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5.39: Musical Instruments

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Do you ever see a colorful drum like this one before? It’s a traditional musical instrument of Uruguay. The drummer is equally colorful. Each time he strikes the drum, it produces a loud, pounding sound. There are hundreds of different kinds of musical instruments, from drums to horns to stringed instruments. Would it surprise you to learn that all of them make sound in the same basic way?

Making Music

People have been using sound to make music for thousands of years. They have invented many different kinds of musical instruments. Despite their diversity, however, musical instruments share certain similarities.

  • All musical instruments create sound by causing matter to vibrate. The vibrations start sound waves moving through the air.
  • Most musical instruments use resonance to amplify the sound waves and make the sounds louder. Resonance occurs when an object vibrates in response to sound waves of a certain frequency. In a musical instrument such as a drum, the whole instrument and the air inside it may vibrate when the head of the drum is struck.
  • Most musical instruments have a way of changing the frequency of the sound waves they produce. This changes the pitch of the sounds, or how high or low the sounds seem to a listener.

Categories of Musical Instruments

There are three basic categories of musical instruments: percussion, wind, and stringed instruments. You can read in the Figure below how instruments in each category make sound and change pitch.

Q: Can you name other instruments in each of the three categories of musical instruments?

A: Other percussion instruments include drums and cymbals. Other wind instruments include trumpets and flutes. Other stringed instruments include guitars and harps.

You can learn in greater depth how musical instruments work at the following URL. http://web.mac.com/bashthetrash/Instruments_Intro/How_Instruments_Work_-_In_Depth.html

You can learn more about specific musical instruments at these URLs:





  • All musical instruments create sound by causing matter to vibrate. Most musical instruments use resonance to amplify sound waves and make sounds louder. Most musical instruments also have a way of changing the frequency of sound waves, which changes the pitch of the sounds.
  • There are three basic categories of musical instruments: percussion instruments such as xylophones, wind instruments such as clarinets, and stringed instruments such as violins.


  • pitch : How high or low a sound seems to a listener.
  • resonance : Vibration of an object in response to sound waves of a certain frequency.


At the following URLs, find tips and ideas for building homemade musical instruments. Then design a musical instrument of your own. Include ways to make your instrument louder and change its pitch.





  1. List three properties of most musical instruments.
  2. Define resonance. How is resonance used in musical instruments?
  3. Identify the three basic categories of musical instruments.
  4. What is your favorite musical instrument? In which category does it belong? How do you think it makes sounds and changes pitch?

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Difficulty Level:

At Grade


7 , 8

Date Created:

Nov 01, 2012

Last Modified:

Sep 05, 2014
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