Home Tech - Drum Science Sachs Hornbostel System of Instrument Classification
Sachs Hornbostel System of Instrument Classification


The Sachs-Hornbostel System was created in 1914 to categorise musical instruments into logical family groupings based on the nature of the initial vibrating body.  This is different from the orchestral system of brass, woodwind etc etc

4 major groupings were arrived at initially and remain,

  • Idiophones: instruments that are constructed of solid material that vibrates by virtue of their own inherent rigidity such as claves or marimba bars.
  • Membranophones: instruments that rely on a stretched membrane to trigger the sound, includes all drums.
  • Chordophones; instruments that rely on a stretched string, such as a guitar or piano; and
  • Aerophones: instruments that rely on air such as saxophones or didjeridus

Since that time, a fifth grouping has been added, that of Electrophones where the initial vibration is the pulses of electricity in a wire.  A further grouping of Hydrophones where the vibrator is water based is also under consideration.

Many of the instruments rely on more than one of these categories for their overall sound, however the system at this highest level refers only to the initial vibrating mechanism.  The S/H system provides for nine levels of classification, eg with drums, sub divisions include frame drums, goblet drums, barrel drums, cylindrical drums etc etc 

The following list is intended to include all percussion items plus some that are strictly non-percussive but do find their way increasingly into a percussionists arsenal such as didjeridus and berimbaus. This, of course, is only a sample of the instruments available, there are hundreds more which are either completely different or variations on a theme, if you would care to write a few lines on any of these instruments or any other or if you have good quality photographs or short audio samples to share, I will be happy to publish them on the dojo for everyone’s benefit. Read the contributors’ guidelines for more information

Instruments are sorted alphabetically

Idiophones: instruments that are constructed of solid material that vibrates by virtue of its own inherent rigidity.

  • Anklung (see also Aerophones)
  • Balafon / Amadinda
  • Bells
  • Bilmia (Clapsticks)
  • Cajon
  • Cymbals
  • Gamelan (see also membranophones)
  • Gongs
  • Guiro
  • Mbira / Kalimba
  • Rain Sticks
  • Rattles
  • Reco reco
  • Rhythm sticks (Claves / Pu-ili / bilmia)
  • Sistrum
  • Slit drum
  • Temple Bowl
  • Triangle
  • Washboard (frottoir)

Membranophones: instruments that rely on a stretched membrane to trigger the sound, including

Chordophones; instruments that rely on a stretched string,

  • Berimbau

Aerophones: Instruments that rely on vibrating an enclosed body of air or the surrounding air

  • Anklung (see also idiophones)
  • Bullroarer
  • Conch shell
  • Ghatam – (see also idiophones)
  • Udu - Clay Pot Drum - Nigeria - (see also idiophones)

Electrophones: Instruments where the sounds are electronically triggered

  • Electronic drumsets
  • Handsonic
  • Wavedrum

Paul Marshall -

Paul is the owner of Drumdojo and the Dojo Sites, He is responsible for writing and collating a lot of of the material that you see here on drumdojo.

Playing drumset since age 5, Paul has been a drummer on and off for most of his life. He plays every drum he can get his hands on. Paul works as an instrument designer, has designed many instruments for the Stomp orchestra and more recently in Holywood Movies. Paul is a prolific web designer and currently has a portfolio of around 40 business and hobby sites.

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