In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Musical Instruments

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Journals and Series
  • Music Archaeology
  • Iconography
  • Western Historical Periods
  • Acoustics and Construction
  • Classification
  • Collection and Care

Music Musical Instruments
Jennifer C. Post
  • LAST REVIEWED: 23 August 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 August 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199757824-0135


Musical instruments, typically defined as devices for producing musical sound, play a central role in social lives in communities around the world. Most instruments are carefully constructed in conjunction with beliefs and values held in the social settings where they are played. Their sounds result from instrument makers’ careful selection of acoustically resonant and aesthetically valued materials. Organology, or the study of musical instruments, has historically focused on classification, instrument design and construction, and performance practice. More recently, instrument study has expanded due to greater interest in engaging musical instruments to better understand social lives, local and global economies, political events, physical geographies, religious belief systems, and other aspects of human activities in which music-making and meaningful sound-making play a role. This list of resources on musical instruments contains materials that provide broad information on musical instruments, including historical overviews, dictionaries and encyclopedias, and studies and sources for information on issues such as classification, construction, and social use in a country, region, or historical period.

General Overviews

General overviews consider musical instruments in broad geographic regions contained within Western or global musical realms. This grouping of resources represents varied approaches to organology, and they target different audiences. Sachs 2006 (originally published in 1940), written before the middle of the 20th century, and Montagu 2007, written more recently, both focus on historical and geographic development of instruments. Broad works, Baines 1966; Baines 1983; Campbell, et al. 2004; and Remnant 1989, focus their attention on European and American instruments. Libin 1985 treats American instruments and Moore, et al. 2015 a global collection. Rault 2000 considers nature, the body, ritual, and social use of selected musical instruments. Buchner 1972 and Buchner 1973 offer information on global and Western instruments provided in images.

  • Baines, Anthony. European and American Musical Instruments. London: Chancellor, 1983.

    A visual resource with more than 800 photographs of instruments from over eighty collections; focuses on instruments from the Renaissance to the modern era. Organized by instrument type, the introductory material for each chapter provides historical and technical information.

  • Baines, Anthony, ed. Musical Instruments through the Ages. Rev. ed. London: Faber and Faber, 1966.

    This volume for the generalist reader provides brief histories largely of Western instruments in chapters authored by Galpin Society members. Includes illustrations and a glossary of technical terms. The first edition was published in 1961.

  • Buchner, Alexander. Folk Music Instruments of the World. New York: Crown, 1972.

    Photographs and text on musical instruments from different parts of the world. The greatest value is placed on the dozens of images of instruments, some showing playing position and performance style as well as instrument design. The written information, including instrument names, is uneven in detail and accuracy.

  • Buchner, Alexander. Musical Instruments: An Illustrated History. Prague, Czech Republic: Artia 1973.

    Revised edition of Alexander Buchner, Musical Instruments through the Ages (London: Spring, 1956). A collection of more than 300 images of musical instruments, largely from Western classical historical and contemporary traditions. While the image collection has been widely praised, the text is often criticized for its inaccuracy.

  • Campbell, Murray, Clive A. Greated, and Arnold Myers. Musical Instruments: History, Technology, and Performance of Instruments of Western Music. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198165040.001.0001

    Surveys European and North American musical instruments, covering construction and acoustical characteristics as well as historical development and use. Organized by instrument families, chapters highlight acoustical elements and discuss manufacture, playing techniques, and performance practice of representative instruments. The volume also includes many illustrations and musical examples.

  • Libin, Laurence. American Musical Instruments in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1985.

    Documents the musical, social, technological, and economic background of musical instruments in American life largely in the 19th century. The text focuses on instrument-making and American innovations, use of instruments imported from Europe, development of music industries in the late 19th century, and the adaptation of instruments for local use in ensembles.

  • Montagu, Jeremy. Origins and Development of Musical Instruments. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow, 2007.

    Presents a history of musical instruments, speculating on origins of instruments and instrument types. In a work organized by instrument type, the author focuses on instruments by classification, weaving examples from different time periods and from different parts of the world. Copiously illustrated.

  • Moore, J. Kenneth, Jayson Kerr Dobney, and E. Bradley Strauchen-Scherer. Musical Instruments: Highlights of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2015.

    This catalogue highlights over 100 musical instruments drawn from the collections at the Metropolitan Museum. Included is descriptive and historical information on each instrument with some also accompanied by iconographic representations in art. The collection includes instruments from around the world and different historical periods.

  • Rault, Lucie. Musical Instruments: Craftsmanship and Traditions from Prehistory to the Present. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2000.

    This large format extensively illustrated book traces the history and development of selected musical instruments as cultural objects. It features instruments from around the world in chapters that focus on music in nature, the body as instrument, religious and ritual uses of instruments, and the role of instruments in society. Translated from the French by Jane Brenton.

  • Remnant, Mary. Musical Instruments: An Illustrated History: From Antiquity to the Present. Portland, OR: Amadeus, 1989.

    Western instruments presented in chapters organized by instrument type with brief descriptive, contextual, and historical information, and more than 200 illustrations. The concluding chapter is on the development of instrumentation. The volume is a revised edition of the 1978 publication, Musical Instruments of the West (New York: St. Martin’s).

  • Sachs, Curt. The History of Musical Instruments. Mineola, NY: Dover, 2006.

    Originally published by Norton in 1940. Organized chronologically into sections, the emphasis in the first part is on non-Western instruments and includes information on instruments in social and historical contexts as well as the instruments themselves. Western instruments from 1400 to the early to mid-20th century are covered in the last section. Historical and geographic development of instruments is emphasized throughout the volume.

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