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The 5tudy of

Thirty-one Issues and Concepts



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First edition published 1983

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Nettl, Bruno, 1930

The study of ethnomusicology : thirty-one issues and concepts /

Bruno Nettl.- 2nd ed.



Includes bibliographical references (p. ) and indexo

ISBN-13: 978-0-252-03033-8 (cloth: alk. paper)

ISBN-lO: 0-252-03033-8 (cloth: alk. paper)

ISBN-13: 978-0-252-07278-9 (paper: alk. paper)

ISBN-lO: 0-252-07278-2 (paper: alk. paper)


Ethnomusicology. 1. Title.

ML3798.N47 2005

780'.89-dc22 2005011181

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The Creatures of Jubal:


A Musician? What Do You Play?

The study of instruments from various perspectives is essential in ethno
musicology. Most obviously, who plays
and what
means, are ques
tions that oceupy USo We want to know whr, in Carnatic music, \\-omen are
largely singers; and why that used to be the case in American sehools of musie
as well; or why until recently, brass instruments (and to a degree wood\\-inds
as well) were male territory. But also, the sub discipline of organology-the
systematic study of instruments-has been an important part of our field,
and it continues to have a presenee because of the increasing importanee of
museums and because of the gradual establishment of the field of archeo
a subfield of ethnomusicology, which depends
musicology, in good
principally on the study instruments as ancient artifacts.
proper role
for the study of instruments in the academy has for deeades been a subject
of discussion. Should it be a separate field that partakes of the methods of
historieal, ethnomusieological, and systematic musieologies; should instru
ments be viewed principally in their social and historieal eonte:;..l s? Should
they mainly just be played, in styles both traditional to them and innovati-e?
Some surveys of ethnomusicology (e.g., Blaeking 1973; Bose 1953; Czekanow,
ska 1971; Merriam 1964) don't treat instrument study as a separable subdi
vision, while in others (such as Hood 1971; Kunst 1959; Ivlyers 1992; :t-\ettl
1962) individual chapters, sometimes of great length, are devoted
to organology separately from diseussion of the music they produce or the
societies that use them. The debate is not about the intrinsic importanee of

instruments, but about I---e::

whiche'er camp they aS5'~ _.-
dei-ote quite a bit 01

specimens and

anal}-sis and on to learni.L~

ducing the content and t-;".c .

do it by encouraging stuc,,:-
them. This may ir:~. _:::
pIe instruments, to giving .
lishing ensembles.
One role of organolog)- ::-
dency to draw various sube:' : . :
conspectus, it is one of the !r_':" ~
sorne of those few institutic:-.' :::.:

acoustics or psycho-musico:
formance practice, instrumc:-.~
sounded, and a lot more. Fe: :'--~
structure that enables therr: ~ _ ':c::: IIIIj
are the principal objects foy --: . ~
ologist of l11usic s concerne~ - - -, DIIIIII
Students of tuning systems
struments to see how theor: ='.':'.::-:rsI
universal. In Western cultu:-:, ::
sometimes a good, sometim,,:o .:. :'.l:II:/J
tessentially instrumental. G,,::: -': _. .di
who handle the lvre and the
of l11usic-although it seem,: ~;-.1!JII
now, in modern North AmeL~:. '''~
automatically asks, "Vv'hat do:,'
The literature that claims te' ': _ ~
cerns: the classification of ir:~::--~
cable, the representations of ir_'---=::'1
plete instrumentarium of a
instrument eollections. AH oI ~_::'::
musicologists also have furthe: . .::..:
exposition of ethnomusicolog:. .:..' l ~
ask what aspeets of organolog:; ::.::' -:J:
look at a few.


,of jubal:

E::~:~ ~n

are ques
C":~ ',..~omen are
~__ . ::5 of music
=:' ::':oodwinds
r::::~ ~~;.,

t>::": .:..~.::>logy-the

r;~ ~.~ our field,

~ _-::-.:,ortance of
~-':'~.i. of archeo
~ ,~:: -;roper role
::D a subjec~
,,: - :;:"ethods of
e: ~,'Yl.lld instru
~ '.nnovative t
i::' :~:: Czekanow
;.:-able subdi
-::3 1992; Nettl
are devotecl
t:>:~ -~oduce or the
:;: ~:lportance o:


but about where, UtO''-.qJl1jJQ.l

this studv best U\CJVIJ.';'" SO, with
camp they associate
most ethnomusicologists actu
from cola bit of their time to the study of
f.''-'dU.H.""'' and integrating them in a elassification
to semiotic
and cm to learning hOI\" to play, And increasingly, teachers intro
content and the ideas
ethnomusicology in
do it by encouraging students to concern themselves '""ith instruments and
This may inelude
students to invent and build sim
to giving lessons in an)' of the ,'orld's
to estabOne
organology in the history musc research has
its ten
dency to draw various sub disciplines of musicology together. In Adler' s 1885
conspectus, it is one of the major subdivisions Of"s~Tstematic musicology," and
sorne of those few institutions that maintain this field very much inelude the
study of instruments-though sometimes as part of programs in psycho
of music concerned with per
acoustics or psycho-musicology. To
instruments are essential artifacts for learning
sounded, and a
more. For ethnomusicologsts, ther are part of the infra
structure that enables them to see music in society and culture. Instruments
are the principal objects for the student musical iconography.
010gi5t of music i5 concerned with instruments more than with anything el5e.
Students of
systems work most with instruments or at least need in
struments to see how theory matches realty. Instruments seem to be a cultural
universaL In 'vVestern culture and its
Eastern antecedents, music
sometimes a good, sometimes a bad
ver)' commonly seen as quin
tessentially instrumental. Genesis 4:21 describes Jubal as the
who handle the
and the pipe"; folk tradition often casts him as the inventor
of music-although it seems certain that singing preceded playing. And so
now, in modern North America, when told
someone is a
"V\That does she play?"
The literature that claims to be specifically organological has a core
cerns: the classification of instruments in a
that is universally
cable, the representations of instruments in visual art, catalogues of the com
plete instrumentarium of a culture, and the building and maintenance
instrument collections. AH of these relate to ethnomusicology, but
musicologists also have further COl1cerns in
study of instruments. In an
expositiol1 of ethnomusicology as a group concepts and issues, we should
ask what aspects of organology are the subject of argument and debate. Let's
look at a few.



But Is It an Instrument?
That mal' actuaEy be a complicated question, one that has ar least rwo ap
proaches: 1s it an instrument b,~ "our" '\festern? scholarIy? obiecti,~en stan
dards, and do the peopIe who o\\"n or owned it consider ir part of the mu
sicking world? 1wo recent publicatons
to that question, from insider
and outsider perspectives. Emblematic oE the increased interest in archeo
logical,york, artides in Hickmann, Kilmer, and Eichmann's collection
present studies of recent archeological discO\uies or continue debates about
the'~ might
oId ones, concentrating on their identities and the tone
(Diamond, CroILlc, and ,on Rosen 199+) studies
represento Visions
instruments of Natiw (or First )Jations) peoples of eastern )Jorth _-\merica;
its principal aims concern symbolism of sound made b)' instruments, the
ways in which instruments facilitate interaction and relationships, and the
need to present the information from a variet)' of)Jatiye and outsider per
spectives. Briefiy, archeologists \\'ant to know whether that object is "really"
a fiute; ethnographers want to know what it means to 5a", "Ihis is a fiute."
During a recent conference of the Society for Ethnomusicology, while sorne
600 people devoted to that field had gathered in Toronto, the Sew York Times
and the Toronto papers published an artide about what is supposed to be the
oldest musical instrument, that bone fiute with at least two finger holes dis
covered in 1995 in a Neanderthal archeological site in Sloyenia (Kunej 1997).
Curiously, no one at this meeting, to mI' knowledge, publidy noted or me n
tioned this discovery, even though that artifact later on became the subject
of argumentation in scholarly and journalistic literature. Sorne of the daims:
It's obviously part of abone fiute with finger holes; the arrangement of the
finger holes suggests the rudiments of a diatonic scale or scale segment; it te lIs
us about the origins of music, or at least the earliest music. (I was about to
write "human musc," but the evolutonary status of the Neanderthals is still
not clear to biological anthropologists.)
These claims lead to interesting questions: HO\v can one be sure that ths
small segment ofbone is an instrument? Perhaps it's just a random configu
raton of who knows what. The degree to which three finger holes can iden
tify the scale of the whole instrument is questionable; one can't kno\\' whether
this was an octave-based or a fourth-based instrument; worse
this represents one of several tunings that the Neanderthals used, or whether
they "tuned" at an. Indeed, tbere is no way of knowing whether tbis was an
instrument accepted by its society or something that one individual, an off

the-wall gu)' maybe, made r':" ~

separate gene pool and eve::
an instrument that belongs ~~
dusons that have been dra'.\~ ~=,,::
our ,,'estern musical practic~', ~
The issue is whether that - ~~_"
ducing music, and second, i\::'~=:':'::
ture by its society. It is 4 0 ,00': ": i,:
centur)', the Blackfoot peop~~ ~ r:-t
them; they knew that most" -::
there were fiutes here long -: ~.
search of museums yielded 0:-,:' :.--=
even if there were Blackfoot
rels, so 1 had to ask myself \\~:-, " -;;:
and accepted. But then, stud\-:.-:~
who played Carnatic musc o:: ~:c":::~
phones were instruments bu: ~ _
longing to South 1ndian cultc: :.:
They have been accepted, and -~
but this raised the question oE ~:~':J
part of a musical culture. An --~
musical and nonmusical soun-=-> ~::'=
one needs to ask whether an a::::-:.::.::
plane Sonata") or a helium bor::-~~ _
raise the narrator's voice) are 5''':~'=~
This fundamental question, c,-=:
sidered so by its society, and th',,:'
leads us then to construct an i::~~~:,::":
culture. Books with titles such a:, "
ably the most common genre e "
would occupy several pages.As rL ~
j ust three landmarks. One of the
nando Ortiz's (1952-55) five-volL::::::.:.
told everything that could be
ment culture-structure, social -:
the opposite of Ortiz in its breadtt. :~
ican Indan instruments, a stud\~ ~
early ethnographic literature, co~ce::'
graphic distribution. The sophistic:


;.: " . the mu
" - ='. insider
~::' - ~-: archeo

L: :=...'n (2002)
~ ~~_

':':0'5 about
:~ 5tudies



L .
[ :5 "realh"
5 a t1ute."
[,.;: "":--ile sorne





=-". daims:



~ ~~_c

-:, Sout:o
le _~~- is


the-wali guy maybe, made for himself. And then, if the :\eanderthals were a
separate gene pool and e,"en a different species
Horno sapiens, is this
an instrument tbat belongs in the study of human music at aH? Sorne con
clusions that have been drawn result from our enormous desire to legitimize
our \Vestern musical practices by showing that they have ancient roots.
The issue is whether that
is actually an instrument, capable of pro
ducing music, and second, ~\Yhether it was accepted as a proper part of the cul
ture by its society. It is 40,000 to 80,000 years old. But in the
century, the Blackfoot people appear to have had no flutes. 1 asked sorne of
them; they knew that most Native peoples did have flutes. "\Vell, we think
ago, but we don't seem to haye any." A careful
there v.,Tere flutes here
search of museums yielded one artifact, a
made of a gun barreL Surely,
even if there were Blackfoot flutes long ago, they were not made of gun bar
rels, so 1 had to ask myself whether that was a proper instrument, playable
and accepted. But then, studying in Madras in
1 heard of nvo musicians
who played Carnatic music on saxophones. The issue was not whether saxo
phones were instruments but whether
were properly instruments be
longing to South lndian culture, or temporary interlopers. Today we know:
They have been accepted, and there are more s~xophonists of Carnatic music,
but this raised the question of determining whether an instrument is actually
part of a musical culture. And then, in a culture that distinguishes benveen
musical and nonmusicaI sounds less with acoustic than with social critera,
one needs to ask whether an airplane motor (used in George i\ntheil' s "Air
plane Sonata") or a helium bomb (used in Salvatore Martirano's "L'sGA" to
mise the narrator's voice) are subjects for organological investigation.
This fundamental question, whether an object is an instrument and con
sidered so by its society, and thus appropriate to ethnomuscological study,
leads us then to construct an inventory of the instruments that belong to a
culture. Books with titles such as "The Musical lnstruments of ..." are prob
ahly the most common genre of organological publications, and a listing
would occupy several pages. As major examples from history, let me menton
just three Iandmarks. One of the earliest and also most comprehensive is Fer
nando Ortiz's (1952-55) five-volume study ofAfro-Cuban instruments, which
toId everything that couId be known about a geographically Iimited instru
ment culture-structure, social role, history, music, and more. Earlier, and
the opposite ofOrtizin its breadth, is Izikowtz's (1935) work on SouthAmer
kan lndian instruments, a
based largeIy on museum collections and
early ethnographic literature, concentrating on instrument structure and geo
graphk distrbution. The sophisticated nature of this work is seen in its title;



Izikowitz understood that calling

instrulcl.ent" required
understanding a society' s conception of music and its bouncaries. As a third
landmark, 1propose the multivolume Hmlcibllch cier
'shose general
Do Stockmann and
produced, through the 19705 and 1980s, a number of \olumes sur-e,-ing the
instruments of each nation (e.g., Kunz 19;4, for Czechoslon.kiai,
account structure,
proyenance, and to a

In Society and Culture

These major
and others like
look at instruments as a some\,-hat
separable aspect of musical culture. ,-m important
of ethno-organ
ology (dare one suggest this term?) is the role of instruments-be,-ond their
societ" and culture. \\'e could examine nstruments as as
of other domains. Thus, a
of the technology of a societ;: should
out quickh- discoyer that
include instrument-making, and those who
in many societies, instruments were among the most adyanced and sophis
ticated products. Ihis may be true of the ancient ='Jeanderthal Hute, made per
haps by someone whose
other tools were sticks and clubs. "-md ir is true
of the pianoforte of the late eighteenth century, with its complex hammer
escape mechanisms, its pedal action, its highly developed arrangement of
strings. Or is the Baroque pipe organ a better
Instruments are also properly a part of the study of household fumishings,
their aesthetic and their role in society.
the piano:
a piece of fur
niture, just
your fumiture moving company; also an icon of middle-dass
Western society, found in households where its purpose i5
to be there,
even if never played, and a
of Asian and African households wishing to
exhibit modemness (see, e.g., Kraus
And an important component of
the world of symbols; think of the role ofthe piano' s keyboard arrangement,
with ts white and black keys, on birthday cards for musicians. Similarly, ex
hibiting Asian or African instruments in North American or westem Euro
pean households where there is no thought of playing them
even hear
ing recordings of their music) symbolizes a broad-minded, relativistic attitude
of the owner. In \Vestern society, instruments are among the most impor
tant indices of other cultures: Note
importance Indian 5itar, African
harp and
Australian didjeridu on travel posters and postage ~L".lll,"'~.
Instruments are important in gender
and in other kinds of stud
ies that examine the interaction of subdivisions of a societ}'. In iunerican

middle-class culture
and even less come. strings,
of popular
stereotyping that
: ~
1980s, students o: -~ ="::'"~.;
of music were largel~'
numbers of women.
maybe thought (or k:
to handle complicatee ~_
women Oike "Rosie t1::: :- ..:~~"
of work previously reo::::-: _ ,:~.
line, forming "all-gir~ '- ,,~
bugle corps of small-t,.:'-_~
In Iran of the 19605. 2:-. ~ ~
important as markers .=~ ;c-~
Iran before the revolu:i =:-.
situaton was complex
field, the musicians wer::
were also
were active as
rarely on the
and sometimes the violi=. = '
players; but in the mode:::-...:... _
pianists. The folk music
formance by specialists
maleo Doubleday (1999) c,=_
with frame drums (dayerc<
andAfghanistan, 1"lj~ll.

onl)' in rgidly segregatec _ :

"women use the frame dr\.-_

vacy of their all-women c,=

men are at home."

In South India, singin: ~:-. :

drums often played

mainly singers, and

fiute, and never, 1 think, ",

the hands ofmen, but in the



middle-class culture of around 1940, women

brass nstruments
and even less commonly percussion. Largely, they
piano, bowed
domain, the harp
strings, perhaps flute, and then there was their
many symphony orchestras had just one woman, their harpist. In the realm
of popular music, they rarely appeared as instrumentalists. It's a kind of
stereotyping that persisted late in the tvventieth century. Thus, even as late as
the 1980s, students of trumpet, trombone, and tuba at one midwestern school
of music were largely men, while the vocal divisions had disproportionate
numbers of women, and of African Americans, suggesting that white males
maybe thought (or had once thought) that they were the only ones qualified
to handle complicated machnery. But certainly during World War when
women (like "Rose the Riveter" of song) had begun to enter into many kinds
of work previously reserved for men, women also crossed
musical labor
line, forming "all-girl bands" and replacing boys in the patriotic drum-and
bugle corps of small-town America.
In Iran of the 1960s, and Madras (Chennai) of the 1980s, instruments were
important as markers of gender, and there, too, lines were being crossed. In
Iran before the revolution, instruments were largely played by men, but the
situation was compIex and in the process of changing. In the popular music
fieId, the musicians were men, except for vocalists. In classical music, there
were also few women, and they were prevailingly singers as wen; but a few
were active as instrumentalists, though typically in private environments and
rarely on the stage. Their instruments were the strings-the san tour, the setar,
and sometimes the violin. 1 don't remember observing female tar, 'ud, or nei
but in the modernized classical music scene, there were sorne female
pianists. The folk music culture, that aspect of it that involved public per
formance by specialists in narratives or devotional materials, was entirely
Doubleday (1999) documents widespread special association of women
with frame drums (dayereh, daff) throughout the Islamic Middle East In Iran
and Afghanistan, music-making, especially with instruments, was carried out
only in rigidly segregated contexts. According to Doubleday (1999: 166-67),
"women use the frame drum for informal musical entertainment in the pri
vacy of their all-women domestic space ... they say it is 'bad' to play when
men are at: home."
In South India, singing in popular religious genres was accompanied by
played by women. In Carnatic music, however, women were
and sometimes played violn or vina, but very rarely played
flute, and never, 1 think, the oboe-like nagaswaram. Percusson, too, was in
the hands of men, but in the early 1980s a fewwomen were beginning to enter



this realm. One of the characteristics of South lndian classical music has been
its tendency to absorb and adapt foreign, mainly \Vestern instruments, in
corporating them nto the sound ideal of Carnatic music. I'm talking about
the violin and the harmonium in the nineteenth century, and the saxophone,
elarinet, guitar, and mandolin in the tlventieth, In each case, the instrument
played exclusively by men, although those instruments that haye been
established for some time-violn, harmonium-also have female perform
ers. In both the Tehran of 1970 and the Madras (Chennai) of 1980, instrwnents
were important objects in middle-elass households, and it was customary for
young women to learn to play them even when no professional career was en
visioned. In Tehran, even in some households devoted to Persian music, a
piano, not played, was present as an icon of modernity. But then, in the house
holds of midwestern university towns, one may see sitars on eA'])osed book
shelves, Chinese chins exhibited on the wall, African drums standing on the
fireplace, Peruvian panpipes and Native American rattles exhibited around
the living room. (::\ot usuaHy aH of these together, I'm sure.) Nobody plays
them, their identity may not even be known to the owner, but they are conic
of the ntercultural tolerance of
household, or
are trophies of the
traveler (surely preferable to antlers or tiger skin rugs) , and they function as
instruments in quite a different sense of theword from the guitars the fam
ily teenager has in his room for use in his garage band, or the pianos in the
music 5chool's practice rooms.
In my friend's household, some instruments are so beautifully fashioned
and decorated that the owner is considering donating them to a museum
not an ethnographic or organological museum, where they would be viewed
arts. rf instruments were
principally as music-makers, but a museum of
among the crowning achievements in the technology of many cultures, in
some they were also considered objects of exceptional physical beauty, and
they were and are often decorated with mosaic or painted, and special care
is taken to provide felicitous shapes. 1 confess that 1 can't think of a culture
whose instrumentarium 1 have seen in which special efforts had not been un
dertaken to make the instruments themselves beautiful, attractive, and often
the carriers of many kinds of visual signs and symbols. I'm loath to suggest
any general theory to explain this, because in one culture this mal' be the re
sult of the tendency to decorate ever)rthing made by humans, in others it mar
add to the spiritual power of the instrument, and elsewhere again it mal' make
an object associated with a despised art (music) acceptable because it con
tributes to a more respected (visual) arto But if pressed, 1 would be inelined
to think that instruments, seen perhaps by early humans as perhaps the most

pmverful tools in este.'::,

humans, couId be en:.,,::,:, -,,'
So, in an importar:.,
eludes the study of i:r5-- - .-r:'!i'"
beyond the productio::


The Legacy of Mahillo -

? -:::

Of course it wasn't Vi;::.. ~ . ' . ._Ce

strument museum of t~"'::: ", -'
into one of the world's::::-:.
musical instruments. :\, .',
in her comprehensive ~_::~, .
most?-cultureshavede-,;;-__ -:-:
of their own society. But __:__ 1':',
the vast number of instr' '-': -
providng ways of 5hO\::
places, making sense of a ::
tourists and amateur s we:
even be designated by the __ -_
veloped in India, he deve!c,=:::: _
instruments, and even so::::-:: .
be discovered. This systerr:.
used format by Erich von E'
Schaeffner (1932), and beco=-=::
Heinz Draeger (1948) and ,';.~_Mantle Hood
in the musicological world. . '~':
ments has contnued to
(162-210) cites a large nume::::
ing conception of what con,~:,
Given my oId bifurcated ':::~-:-:.:_
lar do ethnomusicoIogists 'v,-:',-,: . .
concept of classification itse_::- :!I!JIlI
a system that makes po" _.:
to study the elassfication o~
about the relationship
musical values. Kartomi




powerful tool8 in establishing relationships to the supernatural and to strange

humans, could be enhanced by acquiring additional "visual" power.
So, in an important sense, the role of organology in ethnomusicology in
eludes the study of instruments in society to accomplish things that go far
beyond the production of humanly organized sound.

The Legacy of Mahillon and Sachs

Of course it wasn't Victar-Charles Mahillon, the longtime curator of the in
strument museum of the Brussels Royal Conservatory-a collection he built
into one of the world's most prominent-who invented the idea of cataloging
musical instruments. As Margaret Kartomi (1990) points out in great detail
in her comprehensive history of instrument classification, many-maybe
developed classifications of instruments, usually of those
of their own society. But Mahillon found himself in need of a way of putting
the vast number of instruments he was accessioning into some kind of order,
providing ways of showing similarities between instruments from distant
places, making sense of a body of material, some ofwhich-fieldworkers and
tourists and amateurs were often very imprecise in their reporting-could not
even be designated by the culture or location. Evidently inspired by a plan de
veloped in India, he developed a system that provides categories for all known
instruments, and even some for instruments not known but possibly yet to
be discovered. This system (see Mahillon 1880-92), revised in its most vvidely
used format by Erich von Hornbostel and Curt Sachs (1910) and also by Andr
Schaeffner (1932), and becorning the basis of a more complex system by Hans
Heinz Draeger (1948) and further modified by a number of others, including
Mantle Hood
has become the mainstream of nstrument classification
in the musicological world. At the same time, the idea of elassifying instru
ments has continued to fascinate scholars from many cultures. Kartomi
(162-210) cites a large number of classifiers, showing particularly the expand
ing conception of what constitutes an instrument in Western culture.
Given my old bifurcated definiton of ethnomusicology, what in
lar do ethnomusicologists wish to do with instrument classifications? The
eoncept of dassification itself fits our field exceptionally well: They wish to
have a
that makes possible intercultural comparisons, and theywish
to study the classification of eaeh society in order to see what it tells them
about the relationship of fundamental guiding princples of the culture and
musical values. Kartomi (1990) shows that many, probably most, of the



world's societies give some thought to the grouping of instruments, and de

scribes many systems, including those that classif;.- according to sound pro
duction, material, manner of activating, social and ceremonial uses, and ac
of these
cording to any number of musical functions.
have been expanded to have universal application, but in fact there are fe'w,
if any, schemes that have threatened the hegemony of the :'IJahillon-Sachs
Hornbostel system.
Interestingly, in important \vorks in the organologicalliterature of Japan,
a nation where interest in and the nurturing of older traditions and empha
ss on the uniqueness of culture play maior roles, alongside the higHy devel
oped participation in "\Vestern-derived scholarship, instrument classification
is heterogeneous. Thus the catalog of the instrument collection of the TOh)'O
National University of the Arts and Music (Koizumi Fumio j\lemorial Archives
1987) lists and illustrates around 6:;0 instruments, collecton from many cul
tures (excluding Western classical traditons) accordng to the standard sys
tem-idiophones, membranophones, chordophones, aerophones, to which is
added a category of electrophones, illustrated by a Japanese electric drone pro
ducer. The catalog of the comparably large collection of the Kunitach Col
lege ofMusic in Tokyo (Kunitachi College ofMusic 1986) uses a revised, prob
ably more logical, version of this system, dividng the nstruments first by form
of the vibrating body
body is solid-e.g., a stone);
cupophones (cup-shaped bodies, e.g., slit drums, rattles); clavophones (stick
shaped, e.g., claves, or the Brazilian cuica); tabulophones (board-shaped in
struments that include cymbals but also "reed" instruments, and by eA'tension
all winds-i.e., lip-reeds); membranophones (drums) and chordophones
(strings). Each category is subdivided by method of application-percussion,
friction, plucking, air current, electronic oscillation. In Japanese tradition, how
ever, musicans and the intelligentsia grouped instruments by social and cer
emonial functio11. Kartomi analyzed several ways in which Javanese instru
92) by material-bronze,
ments are classified, incIuding one scheme
1eather, ,,,rire, wood, and bamboo-and a number of systems based on musi
cal function or social hierarchy.
There are 10t8 of anomalies. Whether a society has a system of classifying
instruments at all, and what kind of system was selected, depends on vari
ous factors. Probably
typical wayof grouping instruments in the world's
vernacular cultures is by musical or maybe social function. vVhether a spe
cial system of classification based 011 other criteria has been developed may
depend on the existence of instrument ensembles. Thus, the 'Are'are of the
Solomon Islands, a numerically small society, has large panpipe ensembles

and classifies elabo~ c..

1978), while most :\'c.~:

but a prevailingly\o_-,- .-:

The terminology of
ual or social asso:.:: -

Crazy Dog Society d:' -

tem or terminolog;. =c _ ': Y

In traditional YVe5:~~L.

music classes of the lS.:

wind, brass, and percL" -

single-reeds, and douc_,

struments in the orch' , -- _~'

sists in the grouping::

musie. Nonorchestral i--.' ~L'

difficulty. Harps and F"::',-'

the string departmen: ','

does the piano

The Brazilian berimbr;:,

takes its place among ':;"': . ,


ception of
as \veH, to the consider:: ':-.
who use them. Thus, iD.
languages, the verb for =:-'~_
lt to the other meaning' :
(zadan), and Nhile this
hammered dulcimer
bowed and wnd
_ 'wi!
iconography, an area, ac.:"
'~ ~
ficiently developed, that . ,
facts about musicallife i:: : -:-~
otics of instruments. LIerc :
Beyond classification, 1 .
ogy, both involving histo"-' ,- _ .
musicology. Many schola" . : ~
ments-I mean the histor.
instruments or groups or c''::. ':;s..1i
legon, but al! instrument5. -~a
task only if it's a basic aSSL:::-_L~ ,= i
instrumentariums of aIl cuir,::= :::al



and classifies
on the basis of
and social critera
1978), while most Native American peoples, with often larger populations
but a prevailinglyvocal musical culture, don't
this procedure necessary.
The terminology of nstruments in Blackfoot cultures derives from the rit
ual or social associations of instruments-for example, medicine drum,
Crazy Dog
drum, medicine pipe
there i5 no special sys
tem or terminology for the grouping of instruments.
In traditional \Vestern classical musie
and in junior
music classes of the 1940S America, one
that there were string, wood
wind, brass, and percussion instruments, and that woodwinds included flute,
single-reeds, and double-reeds. This comes from the typical grouping of in
struments in the orchestration ofHaydn, Mozart, and Beethoven, and it per
sists in the grouping of instrument departments in university schools of
music. Nonorchestral instruments find their places in these departments with
and guitars are string instruments, to be sure, but show me
the string
whose chair is the professor of harp or
does the
go?-strngs, yes, it has lots of them, but its keys are beaten.
The Brazilian berimbau, a musical bow, technically a struck chordophone,
takes its place among percussion instruments in North Ameriea. The con
ception of where musical instruments belong in relaton to each other leads,
as well, to the consideraton of where they belong in relation to the humans
who use
Thus, in English,
French, and mos1 other European
languages, the verb for making music on an instrument is "to
it to the other meanings of that word. In Persian, instruments are "beaten"
(zadan), and while this might seem
for percussion instruments, for the
hammered dulcimer (santour), and even for plucked strings, it 1S used for
bowed and wind instruments as well. And then there is the area of instrument
iconography, an area, according to Seebass (in Myers 1992: 238), as yet insuf
ficiently developed, that looks at the depiction of instruments as imparting
facts about musicallife in different periods and cultures, but also the semi
oties of instruments. Here too, various kinds of classification are approprate.
Beyond classification, I wish to mention 1:\'10 other branches of organol
ogy, both involving hstory, that intersect wth the fundamentals of ethno
musicology. Many scholars have devoted themselves to the history of instru
ments-I mean the history of nstruments as a whole, not just of individual
instruments or groups or cultures, fol' which the number of publications is
legion, but all instruments. It makes sense to think of this Herculean kind of
task only if it's a basic assumption that the nstruments of the world, or the
nstrumentariums of all
have sorne connection. Best known for this



approach was Curt Sachs, mentioned earlier for his contribution to classifi
cation (and in earlier chapters to many aspects of the development of eth
nomusicology) and the person who, it is often argued, knew more about in
struments in the world than anyone before or since. The author of an early
but amazingly comprehensive dictionary of instruments
he undertook
to write a world history of instruments, giving the entire field an emlution
ist framework. There is much in it with which one would haye to argue, but
al50 a good deal of wisdom, and there are a lot of stimulating ideas. One thing
Sachs does not say, though it flows rrom his thinking, 1S that the borders of
the concept of "instrument" are vague, and vaguest perhaps in both early
human historv and the most recent times. There have alwavs been obiects that
could be considered both instrument and something else, but Sachs suggested
(1940: 25) that the earUest instrument was the human body, \\~hich might be
slapped, or used to stamp the ground, in ways that led to the development
of the earliest instruments. 1nstruments developed out of other things that
were available. It's interesting to see that around 2000 C.E., we are again find
ing the boundary benveen instruments and noninstruments \'ague, as mu
sicians fashion new sound tools for one-time use and sounds are produced
bv, svnthesizers
and other electronic sources that are also used for a varet\',
of communication. 1s the concept "musical instrument" as a consistent
class in culture gradually fading rrom at least one major society?


In Museums
Curt Sachs, who knew so much about the instruments of the world, never did
any extended fieldwork himself. His studies are based on private and museum
collections, and the task of some ethnomusicologsts is to fill, analyze, ane
care for many of these. They are found in a variety of museums: Sorne, like
the aforementioned collections in Japan and Brussels, or the Horniman Mu
seum in London, or the Stearns Collection at the University of Michgan (see
Libin 1992 for an introduction to and listing of major collections)J are free
standing collections assembled ad hoc or given as a unit by a donor and later
expanded. A few are associated with art museums-most prominently, the
large and distinguished collection in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in Ne\\
York City-and these present instruments as objects of visual art.In these in
stitutions, an instrument must thus qualify as a work of visual art to be in
cluded, but, interestingly, sorne museum curators and many art lovers ir:
vVestern culture consider instruments to be, pso facto, works of visual art ane

designo The most impc--

ever, are in museums

museums," on the rat::--,,: ~ ~ .:~;:,

material products of ce::-:~~ ::_,

ers more to "art." But ne-:;,~ -- L

de l'Homme in Pars, th :::

various parts of the Smit:-.' : -

seum in Chicago, and si=-~ __~

contrbute importanth- ::-. '.

culture and history. I\Iu~;,;.~

of proactive education. T-.::

objects, including instru:r:-~:c:- .

ings to llustrate use of t:-:".' ~

ters of applied ethnomu~:::

But what are ethnomLS::'

of these instruments wer::: ::.
less than they were wortl:..
acquisition may have con:::-:: _~-_
and traditions? Should nc: . - ::
gested for major art works-:
century from Greece to tl:.~::
ings such as the National CAnd which instruments
tion? Here, too, we run into ::-~:: :
returnng to us in many oi -'
s the question of authentc::- ;:-. ~
by non-Natives be exhibite~
society in question? How ca:: .::-:: : . . .
Actually, the investigaron e: .:-~
an nteresting challenge fo:; s: __ ::~



The most important collections far ethnomusicological ~work, how

ever, are in museums of anthropology, or museums named "natural history
museums," on the rather absurd but once widely held assumpton that the
material products of certan cultures belong more to "nature," and of oth
ers more to "art." But never mind. The distinguished collections of the Muse
de l'Romme n Pars, the collection in Berln' s Museum fr Vlkerkunde, the
varous parts of the Smithsonian complex in Washington, D.c., the FieldMu
seum in Chicago, and similar ethnographic museums around the world all
contribute importantly to the understanding of instruments in society and
culture and history. Museum collections have increasingly become centers
of proactive education. They provide information on the cultural context of
objects, including instruments, and they often have sound and video record
ings to illustrate use of these instruments. Many of them have become cen
ters of applied ethnomusicology and disciplinary outreach.
But what are ethnomusicologists to make of the obvious fact that many
of these instruments were collected under false pretenses, or bought far far
less than they were worth, or maybe even stolen, and in any case that their
acquisition may have contributed to the depletion of native material "'U~lLU~L\C"
and traditions? Should not these instruments be returned, as is being sug
gested for majar art works-even the Elgin Marbles, taken in the
century fram Greece to the British Museum? The "repatriation"
ings such as the National Cylinder Praject can serve as a model.
And which instruments should be considered for this kind of repatria
tion? Rere, too, we run into the problem ofboundaries, a
that keeps
returning to us in many of the issues discussed in these
is the question of authenticity. Should Native American instruments made
by non-Natives be exhibited if the makers had a special relationship to the
society in question? Row can personal or national ownership be determined?
Actually, the investigation of instrument collections as institutions itself is
an interesting challenge for students of music in culture.