How Are Musical Instruments Classified

Charlie K    |

Having to determine what kind of musician you want to be can sometimes feel like trying to classify an animal according to whether it is a dog, cat or horse.

Musical instruments fall into one of five major categories depending on how they are constructed and what sounds they are able to produce.

The most common types of musical instruments include pianos (keyboards), guitars, drums, flutes and violins. All of these instruments have their own unique qualities that set them apart from each other, but none use air as a source of sound energy unless they are a brass instrument such as a trumpet or horn.

This article will go over the different classifications for musicians and describe why some are more appropriate than others.

Brass instruments

how are musical instruments classified

All brass instruments are categorized according to their mouthpiece, reed, tone hole pattern, number of strings, and overall shape. The most common types are the Trumpet, Trombone, Horn, Tubas, and French Horn.

The trumpet has one open tone hole at the front and either two or three closed ones along the sides (the side holes). The horn also has one open tone hole in the middle and either two or three closed ones on top (the treble end) and bottom (the bass end).

The trombone is similar to the horn, but instead of having an opening in the center it has a slide that can be covered or uncovered to change the pitch. A third category is called the euphonium, which does not have any openings or slides. It just looks like a large horn!

Drum sets include various types of drums such as timbales, cow horns, barrel drums, floor tom, and others.

Wood instruments

how are musical instruments classified

One of the most popular types of musical equipment is that which is made out of wood or bamboo. These are typically categorized as either a violin, guitar, banjo, etc.

Most people know what kind of instrument each of these is, but there’s one thing many may not know – how they are classified!

In fact, some say that violins and guitars aren’t even classifiable as music instruments because they're not percussive (or striking) enough. What does this mean?

Well, it means that they can’t be used to make sounds like those of a bass drum or other percussion instruments. This is definitely an argument against including them in the category of “music instrument.”

But while it's true that they don't produce very strong beats, we should consider whether or not that makes them any less important than, for example, the piano, which also doesn’t have strong beats, but still plays an integral part in our music repertoire.

So really, why not include both the cello and the double bass in the same category as the violin since neither produces strong percussive tones? After all, isn’t the violin just another type of cello?

I think that would make more sense. But then again, I'm probably in the minority when it comes to understanding music classification.

Keyless instruments

how are musical instruments classified

A more recent development is to eliminate the key or buttons that are used to activate an instrument. These are called “key-lacked” musical equipment. Some examples of this include using computer software to create music, using electronic sound modules, or even just having a device with speakers that does not have any kind of button or switch to turn it on! (This is what most people refer to as a speaker.)

Key laked instruments were first popularized in Japan around twenty years ago. Now they are becoming increasingly common all over the world. They still require technology like computers or apps for playback, but instead of needing a physical key to activate the instrument, there is usually a sensor or chip that detects when the instrument is being touched or pressed close to another part of the apparatus, thus activating it.

These types of instruments can be very difficult to tell apart due to lack of specific parts or features, which makes identifying them hard unless you know what one looks like. This may cause issues since someone could bring in their own device and play your song without giving you credit for writing it!

Sources:,, https://en.wikipedia.

Tubular instruments

how are musical instruments classified

A tub bass is an instrument that gets its name because of how it is categorized under musical equipment. This includes guitars, mandolins, ukuleles, etc. These are classified as stringed instruments due to their use of strings to create music.

The most well-known tub bass is probably the double bass or “bass” violin. While not every student needs to learn how to play one, they are still very popular and important in orchestras and concert bands!

Other examples of tub bons include the Guitarrón (Spanish for little guitar) which is similar to a standard electric guitar except with fewer frets. The baritone version is more like a normal acoustic guitar but without the treble clef shape.

A tenor tub bass has longer thinner strings than the bass and is typically played lower. Many musicians prefer this over the regular bass because it sounds better.

Percussive instruments

how are musical instruments classified

A percussive instrument is anything that makes noise when pressed, tapped, or struck. These can be very simple (for example, a drumstick) or extremely complex (like a guitar).

Most people are familiar with some percsutive instruments like drums and bass guitars. Others, however, are much less common and interesting to watch in action.

For instance, many musicians cannot identify what this instrument is called! Most simply refer to it as a xylophone because that’s what it sounds like. Some even call it a glockenspiel instead!

Either way, this device uses metal bars which clang together when hit or shaken. Xylophones are often found in children’s music due to their simplicity and ease of use.

Sight instruments

how are musical instruments classified

Instrument classes are categorized according to what they visually look like. Strings, for example, are classified as sight instruments because you can see them being played or touched by the performer.

Clarinets, saxophones and other brass instruments all use their reed to produce sounds, but not every musician needs to be able to make those same sounds in order to play these instruments.

Many musicians never touch a reed of an instrument, so it doesn’t matter whether or not they are able to make music with one. For that reason, most people consider woodwinds to be non-essential equipment when buying new gear.

However, there are some musicians who don’t go through without at least one brass instrument.

Recording instruments

how are musical instruments classified

Another way to classify musical instruments is by what kind of music they are used for. Some classes seem very obscure, but have lots of sub-classes that include some pretty famous instruments! For instance, you can be sure that almost any type of drum includes “Drum” in its name.

The most well known drums are bass or acoustic drums, which typically only have skins to cover them. These types of drums usually use vibration to produce sound. Vibration is determined by how thick the skin layer is and what material it is made out of.

Snare drums have special wires attached to them that ring when hit hard. This produces a higher pitched tone that many people associate with drums. Cymbals consist of a circle shaped metal plate that can be struck as a bell shape or flat surface. They depend on friction and air pressure to make a loud noise.

Dance instruments

Another category of instrument that does not require being powered by electricity is the dance instrumental. These are typically categorized as percussion instruments, such as drums or maracas. Some examples include djembes (a membranophone used in West African music), bongos (used to create a rolling rhythm like a drum set up vertically), tambourines (similar to clapping hands) and shakers (like rattle toys).

Many dancers use these types of instruments to add variety to their dancing styles. They can also be helpful for creating different rhythms depending on what style of dancing you want to add some new moves into!

Drum kits come with all of this equipment already attached so it helps save money if you are buying them separate.

Related Articles

linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram