. Much later, single-reed instruments started using heteroglottal reeds, where a reed is cut and separated from the tube of cane and attached to a mouthpiece of some sort. By contrast, in a double reed instrument, there is no mouthpiece; the two parts of the reed vibrate against one another. Reeds are traditionally made of cane and produce sound when air is blown across or through them. The type of instruments that use a single reed are clarinets and saxophone. The timbre of a single and double reed instrument is related to the harmonic series but only including only the odd harmonics due to air column modes canceling out the even harmonics. This may be compared to the timbre of a square wave.

Bore (wind instruments)

In music, the bore of a wind instrument is its interior chamber. This defines a flow path through which air travels, which is set into vibration to produce sounds. The shape of the bore has a strong influence on the instrument's timbre.

Folgerphone Experimental wind instrument

The folgerphone is a wind instrument. Like the saxophone it is classifiable as a woodwind rather than brass instrument despite being made of metal, because it has a reed. The folgerphone is a modern experimental instrument, using an alto sax mouthpiece, with copper tubing and a coffee can. The instrument is not commercially produced, but constructed by musicians, and need not use a genuine coffee can, but any sounding box made of metal. Although it uses a sax mouthpiece, it is a cylindrical-bore instrument, and thus part of the clarinet family, but is played with finger holes, like a recorder, rather than with keys like a saxophone or modern clarinet. In the Hornbostel–Sachs classification system, it is among the 422.211.2 subsection of reed aerophones.

In music, a decet—sometimes dectet, decimette, or even tentet —is a composition which requires ten musicians for a performance, or a musical group that consists of ten people. The corresponding German word is Dezett, the French is dixtuor. Unlike some other musical ensembles such as the string quartet, there is no established or standard set of instruments in a decet.

Reed aerophones is one of the categories of musical instruments found in the Hornbostel-Sachs system of musical instrument classification. In order to produce sound with these Aerophones the player's breath is directed against a lamella or pair of lamellae which periodically interrupt the airflow and cause the air to be set in motion.

Wind instrument Class of musical instruments with air resonator

A wind instrument is a musical instrument that contains some type of resonator in which a column of air is set into vibration by the player blowing into a mouthpiece set at or near the end of the resonator. The pitch of the vibration is determined by the length of the tube and by manual modifications of the effective length of the vibrating column of air. In the case of some wind instruments, sound is produced by blowing through a reed; others require buzzing into a metal mouthpiece, while yet others require the player to blow into a hole at an edge, which splits the air column and creates the sound.

Musical instrument Device created or adapted to make musical sounds

A musical instrument is a device created or adapted to make musical sounds. In principle, any object that produces sound can be considered a musical instrument—it is through purpose that the object becomes a musical instrument. The history of musical instruments dates to the beginnings of human culture. Early musical instruments may have been used for ritual, such as a horn to signal success on the hunt, or a drum in a religious ceremony. Cultures eventually developed composition and performance of melodies for entertainment. Musical instruments evolved in step with changing applications and technologies.

A woodwind doubler is a musician who can play two or more instruments from the five woodwind families or other folk or ethnic woodwind instruments, and can play more than one instrument during a performance. A player who plays two instruments from the same family is also often considered a woodwind doubler, but is usually paid less than a player who plays instruments from different families.

Classification of percussion instruments

There are several overlapping schemes for the classification of percussion instruments.

The woodwind section, which consists of woodwind instruments, is one of the main sections of an orchestra or concert band. Woodwind sections contain instruments given Hornbostel-Sachs classifications of 421 and 422, but exclude 423

A wind quartet is an ensemble consisting of a mixture of brass and woodwind instruments, or music written for a combination of four such instruments. It is distinct therefore from the woodwind quartet, brass quartet, and quartets made up of a single instrument type, such as the saxophone quartet.


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Further reading