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Chordophones are instruments that produce sound by vibrating strings. The Hornbostel-Sachs classification system breaks chordphones down further into simple and composite chordophones. Simple chordophones are instruments that do not use a resonator as an integral part of the sound creation, while composite chordophones do relay on a resonator. Simple chordophones are sometimes referred to as zither type instruments. Most western chordophones, excluding the piano and harpsichord, fall into the composite chordophone category. Composite chordophones can be broken down into lute type and harp type instruments. In lute type composite chordophones, the strings run parallel to the resonator. In harp type composite chordophones, the strings run perpendicular to the resonator. The lute type composite chordophones category is the chordophone category with the most instruments.


String instruments, stringed instruments, or chordophones are musical instruments that produce sound from vibrating strings when a performer plays or sounds the strings in some manner.

Bowed instruments include the string section instruments of the orchestra in Western classical music (violin, viola, cello and double bass) and a number of other instruments (e.g., viols and gambas used in early music from the Baroque music era and fiddles used in many types of folk music). All of the bowed string instruments can also be plucked with the fingers, a technique called "pizzicato". A wide variety of techniques are used to sound notes on the electric guitar, including plucking with the fingernails or a plectrum, strumming and even "tapping" on the fingerboard and using feedback from a loud, distorted guitar amplifier to produce a sustained sound. Some string instruments are mainly plucked, such as the harp and the electric bass. In the Hornbostel-Sachs scheme of musical instrument classification, used in organology, string instruments are called chordophones. Other examples include the sitar, rebab, banjo, mandolin, ukulele, and bouzouki.

Hornbostel-Sachs divides chordophones into two main groups: instruments without a resonator as an integral part of the instrument (which have the classification number 31, also known as simple); and instruments with such a resonator (which have the classification number 32, also known as composite). Most western instruments fall into the second group, but the piano and harpsichord fall into the first. Hornbostel and Sachs' criterion for determining which sub-group an instrument falls into is that if the resonator can be removed without destroying the instrument, then it is classified as 31. The idea that the piano's casing, which acts as a resonator, could be removed without destroying the instrument, may seem odd, but if the action and strings of the piano were taken out of its box, it could still be played. This is not true of the violin, because the string passes over a bridge located on the resonator box, so removing the resonator would mean the strings had no tension.

At its most basic definition, a chordophone is simply a stringed instrument. Instruments can be classified in two ways. The first and the most common way is by the instrument's position in an orchestra: brass, woodwinds, strings, and percussion. A more complex way of classification, most often used by musicians and musicologists, was created by Erich von Hornbostel and Curt Sachs in 1914. This system classifies instruments based on how they produce sound. There are five categories in this system:

On a Saturday afternoon, there's nothing you'd rather do than head to the basement with your electric guitar for a little jamming. You plug in the amp, crank up the volume, and hit the strings with a satisfying strum. You have just joined millions of people in every culture around the world in making music with a chordophone.

To address this problem, they devised a system of classification based upon the material that vibrates to produce the tone. We therefore have chordophones, in which a string vibrates, membranophones, in which a membrane vibrates, aerophones, in which the air vibrates, and idiophones, in which the solid body of the instrument vibrates. Some musicologists add electrophones to the list for instruments such as synthesizers.

The musical bow is the most basic chordophone instrument. It consists of one or more strings stretched from one end of a wooden bow to the other. A musical bow is most often used in conjunction with another instrument, either another bow or as a means of playing an instrument such as a violin.

Other classifications of instruments based on the Hornbostel-Sachs system include membranophones, aerophones, idiophones, and electrophones. As with chordophones, all of these classifications are differentiated based on how the sound is produced.

The Hornbostel-Sachs system of instrument classification divides instruments based on how the sound is produced. There are five types of instruments under this system: chordophones, aerophones, membranophones, idiophones, and electrophones. Chordophones are string instruments; their sound is created by the vibration of strings pulled taut across the instrument.

With harps, the strings are stretched at an angle between the resonator and the neck, which is attached to the resonator. Irish harps and orchestral harps are two examples of this type of chordophone.

Chordophones have been with us since man first began to make music. Primitive man probably began to make music with his hunting bow. Around the 14th century, the keyboard was attached to strings, and the virginal harpsichord and clavichord came into being. By about the 17th century, the modern string family of violins, violas, cellos, and basses were fully formed. Experimentation with the chordophone family continues to this day with electric guitars and other amplified instruments. There is no limit to what you can do with strings and a resonator; new instruments may continue to be created.

The Hornbostel-Sachs system of musical instrument classification defines chordophones as all instruments in which sound is primarily produced by the vibration of a string or strings that are stretched between fixed points. This group includes all instruments generally called string instruments (list) in the west, as well as many (but not all) keyboard instruments, such as pianos and harpsichords.

Acoustic and electro-acoustic instruments which have a resonator as an integral part of the instrument, and solid-body electric chordophones. The resonators and string bearers of these instruments are physically united, and they cannot be separated without destroying the instrument. This includes most western string instruments, including lutes such as violins and guitars, and harps.

Each of these five classifications is further divided into sub-levels, resulting in 300 categories of musical instruments. We will explain the main classifications briefly in a later section, but let us look at the five types of chordophones, or string instruments first.

The zither (not to be confused with the string instruments of the same name) refers to a class of chordophone instruments with strings stretched over, across, or inside the resonator (soundbox).

Zithers are stringed instruments that can be strummed or plucked with a plectrum or the fingers. Examples of these chordophone instruments include various kinds of dulcimers, pianos, and harpsichords.

(English pronunciations of chordophone from the Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary & Thesaurus and from the Cambridge Academic Content Dictionary, both sources Cambridge University Press)

Term for mus. instr. which produce sound by means of str. stretched from one point to another. Simple chordophones are various types of zither; composites are lutes, lyres, rebecs, violins, guitars, harps, etc. One of 4 classifications of instr. devised by C. Sachs and E. M. von Hornbostel and pubd. in Zeitschrift für Ethnologie, 1914. Other categories are membranophones, idiophones, and aerophones, with electrophones added later.

The major categories are chordophones, aerophones, membranophones, and idiophones. Some musicologists also include a separate category for electrophones. Here is an introduction to the major groups in each of these categories. Familiar instruments in each category are mentioned when possible; some categories, while very popular around the world, will not have any specific instruments that are widely familiar. 041b061a72


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