This is the fourth of our instructor-led online discussions for Mu 101 (Spring 2020). Refer to the handout you received the first day of class (click on this highlighted text to go to that page our class website) which describes the amount and kinds of contributions you’re expected to make to these online discussions (adding your own ideas, responding to others’ ideas, and asking questions that others can respond to) — these are all the same parameters of good conversation that happens offline, too!

The most effective comments in an online forum are short — think about how you skim past others’ comments if they’re more than a couple lines long instead of engaging closely with that person’s ideas! If everyone involved in these weekly conversations only posts a single long comment, it won’t be a conversation, and we won’t all benefit from opportunity to learn from each other. Rather than dropping in on the blog once during the week and adding a single long comment, think of this forum as an opportunity to have a conversation with your fellow classmates. A conversation, whether online or in person, involves back-and-forth contributions from everyone involved: adding something new based on your own experiences or ideas, asking questions, responding to the ideas of others. The best way to get the most out of this learning experience is to share your single best idea, give room for others to respond, and then build on each others’ contributions later in the week.

The reading time of this post is quite short (around 2 minutes), but that’s because almost all of the content is listening-based rather than text-based. Below you’ll find links to pages with videos demonstrating various common (and uncommon) musical instruments found in Western classical music, grouped by instrument family (i.e., all the instruments on a single page produce sound in a similar way). There are many more instruments in the world than are included here, but this is a good introduction.


The goal of this discussion

As you read and watch, think about ways you can describe the timbre or sound quality of the various instruments you hear, or other ways to group their sounds besides instrument family—these sonic details, just like the distinctions in sounds you’ve been noticing as you completed your soundscape journals, are what bring all of our other musical elements to life.

Explore and enjoy!

Links to instrument families and voice types

Instrument families (each family name below is a link to a web page with videos of instruments in that family):

You can hear various instruments combined on this page, which explores different ensembles.

Final thoughts

As suggested by how many instruments are included in this lesson, and the fact that it barely scratches the surface of all the instruments people play around the world, the world of musical instruments is huge. You can find woodwind, brass, string, and percussion instruments all over the world, and there are infinite combinations out there for you to experience and enjoy.

-Dr. J.

48 thoughts on “Instruments and voice types (Online discussion Feb 17-23)

  1. Hey everyone, hope all is well! Going through all the instruments and listening to the range of sounds they could make was really interesting because even though there were two very similar seeming instruments, they made two very different types of sounds. I was most impressed with Cameron Carpenter playing the organ. He was using his hands on the keyboard, and not only using his toes to play the lower keys but his heels to! Who or what instrument were you most impressed by?

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    1. @Isabelle, I was pretty impressed with that one too. I wonder how he became such an expert playing with his Heels and toes. If I ever tried that Id probably fail at it

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      1. @Shanaiya It reminds me of when I was younger and people would say pat your head and rub your stomach at the same time, I could never do it! I am so bad at multitasking, so I would probably fail at it too…

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    2. Hey Isabelle, Carpenter was definitely impressive. It was as though he was dancing and playing the organ at the same time. Just too smooth. Like his body was an extension of the organ.

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    3. Hey, I was also very impressed by the way Carpenter playing the organ. The way he held my attention captivated me to watch more of his performances

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    4. I was most impressed by the guy playing trumpet, song bumble bee. Theres only 3 buttons on the instrument but he played every note sharp and sufficient.

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    5. Hello, I agree. Most of the time you here those instruments all at once. But listening to each instrument almost separately was extremely interesting. The one that was pretty amazing was the smallest flute, so high pitched. Don’t think I would ever here anything so high pitched.
      I have to agree with you on Cameron Carpenter, his dexterity is pretty amazing! I wonder what his brain scans would look like while he is playing the instrument

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  2. I would say Hello Everyone but no one has posted. So Hello Isabelle. First thought that came to mind when I started clicking on the links was about the “voice family” – and how interesting it was that one’s voice could be considered an instrument. But, after really thinking about it and viewing the videos, I can see the differences in voice sounds Bass vs. Soprano vs Tenor specifically. I find it so interesting that there are different aptitudes that one can accomplish just with their voice. Moving on, (and trying to not be so lengthy in my post) I enjoyed viewing the different instruments in each classification. My favorite group were the woodwind instruments because at one point, many, many years ago – I played the flute – and I enjoyed it. I love the Timbre of the woodwind instruments because in my opinion they produce an elegant, melodious, graceful sound and I love that the sound is produced by ones ”wind” or the process of blowing air. On a more personal note, being from Guyana, I can trace my history back to India… and in the Indian Hollywood industry, widely known as Bollywood – the movies are usually upwards of 2 hours long mostly because there are numerous scenes of songs/music – most of which are traditional. I was watching one of these with my family recently and though about it relating to class and did some research on some traditional instruments. We have something called a sitar, a kind-of guitar – so a stringed instrument; we have something called a Harmonium – a keyboard instrument, and a tabla, a type of drum – a percussion instrument. I never really did the research into traditional instruments and the instruments mentioned, so this was interesting to me to know that different regions have similar yet different instruments.

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  3. The “Combining Instruments from different cultures” was interesting to me. It’s quite a bit unlike classical music from the western world. If I’m not mistaken, there are tones in between those traditionally used in western music, such as the note between C and C#, which is traditionally not present in western scales (note for example that there is no key between the first black key on the left in the pairs of black keys and the C key on the piano, one of the most well known soloist instruments in the world). I find that intriguing.

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  4. Hey everyone!!!
    Its amazing how many different types of instruments are in the world. I personally come from a family of musicians. Several of my uncles including my father played various types of instruments for our church when i was a boy. Ive learned from watching them practice and preforming, that it takes a lot of work to hone their skills. I personally do not know how to play instruments though. It’s amazing how many instruments are played at an orchestra in unison and make one beautiful piece. How about you? Do any of you play instruments?

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    1. @geogonz I do not play instruments and I agree with you that instruments take a lot of work and dedication. Have you ever thought about playing an instrument since you said your family are musicians? That way you can play at church as well.

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    2. I actually used to play in my middle school string orchestra as a violinist and I can tell you that it’s really neat to be part of a group that puts in a bunch of practice to perform many pieces of music together. And when I say a bunch of practice, I mean a whole lot. I even had to skip academic classes(with permission) to practice for the big seasonal concerts.

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  5. i find it really cool how many instruments are played in an orchestra. My favorite clip was Combining instruments from different cultures Shirish Korde, Phoolan (2015). Which clip was your favorite?

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    1. My favorite clip so far is Jazz bass performed by Willie Dixon. Jazz is just a great form of music it really gives you that 1900s vibe makes you wanna get up and move your feet. The piano and double bass combined is such a great combo they support each other to the max.Together they create very energetic music in the form of jazz.

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  6. Hi everyone! I did find all of instruments interesting but for me the Oboe caught my attention when listening to the different pieces. I’m pretty sure I’ve heard it so many times before and never knew what the instrument really was but can now identify and appreciate when I hear it.

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  7. I found all of the instruments interesting, but the instrument that I favor the most is the keyboard instruments. I enjoy listening to the transitions between soft notes, and then it starts to get more intense and to me it feels like an adrenaline rush. I’ve always leaned towards keyboards and pianos because I feel it is aesthetically pleasing to listen to.

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  8. Hi everyone, the instrument that was the most interesting to me had to be the trumpet Rafael Mendez was playing , when he tells you the only way to truly learn the trumpet is to practice scales, and when he uses this scale practice while playing the flight of the bumblebee, his speed and accuracy was impeccable. It was really amazing to listen to him play. What do you guys think?

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  9. The organ was a very interesting instrument to me. Before reading this discussion I wasn’t to keyed in on all the keyboard instruments. I was very intrigued with how the performs held my attention in each performance and not only also in percussion Ian Rosenblum and Andy Akiho killed their set.
    I like to wonder what’s everyone favorite instrument ?

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  10. Hi everyone!!!
    I think the various instruments are all interesting and unique. I personally do not know to play any of these and would like to learn how to at least play one lol. I’m curious to know what instruments you guys play and what sounds stood out most to you ?

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    1. Hey Cassie, I used to play the guitar when I was 12 but I forgot everything, like you I’d like to learn how to play an instrument one more time and actually learn and be passionate about it.

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  11. Yo whats good yall, this had to be one of the best discussion topics so far not a lot of reading but way more listening. See its way easier to just sit at my laptop and listen to all these instruments playing and people singing. To me its relaxing, Im not gon lie I almost fell asleep but then I remembered that I ad to type this so tuff. My favorite clip so far is the the one with Jose Valentino and the alto flute. My boy played 6 music genres with one instrument now this truly amazed me. How he was able to transition from different from different genres is truly unique. The sound quality of his alto flute was soothing, sleek, and polished. You can tell has been playing for a while and has mastered the flute, when he plays it makes you seem like your on a journey around the world with him. Here is the link to his vid (https://youtu.be/G_X_vgXQapA) so you can check it out yourself. Name a video you watched and give me the sound quality of that instrument or you can watch the link I put and tell me what you think about how he plays.

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  12. I enjoyed each and every video that was sent. I was in my bed all day listening to them. My favorite had to be the soprano voice and the brass trumpet. All of these instruments had different sounds at different pitches but when combined they split up into groups to create a beautiful master piece.

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  13. Hi Everyone!!
    I find very interesting how all instruments complement each other in a orchestra. The video clicks with only one instruments are amazing, the talented and skill that the musicians have is unique in each video click but what I find more fascinating is how many instruments playing together (in an orchestra) are perfectly combine and coordinate. I had watch orchestra playing before but I never pay much attention to it. Now that I am in this music course I do not take things like this for granted instead I am really amazed by the musician’s talent. The video that I liked the most was the interpretation of Daniel Barenboim playing Beethoven, Piano Sonata No 32.

    How about you guys? What was your favorite video?

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  14. Hey Everyone After watching the different musical instruments regarding Paulas question I loved the brass video I didn’t know brass was that intense and that fast I loved that I was very surprised. I always heard about the instrument before but I didn’t know much about it. To Destellas point i agree all of the instruments together would create a masterpiece it would be beautiful.
    What musical instrument most surprised everyone ?

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  15. hey guys after listening to all of these different instruments and artists the instrument and artist that I liked the most was Lang Lang and his piano playing . This stuck out to me the most because of the type of music that I listen to on the regular is a transition between sped up and regular speed music all in one . Lang Lang would play his piano rapidly then slow down then go back to playing rapidly which I thought was cool . Usually when I think of piano playing it’s usually slow paced and reminds me of slow songs so listening to Lang Lang just gave me a new perspective on the piano . Did any instruments that you guys hear in the regular surprise you with a new perspective?

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  16. Hello everyone,
    The instrument I found interesting was the Right Hand Position: French Horn because I am curious to know how thought about putting their hand in the instrument. Every instrument is interesting, but for me that one grab my attention for the way it is play. What instrument grab your attention and why?

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  17. Hello, Happy Sunday ! Reading Instruments and Voices Types, The “Combining Instruments from different cultures” is what caught my attention because when they all come as one it sounds beautiful. Especially from when people from different countries hear new instruments they are quick to downgrade it and dont take the time to listen but as i am laying down watching TV & wondering what kind of songs the professor provided for us to listen to it always put me in a relaxing and stable state of mind. It removes all the negativity. Listening and watching the videos I have no favorite clip because I felt that these videos were all unique in their own way but All of these instruments had different sounds,different notes, different speeds and different pitches. They all sounded great and soothing.

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  18. I find it very interesting how many different types the orchestra has and how many different instruments are part of the different instrument groups. My favorite instrument was the snare drum because I thought that it gave a good rythm and find it pretty cool if you hit a drum in a certain way you can make it into a different beat

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  19. It’s amazing how an orchestra can put so many instruments together and make it sound so immersive. You can also apply this to the beats in today’s rap music. There’s so many sounds and instruments in a beat like a drum line to make the beat pop. With the rappers voice to compliment it, a song is a full melody and zones me out making me chill out more. For example, listen to “Make no Sense” by NBA Youngboy.

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  20. All instruments can be composed into a special tune of different styles. In my opinion, the tune played by the flute is more cheerful. The feeling of playing the cello is even more gentle. The music played by any instrument is wonderful.

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  21. After going through the instrument families presented in this post, I wanted to bring forth an instrument I used to play when I was much younger. It’s called the khim and a video of it being played can be watched here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tm3nTbxA_yQ
    I guess since this post has it’s own classification for keyboard instruments, this would also be classified as such? Since there are strings on this instrument but they’re not plucked or played with a bow, but struck with a “hammer.” Feel free to give your opinion on this after what you guys learned about the different families!
    Another smaller point I wanted to talk about is in the voice types. I used to try and see if I could hit the high notes in “The Magic Flute” since my range is that of a soprano’s. I can come close! But I don’t have proper voice training lol. Anyone else lament the fact you don’t have the proper range to sing your favorite songs in their original key?

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  22. I used to play in a concert band and a marching band back in high school and that really changed the way I hear instruments whether in music or just from day to day music sounds. one thing I’ve learned from the reading is that instruments that are constructed the same or have a similar sound might be two completely different instruments such as the trumpet and the cornet or the violin and the viola. what other comparisons can you guys take from the reading?

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  23. Lana Trotovsek’s video in the strings section really caught my attention in how much intensity and concentration she had in playing the violin. Since the violin’s sound comes from its strings, the strings must be handled and played delicately, especially since it does seem quite fragile and easily ripped if played with too much intensity as opposed to the amount of intensity she was using while playing it.
    Which instrument do you guys think takes the most patience and concentration to play?

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  24. I don’t think id be able to hit any of the soprano notes although I used to play the flute in the past. I enjoy the high notes. When I listen to music I don’t look at technique as much as I do the actual voice.

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  25. the video that really caught my attention was Jazz bass, performed by Willie Dixon. I love the low consent sound of the bass and how the hi pitch of the piano complement each other. Hearing that upbeat rhymer would make people dance, I know I caught myself from nodding my head to the beat of that base

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  26. Listening to all the different instruments, I would have to say that the most interesting ones for me would have to be a tie between Vittorio Monti, Czardas (1904) performed by Øystein Baadsvik and the different voice types. I enjoyed the tuba solo because he was able to perform this wide array of notes both high and low beautifully. Also., I played tuba back in high school so that makes it all the more interesting for me. I was no where near as good as the person playing was, so to hear that was inspiring because it kind of made me realize that the tuba is full of magic just waiting to be unleashed. As for the voice types, the idea of being able to make music with your vocal cords is just crazy. There’s power and beauty in the voices I heard in the clips. After listening to the various instruments, I ended up wondering something. It is true that there are many instruments around the world currently. However I was wondering what future instruments would be like say a century from now. Would we still be using the same ones or will there be innovative new instruments. What do you guys think?

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  27. Well first and foremost I will like to say Hi. After watching the videos, it amazes me how much each instrument and voice type can support themselves, they can shine alone, or with others. The soprano voice type amazed me the most, because of the pitch it needed in order to be achieved. The Flute amazed me as well, mainly because, at first I believed the flute to a be an instrument that only did well when accompanied by other. I was proven wrong when I saw the beautiful and subtle sound it could make alone.

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  28. As I went down through the list of instruments and voice types, I find it disappointing that I didn’t seriously learn an instrument. When I was younger, I went to a campaign (?) for children. I think it was mostly to distract the kids when the adults don’t have plans for the summer or doesn’t have the time to at least. The campaign was mostly focused on music. We got to dance and play some instruments, if not then we had fun playing games. When I say that we got to play instruments, we only had two instruments we could learn, the typical piano and guitar. By stating typical, I don’t mean that they aren’t as amusing and difficult as the other instruments, I mean there are more people that play these two instruments than the other ones. I chose piano at that time, I thought I liked it enough to learn how to play it, I even told my family to buy me a keyboard. However, that tiny fire didn’t take off. I wasn’t in love with it enough to actually be consistent, which I believe you need when learning a whole entire instrument. I am thinking it could’ve also been because I wasn’t in love with piano; when I looked through the list, every other list fascinated me more than the keyboard list. I always thought that my favorite was the double bass, I don’t know why, I just liked the sound and I thought it looked cool. But then I look at all the other instruments and I liked them too. For example, the trumpet which makes many jazz songs so enjoyable. And clarinet sounds so beautiful. It’s hard to pick a favorite. Finally, I wonder where I’d fall in in the vocal category. Since my voice isn’t high pitch as other girls, I usually have trouble singing most songs by females in pop. But I can sing most guy ones, even when they have the deepest bass voice.

    Side note: I really enjoy that Jazz Bass by Willie Dixon. He looks like he’s not even trying.

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    1. You can sing any song in your own vocal range. You don’t need to imitate other artists. Just be yourself and sing it with your own style.

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  29. Hey all, sorry that I commented pretty late again. The instrument that I was most drawn into was the voice because I love singing. I’m still an amateur at it, but I’m willing to learn to improve it. I was surprised that Prof. Jones had put up a couple of operas that I was familiar with. One is “The Queen of the Night” and the other one in the alto/mezzo soprano category. I did noticed that the style of the songs that Prof. Jones presented to us was not modern. Those types of songs aren’t as popular as the songs that we listen to nowadays. My point is that it’s a very nice way to let others approach that type of music. Especially, someone like me who rarely listens to opera. The most interesting category in the voice was castrati. I had some prior knowledge of castrati, so it wasn’t new to me. What’s special about it is that it is sung by an adult male. Usually, adult males, that have gone through puberty, have trouble hitting high notes. Some adult males can’t even sing in soprano. Another fact that makes castrati very special is that we cannot find much castrati recordings nowadays. I read in a website stating that castrati was banned in the late 18th century in some parts of Europe, and the last to prohibit them was in 1870.

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  30. Hey everyone! I found it interesting when the the flutist was playing a flute in one video, he was able to display the versatility in the type of music he could play on that instrument . For example he was able to play hip hop on the flute which is pretty cool. Whenever I think of hip hop I think of people going to a studio creating the perfect beat! The flutist was able to play hip hop on this instrument, along with creating a beat with his mouth just alone. I thought that was very impressive.

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  31. Hello Everyone…. you know what they say better late then never. As i previously explained in an online discussion in high school i played the saxophone but i think i never clarified that i played the Tenor saxophone, many might not know this but the tenor saxophone gives out the sounds of low notes when i mean by that it gives low pitch noise unlike its complete opposite the alto saxophone which produced higher pitch sounds. I find it amazing how their can be different instruments that can produce a certain sound. It amazes me.

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