Classification of Musical
Why is it important?
Because it gives unique information on
musical and cultural practices..
They are tangible. Collected for
centuries before sound recordings.
A self-contained area within
Ethnomusicology – separate from
playing of instruments
Why is it so important?
Classifications serve the purpose of enabling
members of a culture to recognise
fundamental musical, social, and other
relations between the instruments and to
formulate new myths or theories.
Gender often plays a big role and instrument
classification give all sorts of insights into
Ancient Chinese – based on material –
gourd, skin, bamboo, wood, stone,
metal, clay, silk.
Pre-1880s European – back to the
Greeks and separation into wind and
string. Then added percussion – with
Virdung 1511, Agricola 1523, Praetorius
1619, Mersenne 1630.
1880s and the Brussels
Victor Charles Mahillon advocated a
system based on materials made to
sound in the first instance.
Aerophones, Autophones (latter
changed to Idiophones).
Ideas taken up and developed by Sachs
and Von Hornborstal.
Hornborstal Sachs System
Mahaillon’s ideas added to the Dewey decimal
system used by libraries.
Each of the 4 (now 5 with electrophones) major areas
– have sub areas based on the way they are made to
sound . E.g. Aerophones divide into 6 major
categories – Single Reed, Double Reed, Edge
(whistle), Free Reed, Free Aerophones, Blow Hole;
Strings divide into Zithers, Lutes, Lyres, Harps.
The Dewey system allows new categories to be
made. 1 = idiophones, 11 = struck idiophones, 111 =
struck idiophones hit directly. A piano is 314.122-6-8
Problems with H/S
Observant imposed not culture
Not logical – lots of instruments fall into
several major categories, ignored
Ignores the folk view
Proposed Systems since 1914
Shaeffner 1932 system was based on
medium – gas, solids (tensil, non-tensil,
flexible); Galpin’s system, Hood’s based on
Ethno-theories – aurally transmitted, natural
Systems based on taxonomies and
paradigms that are logical and symmetrical
and which are specific to a culture
Ethno Theories – indigenous
Based on numbers of levels/steps
Paradigms/mandola – chinese, indian,
E.g. the Are’are culture of Pacific – based on
solo/ensemble; capacity to play a melody
(equihephatonic, seconds or thirds; degree of
magic; blown or beaten, all expressed in
bamboo morphology – can be put together in
a tree diagram or imperfect paradigm.