Grinnell College Musical Instrument Collection


“This open source searchable database is intended to provide its users with visual, sonic, and written information about a broad sampling of acoustic musical instruments of both Western and non-Western origins. Its primary audience is envisioned as students in undergraduate general education music courses (Western music history/appreciation classes, introductory ethnomusicology/’world music’ courses). This resource provides its users with supplemental information about many of the musical instruments or combinations of instruments (ensembles) that are mentioned but not illustrated or explicated in depth in the textbooks being used in introductory music courses. The site is also designed to encourage spontaneous exploration of the world of acoustic musical instruments. It does so by providing the user with ways to link facets of any one instrument to other instruments sharing those same characteristics, and by providing a number of essays on a variety of topics about the physical design, historical evolution, and social and cultural meanings of musical instruments. The instruments presented on this site are found in the extensive holdings of Western and non-Western instruments at Grinnell College.” Browse and searchable; includes images, audio; some video; essays; bibliography. “The first paragraph of an essay situates the instrument geographically, culturally, and socially, presenting generalizations about how the instrument is associated with various non-musical formations and constructs. A close description of the physical features of the instrument is presented in the second paragraph, touching on details of design and construction that have consequences in how the instrument sounds and how it works acoustically. In the third paragraph the interface between the object (the instrument) and the operator (the musician) is described, including how the instrument is operated and information about the resulting sounds (tuning, pitch range, dynamic range). Commentary on the invention, evolution, and distribution of the instrument, when information is available, is the subject of the fourth and final paragraph. The ‘Instrument Information’ section that follows the essay includes many options for relating the instrument at hand with other instruments in the collection through: the geographical region and national and cultural associations of its origin (region and national categories as designated by the United Nations); its place in the Sachs-Von Hornbostel numerical classification system (as revised by MIMO); a few select design and playing features; and up to four materials used in its manufacture. Also included in this section are: at least one measurement for the instrument; identification, when available, on the manufacturer and model number of the instrument; and identification of the author of the entry.” Check out the then-and-now section (nested under “topics”) for a comparison of early and modern versions of instruments!

by: Roger Vetter and David Berk

  • access here
  • keywords: instrument; medieval music; Renaissance music; early music; Western music; non-Western music; global history; musicology; ethnomusicology; material culture; demonstration; performance; living music; bibliography
  • Listing ID: 2102
  • Resource Type: Database/Archive
  • Geographic Area: multiple regions
  • Audience: undergrad, gen-ed
  • Century: multiple centuries