World Music Spotlight: Idiophones

by Abby @ Quaver on May 17, 2012

in In the Quaver Classroom!,

 This week’s World Music Spotlight comes from a very special guest, Mr. Sam Bacco!

Sam is Principal Percussionist in the Nashville Symphony and a regular expert on all things percussion here at Quaver HQ! You may recognize him from Quaver’s episode on Percussion!


Sam, Quaver, and Vinay on the World Music Set!

Sam’s going to give you some background on the way instruments are organized in Quaver’s World Music, and a bit more on this week’s featured instrument family – Idiophones!

Take it away Sam!

It was quite a while ago that Curt Sachs (with Eric von Hornbostel) came up with a great way to organize musical instruments.  They discovered how each instrument created a sound and created 5 distinct groups. The names are a little funny at first, but actually make sense if you understand how they created them.

Here they are:  Membranophones, Chordophones, Aerophones, Electrophones and Idiophones.

The first thing that you need to know is that the Greek word for sound is phone (phono). So, it kind of makes sense that if the sound of a drum comes from the drumhead, and another word for the drumhead is a membrane that you might call it a Membranophone (the sound of a membrane vibrating).  A Chordophone is a vibrating string.  An Aerophone is vibrating air (like blowing air over a bottle).  An Electrophone uses electricity to create its sound.

But what is an Idiophone?

I’ll give you a hint:  The Triangle, Wood Block, Cowbell, Cymbals, Gongs, Anvils all are Idiophones.

What do all of these instruments have in common?

They don’t need anything but themselves to create a vibration.  No strings, no membranes, no electricity, nothing!

So why the strange name?  Well, once again the Greek word for personal or self is Idio (Id)…so if you call something an Idiophone, it just means that it’s self sounding.

Everyone of these categories also has subcategories.

Idiophones can be tuned or untuned.  An example of a tuned idiophone is a xylophone.  Each bar of the xylophone is self sounding but each sound has a definite pitch.  You can also categorize Idiophones by the material they’re made of (metal, wood, glass, clay, etc.), or how they are normally played (struck, rubbed, shaken, etc.).  So, a xylophone is a struck wooden tuned Idiophone.  A cymbal is a struck metal untuned Idiophone.  A musical saw is a bowed metal tuned Idiophone!

Some of my favorite Idiophones come in pairs.  Can you figure out what they are?

To enter to win our month-long contest for the Quaver DVD of your choice – visit the Idiophone area and leave an answer to Sam’s question here in the comments!

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Catie Dwinal May 17, 2012 at 6:52 pm

cymbals or maracas?


2 Abby @ Quaver May 18, 2012 at 9:57 am

Yes! Good guess. Sam’s favorite idiophones are the Crash Cymbals – Piatti (Italian for Plates) originally found all over Europe and even in China!


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