Introduction to not-so-common musical instruments – using examples from some of my favourite compositions

WorldMusicalInstruments_2.jpg3be76199-d8d7-488e-939f-5975a9e8c82aOriginal After learning a bit about ethnic musical instruments and how they sound and where I can hear them, I realized that I have been hearing these sounds in some of the music I heard many years ago and I simply didn’t know about it until recently. These are the sounds of tabla, sitar, harp,  glass harmonic, mandolin, uilleann pipes and bouzouki. I am now able to identify the sounds of these instruments in some of the songs with which I have been, in many cases, familiar for many years. I will make a short introduction to each of these seven instruments named above and I will put links to YouTube videos with the songs in which you can hear them. I hope it will be an entertaining lesson, althought I am really doing it just for fun! So you too have fun!

1. Tabla TablaSet16BoltTuningThe tabla is a popular percussion instrument that originated in India. The Tabla Set is used in Hindustani classical music and in popular and devotional music of India. The instrument consists of a pair of hand drums of contrasting sizes and timbres. The term ‘tabla is derived from an Arabic word, tabl, which simply means “drum”.

An illustrious example: ”Bjork – Venus As a Boy”

2. Sitar

ssrprThe sitar is a plucked stringed instrument predominantly used in Hindustani classical music, where it has been ubiquitous since the Middle Ages. It derives its resonance from sympathetic strings, a long hollow neck and a gourd resonating chamber. Used throughout the Indian subcontinent, particularly in Northern India, Bangladesh and Pakistan, the sitar became known in the western world through the work of Pandit Ravi Shankar beginning in the late 1950s, particularly after George Harrison of The Beatles took lessons from Shankar and Shambhu Das and played sitar in songs including “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)”.

An ilustrious example: ”Suikoden Tierkreis OST – Intentions of the Imperial Family”

3.  Harp

5491-1fThe harp is one of the oldest musical instruments in the world. The earliest harps were developed from the hunting bow. The wall paintings of ancient Egyptian tombs dating from as early as 3000 B.C. show an instrument that closely resembles the hunter’s bow, without the pillar that we find in modern harps. It is stringed instrument in which the resonator, or belly, is perpendicular, or nearly so, to the plane of the strings. Each string produces one note, the gradation of string length from short to long corresponding to that from high to low pitch.

An illustrious example: ”Bjork – Generous Palmstroke”

4. Glass harmonica

LdL3002blogThe Armonica, also called the glass harmonica was invented by Benjamin Franklin in 1761. In 1757, while in England he attended a concert given on the wine glasses. He thought it was the sweetest sound he had ever heard but he wanted to hear more harmonies with his melody. Thus the Armonica was born and named by Franklin for a word taken from the musical Italian language. It has been said that if the harp is “the instrument of the Angels”, then the Armonica is “the voice of the Angels”. Graduated size bowls with holes and corks in the center were put onto a horizontal spindle and rotated by a fly wheel and a foot pedal. Moistened fingers rubbed the edges to produce the beautiful sound. Franklin used a most unique way to identify the notes of the bowls. He painted the seven white keys the seven colors of the rainbow and the five black keys, white.

An illustrious example: ”Bjork – All Neon Like”

5. Mandolin

mandolinA small stringed musical instrument in the lute family. It evolved in the 18th century in Italy and Germany from the 16th-century mandora. The instrument’s modern form and proportions were strongly influenced by the maker Pasquale Vinaccia of Naples (1806–82). It usually has four sets of paired strings tuned in unison or octaves.

An illustrious example: ”Stronghold OST – Two Mandolins”

6. Uilleann pipes

half_setThe uilleann pipes (pronounced, as near as English orthography allows, ‘illyun’ – not ‘yooleeun’ as many would have it) are an Irish development of an instrument which is found in many versions throughout the world: Groves’ Dictionary of Musical Instruments lists seventy different types of bagpipe. the uilleann pipes are generally thought to have evolved from the old Irish war-pipes (which were somewhat similar to the Scottish pipes) about the beginning of the 18th century. Their distinguishing characteristics are: a bag filled by a bellows, not a blow pipe; a chanter or melody pipe which gives a two-octave range; and the addition of regulators which can be used for accompanying the melody. The present full set of pipes comprises bag, bellows, chanter, drones and regulators.

An illustrious example: ”Enya – Sun In The Stream”

7. Bouzouki

???????????????????????????????????? Derived from the Turkish bozuk and closely related to the Turkish saz and the Asian tanbur, the bouzouki was traditionally used for dancing and entertainment at social gatherings. It became a featured instrument in rebetika, a type of improvised early 20th-century music associated with the Greek underworld. Since gaining a wider audience, the bouzouki has become the major popular-music instrument of Greece. Resembling a mandolin, the bouzouki has a round wooden body, with metal strings arranged in three or four double courses over a fretted fingerboard. The musician plucks the strings over the soundhole with a plectrum held in the right hand, while pressing on the strings on the fingerboard with the fingers of the left hand. It can be heard in the famous ”Zorba’s Dance” by Mikis Theodorakis from 1964 film ”Zorba the Greek”.

An illustrious example: ”Suikoden Tierkreis OST – Village in the Mountain”


I hope you had as much fun hearing about it as I had finding it all out!

RE 3


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