A visual tour of innovations in musical instruments

By DPLA, April 23, 2014.
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Music is universal. All cultures have music in their history. How they go about making that music and with what instruments differs. Music of non-Western cultures (and even instruments used in Western folk music) has long been made with objects of necessity, like gourds, shells, and animal skins. DPLA has some fantastic image examples of these (such as this African harp). The traditional instruments of Western classical music, however, have long existed in much their same forms over time, constructed out of wood and metal (and occasionally other bits such as reed, gut, etc.). There have been subtle changes here and there, but a 17th century violin looks and functions much the same as a 21st century one.

Fruman Nickel Violin, 1911. Felipe Furman. National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center. Smithsonian Institution

But at various points in time, instrument makers have experimented with creating new instruments, or with radically changing the form of existing instruments. Visual tools like DPLA offer scholars and practitioners alike the capacity to see both how instruments have changed over time and see examples of ones that never made it into the popular domain. It is one thing to read about new and different instruments, but the ability to see (and in some cases hear) them is incredibly useful.

Here is a sampling of images from the Smithsonian Institution found in DPLA.

Banner image credit: Orchestra, 1925. Murray State Normal School or Murray State Teachers College. Murray State College via Kentucky Digital Library.

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