Struck Instruments

Drums and bells are good examples of instruments that make musical sounds when we strike them. Striking the instrument starts the vibrations. An object that has a thin membrane stretched tightly across it is called a drum. Nearly every culture around the world uses drums.

Sometimes we strike an instrument directly with our hands to play it, the bongos for instance. Other instruments are struck with a special object. When a musician plays the marimba, he or she uses sticks capped with rubber balls wrapped in cord called “mallets”.

In some instruments, one part strikes another part to begin the vibration. When we shake a rattle, objects inside it strike the rattle’s wall and make the sound.

Blown Instruments

Whistles, trumpets, saxophones, and other instruments produce sound when we blow into or on them. A whistle sounds when we blow air across a thin edge. A recorder and a flute work similarly. By covering the finger holes on the recorder or flute, we can change how high or low the notes sound.

A thin piece of metal or plastic can also be the source of the vibration. We call an instrument that makes sound this way a reed instrument. The clarinet, oboe, and saxophone are reed instruments.

The vibration that causes a trombone or trumpet to sound comes from the player’s mouth, tongue, and lips. Pressure from our lips causes the air to vibrate as we blow into these instruments.

Bagpipes are a type of blown instrument. When you play the bagpipes, you blow air through a bag and the air is pushed out through a set of pipes.


A musical instrument is a device used to produce musical tones or sounds. People probably created the first musical instruments by making noise with found objects. Two sticks, hollow stalks, or dried gourds with seeds in them can all be used to make musical sounds. Anything that makes sound can be a musical instrument.

If you have ever banged two spoons together rhythmically, you have played a musical instrument. Instruments can be simple like two spoons or very complex with many strings and levers like a harp. People in every part of the world have devised an astonishing variety of instruments over thousands of years. But, all instruments produce sound in the same basic way, by vibrating. Faster vibrations produce higher notes. Some instruments vibrate most musically when struck and others when blown, plucked, or bowed.

String Instruments

Some musical instruments, such as violins and guitars, have strings. Plucking, striking, or stroking the strings makes them vibrate. A harpist plucks the strings of a harp with his or her fingers. Guitars are sometimes plucked with the fingers and sometimes plucked with a plectrum or “pick”. When we draw a bow across the strings of a violin, it causes the string to vibrate. The bow allows the instrument to sound a pitch without fading out as a plucked string does. Bowed instruments can sustain very, very long notes. The piano has strings and a keyboard. Pressing a key on the keyboard causes a small hammer covered with felt to hit a string.

The violin is a musical instrument. It has four strings and you play it with a small stick called a bow. Violins are shaped a bit like guitars but the design is fancier and they are much smaller than a guitar.

A viola is a musical instrument that has strings like a violin. A viola is a little bigger than a violin and when you play it the music is lower than a violin.

Electric Instruments

Some instruments use electrical equipment to produce sound or change their sound. Electric guitars can sound much louder than acoustic guitars because of electronic amplification. But they also sound different than acoustic guitars because the sound is created very differently. A string is plucked just like an acoustic guitar, but the sound we hear comes from the vibration of the string altering the magnetic field generated by a magnet called a ‘pickup’.

Synthesizers produce sound by generating electrical current with varying properties. The first synthesizers used knobs, switches and dials as well as the keyboard to give the player control over the sound created. Newer synthesizers are controlled by computers and are able to closely mimic the sounds made by other instruments.