Although vocal performance is common to practically all musical traditions, instrumental performance has a more varied history. Stringed and wind instruments are important functions in the ceremonies and entertainments of the Greek and Roman civilizations. Instruments as harp, lyre, psaltery, and various winds and drums – most of which were derived from oriental models – were, however, employed in small (monophonic) dance pieces. Because only a few instruments from the Middle Ages still exist, much of the present knowledge comes from pictorial and literary sources and from folk music that preserves these traditions.
The comparatively rapid evolution of western musical genres and instruments (in marked contrast to the stability of many other musical cultures) was frequently accompanied by a disdain for those of previous generations. Older instruments were often altered, “improved”, or simply discarded, sometimes surviving intact only in private collections. Renewed interest in the performance of early music, and the revival of such instruments as the harpsichord since World War II, however, have resulted in a growing appreciation for performances on restored instruments or authentic reconstructions of early instruments. Many soloists and ensembles now specialize in early music played on these instruments.
Musical instruments are popularly divided into the stringed, woodwind, brass, percussion, and keyboard families of the symphony orchestra and concert solo repertoire, but distinction are not adequate for serious study. The piano, for example, is at once a string, percussion, and keyboard instrument. Medieval trumpets and other brasslike instruments were made of wood, whereas such “woodwinds” as the modern flute and saxophone are constructed from metal. Those who study the origins, construction and performance of instruments –including non-western, folk, popular and ancient, as well as those of concert and liturgical music- require a more precise and inclusive method of classification.
The many varieties of stringed instruments are distinguished by the positioning of the strings and resonating box (usually a hollow wooden case), and the manner of playing. String can be bowed, plucked with the fingers, plucked with a plectrum or some other device or hammered, such as Guitar, Mandolin, Harph and many others.
The sound of wind instruments result from the vibration of air inside a length of tubing or other enclosed cavity. This vibration can be initiated in several ways, when the player blows through a narrow hole in the instrument, as in flutes, through the movement of reeds as in the other orchestral woodwinds and the pipe organ, by the buzzing movement of the player’s lips as in the brass instruments, or less frequently through direct stimulus from the surrounding air (the so-called “free-aerophones,” mostly ancient and folk instruments).
Usually played by striking or shaking, from the oldest and most universal of instrumental groups. Drum and other membranous-phones were introduced to ancient Greece and Medieval Europe from the orient but generally limited to ceremonial and military function and song accompaniment. The kettle drum (timpani) which originated in the middle east, were introduce into Europe before 1400 and first used orchestral during the 17th century.
Actually keyboard instruments do not constitute a separate category, since the keyboard itself produces no vibration but, rather, is linked to some external sound source. Keyboard mechanisms have devised for strings (the piano and harpsichord), wind (the pipe organ), idiophone percussion (the celesta) and electrophones (the synthesizer and electronic organ). Despite their differences in action (linkage to the sound source) and resulting differences in playing techniques, these instruments share many common features, so that, it is often useful to consider them together.
Electronic and Computer-Based Instruments
The vibrating source of an electronic instrument is a loudspeaker, driven by an alternating current that is proportional in shape and amplitude to the resulting sound wave. The sound source maybe purely electronic as in the synthesizer and electronic organ, or it may be a live or recorded acoustical sound as in the electric guitar and various of sampling device.