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Ethnomusicology, World Music, and Folk Music: Instruments


When it comes to discussing musical instruments across different cultures, there are two systems of terminology currently in use:


Hornbostel/Sachs terms. Named after the two scholars who invented them, these terms are widely used in the scholarly literature. When searching  databases, websites, etc., try the following terms:

  • Aerophone(s)            [wind instruments]
  • Chordophone(s)        [stringed instruments]
  • Membranophone(s)   [instruments with a membrane: drums, etc.]
  • Idiophone(s)              ["self-sounding": includes many percussion instruments]

See the entries for each of these terms in Oxford Music Online (available on our “Databases” page).


Library of Congress subject headings. These are used by most college and university library catalogs. They don't include the Hornbostel/Sachs terms, so when searching library catalogs, try subject headings like these:

  • Wind instruments
  • Woodwind instruments
  • Brass instruments
  • Stringed instruments
  • Stringed instruments, Bowed
  • Percussion instruments
  • [English names for specific instruments]

You can also try the Hornbostel/Sachs terms as keyword searches. This will retrieve any authors who have used them in their book titles.


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Subject Guide

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Leslie McCall
Office: 251 ZSR Library
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