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A membranophone is any musical instrument which produces sound primarily by way of a vibrating stretched membrane. It is one of the four main divisions of instruments in the original Hornbostel-Sachs scheme of musical instrument classification.



The Hornbostel-Sachs scheme of musical instrument classification divides membranophones in a numeric taxonomy based on how the sound is produced:

Shape and technique

Membranophones can also be divided into large divisions based on shape and manner of sound production: [2]

Mirlitons, as the kazoo in the picture, are a special class of membranophone, and is the only class that does not consist of true drums Kazoo.jpg
Mirlitons, as the kazoo in the picture, are a special class of membranophone, and is the only class that does not consist of true drums

SIL International maintains a classification system based largely on shape: [3]

A timpani is a kind of kettle drum USAFE Band timpanist.jpg
A timpani is a kind of kettle drum
A cuica is a kind of friction drum Cuica ArM.jpg
A cuica is a kind of friction drum

Traditional classifications

The traditional classification of Indian instruments include two categories of percussion. [4]

Other categories

The predrum category consists of simple drum-like percussion instruments. These include the ground drum, which, in its most common §—Form, consists of an animal skin stretched over a hole in the ground, and the pot drum, made from a simple pot. [5]

Water drums are also sometimes treated as a distinct category of membranophone. Common in Native American music and the music of Africa, water drums are characterized by a unique sound caused by filling the drum with some amount of water. [6]

The talking drum is an important category of West African membranophone, characterized by the use of varying tones to "talk". Talking drums are used to communicate across distances. [7]

Military drums or war drums are drums in various forms that have been used in the military.

See also

Related Research Articles

Percussion instrument Type of musical instrument that produces a sound by being hit

A percussion instrument is a musical instrument that is sounded by being struck or scraped by a beater including attached or enclosed beaters or rattles struck, scraped or rubbed by hand or struck against another similar instrument. Excluding zoomusicological instruments and the human voice, the percussion family is believed to include the oldest musical instruments.

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.

Kazoo American musical instrument

The kazoo is an American musical instrument that adds a "buzzing" timbral quality to a player's voice when the player vocalizes into it. It is a type of mirliton, one of a class of instruments which modifies its player's voice by way of a vibrating membrane of goldbeater's skin or material with similar characteristics.


An aerophone is a musical instrument that produces sound primarily by causing a body of air to vibrate, without the use of strings or membranes, and without the vibration of the instrument itself adding considerably to the sound.


An idiophone is any musical instrument that creates sound primarily by the vibration of the instrument itself, without the use of air, strings (chordophones) or membranes (membranophones). It is the first of the four main divisions in the original Hornbostel–Sachs scheme of musical instrument classification. The early classification of Victor-Charles Mahillon called this group of instruments autophones. The most common are struck idiophones, or concussion idiophones, which are made to vibrate by being struck, either directly with a stick or hand or indirectly, by way of a scraping or shaking motion. Various types of bells fall into both categories. A common plucked idiophone is the Jew's harp.


A lamellophone (also lamellaphone or linguaphone, is a member of the family of musical instruments makes its sound by a thin vibrating plate called a lamella or tongue, which is fixed at one end and has the other end free. When the musician depresses the free end of a plate with a finger or fingernail, and then allows the finger to slip off, the released plate vibrates. An instrument may have a single tongue or a series of multiple tongues.

Eunuch flute

The eunuch flute, onion flute, or mirliton is a musical instrument of the woodwind family used during the 16th and 17th centuries. It produces music akin to a comb and paper, and is still manufactured as a toy.

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.

The Loh Tarang is a melodic percussion instrument. It consists of a set of iron circular plates, of different sizes, held in a frame. Each plate is pitched to a note and they are struck with sticks on each hand. 'Tarang' literally means waves. Plates sound depends on the different size of plate and hand movement. Theory is based like Jal-Tarang.

Classification of percussion instruments

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

Conservation and restoration of musical instruments

The conservation and restoration of musical instruments is performed by conservator-restorers who are professionals, properly trained to preserve or protect historical and current musical instruments from past or future damage or deterioration. Because musical instruments can be made entirely of, or simply contain, a wide variety of materials such as plastics, woods, metals, silks, and skin, to name a few, a conservator should be well-trained in how to properly examine the many types of construction materials used in order to provide the highest level or preventive and restorative conservation.


  1. "Glossary#Membranophone". Essentials of Music. Archived from the original on January 19, 2007. Retrieved January 22, 2007.
  2. Catherine Schmidt-Jones. "Classifying Musical Instruments: Membranophones". Connexions. Archived from the original on July 23, 2011. Retrieved January 22, 2007.
  3. "534m Membranophones". SIL. Archived from the original on July 10, 2006. Retrieved January 4, 2007.
  4. David Courtney (2006). "Indian Musical Instruments". Chandra and David's Indian Musical Instruments. Retrieved February 4, 2007.
  5. Virginia Tech Department of Music. "Modern Instruments and their Families: Symphonic Classifications in Western Music". Music Dictionary. Retrieved January 22, 2007.
  6. Claire King. "Tuning the Water Drum". From Cradleboard to Motherboard. Archived from the original on September 28, 2007. Retrieved January 22, 2007.
  7. "Drum Telegraphy". TIME. 21 September 1942. Retrieved 7 November 2006.