Exploring Music's Complexities

More on Non-Western Music-Instruments


Non-Western Instrumental Sounds


As discussed in Overview of Non-Western Music, the use of  Non-Western instruments produces many different sounds.  These instruments also come in many different sizes, shapes, and materials (1).  When categorized by what creates the sound they make, they can be sorted into four groups.  For example, Chordophones produce sounds by stretching strings, Aerophones are instruments who generate sounds with a column of air.  Membranophones include drums which produce sound with a stretched skin or other membrane and finally, Idiophones such as bells, gongs, and rattles whose material is a sound generator (2). In addition to musical style and geography, religious beliefs may influence the choice materials.  “ In Tibet, for example, trumpets and drums are made from the bones and skulls of criminals in order to appease demons.  Instruments often have symbolic associations and are linked with specific gods and goddesses.  They may be shaped like birds, animals, or fish.” (1).

Unlike Western music, improvisation is more important than notation as it is passed down from generation to generation through word of mouth.  This means the voice is also considered to be an essential instrument.  Non-Western music emphasizes melody and rhythm.  Musical texture  may be monophonic, polyphonic and/or homophonic depending on the location.


The traditional music of Africa is historically ancient, rich and diverse, with different regions and nations of Africa having many distinct musical traditions.  Traditional music in most of the continent is passed down orally (or aurally) and is not written. In sub-Saharan African music traditions, it frequently relies on percussion instruments of every variety, including xylophonesdjembesdrums, and tone-producing instruments such as the mbira or “thumb Piano” (3).


The music of the Indian subcontinent is usually divided into two major traditions of classical music: Hindustani music of North India and Karnatak music of South India

The instruments used in India attempt to imitate the vocal styles with its ascending and descending melodies. Instruments most commonly used in Hindustani classical music are the sitar, sarod, tambura, sahnai, sarangi, and tabla; while instruments commonly used in Karnatak classical music include the vina, mrdangam, kanjira, and violin. The use of bamboo flutes, such as the murali, is common to both traditions as well as many other genres of Indian music (4).


The most important part of Polynesian music is lyrics. Melody, dance, rhythm and harmony are accompaniments to words. Polynesians believe that harmony and rhythm serve as decorations to the words. Some of the most important musical instruments used in Polynesian music are the Bamboo Nose FluteCoconut Shells, Ukulele (Guitar), Gourd drums, Slit Drums ,Tapping Sticks and Pebbles  (1).


  1. https://www.pinterest.com/shaundranewstea/musical-instruments-non-western/

2.  http://saints11music.weebly.com/characteristics-of-nonwestern-cultures.html#:~:text=Instruments%20Non-western%20instruments%20produce%20a%20wealth%20of%20sounds,%E2%80%93%20whose%20sound%20generator%20is%20a%20stretched%20string.

3.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Music_of_Africa#cite_note-Columbia_University-1

4.  https://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/indi/hd_indi.htm

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