What Exactly Is A Chordophone? (With Examples)  (2023)

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  • What exactly is a chordophone?
  • Discover the 5 most common types of chordophone instruments
  • Learn about the Hornbostel-Sachs classification system
  • Also, check out our separate post on whether the piano is a string or percussion instrument?

What Exactly Is A Chordophone? (With Examples) (1)

Whether you are sitting on the front porch and lazily strumming your guitar, or playing banjoat a concert, you are making music with a chordophone.

You may not call your instrument that, but the term ‘chordophone’ is a class of stringed instruments in which sound is produced from vibrating strings that are stretched between two (or more) fixed points.

It is one of the five classifications of musical instruments in the Hornbostel-Sachs system.

In ‘History of Musical Instruments,’ Sachs describes chordophones as instruments with strings that can be bowed, plucked with fingers or a plectrum, sounded by wind, or struck with a stick.

Chordophones include composite and simple chordophones, instruments with or without a resonator.

Why is it called a chordophone? The term ‘chordophone’ is an amalgam of the Greek words chord (meaning string) and phone (meaning voice or sound).

A befitting term for musical instruments that produce a sound when you vibrate a string.

In musicology, the chordophone family is called the ‘string instruments’ family. However, they also include some (not all) keyboard-like instruments such as the piano and harpsichord.

What is the Hornbostel-Sachs Classification System?

The Hornbostel-Sachs or Sachs-Hornbostel system was created by musicologists Curt Sachs and Erich Moritz von Hornbostel.

It is the world’s most authoritative classification of musical instruments, widely used by ethnomusicologists and people who study musical instruments.

The Hornbostel-Sachs system was first published in 1914, translated to English in 1961, and updated in 2011 by the Musical Instrument Museums Online (MIMO).

It has five levels of classifications that are as follows:

(Video) Which of the following instruments is an example of a chordophone? Answer

  1. Chordophones: Musical instruments in which a string vibrates to produce a tone.
  2. Membranophones: Musical instruments in which a membrane vibrates to produce a tone.
  3. Aerophones: Musical instruments in which the air vibrates to produce a tone.
  4. Idiophones: Musical instruments in which the body vibrates to produce a tone.
  5. Electrophones: Musical instruments that use electronic circuits or sound amplification.

Each of these five classifications is further divided into sub-levels, resulting in 300 categories of musical instruments. We will explain the main classifications briefly in a later section, but let us look at the five types of chordophones, or string instruments first.

The 5 types of chordophone instruments

There are five basic types of chordophone instruments. These are all string instruments, categorized based on the relationship between the resonator and string.

‘Resonator’ refers to the part of the instrument that amplifies the sound of the strings. For instance, the body of an acoustic guitar is the resonator.

It picks up the sound of the vibrating strings and amplifies it. Now that we’ve clarified that, the five types of chordophones are:

1. Zithers

The zither (not to be confused with the string instruments of the same name) refers to a class of chordophone instruments with strings stretched over, across, or inside the resonator (soundbox).

Alternatively, the strings can also be stretched between two resonators.

Zithers are stringed instruments that can be strummed or plucked with a plectrum or the fingers. Examples of these chordophone instruments include various kinds of dulcimers, pianos, and harpsichords.


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(Video) Which of the following instruments is an example of a chordophone?

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2. Harps

Harps are a class of string instruments with one or more strings running at an angle to the soundboard.

Harps can have multiple sets of strings and pedal attachments. They are usually made of wood and can be played while either sitting or standing.

These chordophone instruments are generally plucked with fingers. Examples include the arpa jarocha, Paraguayan harp, orchestral harp, and Irish harp.

3. Lutes

A lute refers to a class of stringed instruments with a neck, deep rounded ‘egg shape’ back, and a sound hole or opening in the body.

Lutes can be fretted or unfretted, but the strings must stretch up the neck and across the resonator. In other words, the strings run parallel to the sound table.

Lutes include various chordophone instruments that can be strummed, plucked, or bowed. Common examples are guitars, ukuleles, banjos, violins, and cellos.

4. Musical Bows

Musical bows are instruments that may or may not have a built-in soundbox or resonator. Either way, removing the resonator can alter the sound but should not render the instrument unplayable.

Generally, these chordophone instruments only have a string, strings, or string bearer.

You can sound these stringed instruments by plucking, striking, or bowing the string. Examples are the koto, ravanahatha, berimbau, ukeke, and malunga.

5. Lyres

Lyres, also known as yoke lutes, are a class of stringed instruments with one or more strings that run parallel to the soundboard.

Lyres must have a box or bowl-shaped sound box and a yoke that shares a plane with the sound table with two arms and a crosspiece.

Lyres are generally played by plucking the strings, but some chordophone instruments in the lyre family can be bowed. Examples are cithara, lyre, nyatiti, and phorminx.

Other classifications of musical instruments

The Hornbostel-Sachs system classifies musical instruments based on the material that vibrates to produce a sound.

Besides chordophone instruments, it also has membranophones, aerophones, idiophones, and electrophones.



Idiophone instruments create a sound by vibrating themselves rather than vibrating strings or membranes.

The Hornbostel-Sachs system divided them into two categories, Plucked idiophones, and Struck idiophones.

Plucked idiophones are instruments with a flexible tongue-like object that can be plucked. Examples are the Marimba and Jew’s Harp.

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Percussion idiophones create a sound when they are struck with a hammer, mallet, stick, or other objects. Some examples are the Wood Block and Gong.


Aerophones are music instruments that produce a tone by causing a body of air to vibrate rather than using strings, membranes, or the body of the instrument to produce a sound.

They are often called ‘air instruments’ and include wind instruments with the addition of free aerophones.

Aerophone instruments may or may not contain the vibrating air when played. They can further be sub-divided into free, non-free, flute, and reed aerophones.

(Video) Theorbo (The enormous 14 string lute)

Examples of aerophones include the trombone, oboe, bagpipes, didgeridoo, ocarina, and pan flute.


A membranophone refers to a class of musical instruments that produce a tone by vibrating a stretched membrane.

In most cases, the sound is produced by rubbing or striking the skin or head stretched over an opening in the body of the musical instrument.

Membranophones are also called the ‘drum’ family. They include barrel drums, tubular drums, long drums, kettle drums, and frame drums among other types.

Examples are the tabla, calabash, darbuka, djembe, talking drums, and timpani.


Electrophone refers to a class of musical instruments that produce an initial sound by electronic means, or the produced sound needs to be electronically amplified.

Simply put, an electrophone is any musical instrument that uses sound amplification or electronic circuits to produce sound.

This is not a part of the four main classes of instruments in the original Hornbostel-Sachs system.

It was added later when the musical instrument classification system was updated. Examples of electrophones are electric guitar, electric bass, electronic drums, etc.


Is a piano a chordophone?

A piano is considered a type of chordophone musical instrument in the Hornbostel-Sachs musical instrument classification system.

Pianos are percussive chordophones or struck string instruments. It produces a sound when you vibrate strings stretched between two points.

What kind of chordophone is a guitar?

The guitar is a necked box lute chordophone. It is a plucked or strummed composite chordophone with the 321.322 classification number in the Hornbostel-Sachs classification system.

It applies to string instruments such as the acoustic guitar, classical guitar, and electric guitars.

Is a cello a chordophone?

The cello is a bowed box-lute chordophone. In other words, the cello is a composite chordophone sounded by a bow.

Composite chordophones are chordophone instruments with a soundbox or resonator as an integral part of a musical instrument that cannot be removed.


What Exactly Is A Chordophone? (With Examples) ? ›

chordophone, any of a class of musical instruments in which a stretched, vibrating string produces the initial sound. The five basic types are bows, harps, lutes, lyres, and zithers. The name chordophone replaces the term stringed instrument when a precise, acoustically based designation is required.

How would you describe a chordophone? ›

Chordophones are instruments that produce sound by vibrating strings. The Hornbostel-Sachs classification system breaks chordphones down further into simple and composite chordophones.

What is a chordophone in music piano? ›

ˈkȯrdəˌfōn. plural chordophones. : any of a class of musical instruments (such as a guitar or piano) whose sound is generated by plucking, bowing, or striking stretched strings : stringed instrument compare aerophone, electrophone, idiophone, lamellophone, membranophone.

Why is a guitar a chordophone? ›

The guitar is classified as a chordophone – meaning the sound is produced by a vibrating string stretched between two fixed points. Historically, a guitar was constructed from wood with its strings made of catgut.

What instrument is a chordophone sample? ›

Examples of chordophones that are played by plucking are banjo, guitar, harp, mandolin and ukulele. The piano, dulcimer and the clavichord are examples of chordophones that are struck. ... Electric guitars and electric pianos are examples of traditional instruments that are electronically amplified.

What is the most common chordophone? ›

The musical bow is the most basic chordophone instrument. It consists of one or more strings stretched from one end of a wooden bow to the other.

What is a chordophone quizlet? ›

Chordophones. Instruments that produce sound by the vibration of strings.

What was the first chordophone? ›

' Chordophones have a long history. The earliest surviving stringed instruments to date are the Lyres of Ur, plucked chordophones, which currently exist in fragments that date back to 4,500 years ago.

Is an electric piano a chordophone? ›

In the traditional Hornbostel-Sachs system of categorizing musical instruments, the piano is considered a type of chordophone. Similar to a lyre or a harp, it has strings stretched between two points.

Is a flute a chordophone? ›

Examples of aerophones are flutes, trumpets, trombones, tubas, clarinets, saxophones. You must blow into all of these instruments to make a sound. Examples of chordophones are violins, violas, cellos, double bass, harp, guitar, ukulele.

Is a banjo a chordophone? ›

The five-string banjo (hereafter simply 'banjo') is a plucked spike-lute chordophone of the United States.

Is a violin a chordophone? ›

The violin, sometimes known as a fiddle, is a wooden chordophone (string instrument) in the violin family. Most violins have a hollow wooden body. It is the smallest and thus highest-pitched instrument (soprano) in the family in regular use.

What type of chordophone is a guitar? ›

The guitar is a necked box lute chordophone. It is a plucked or strummed composite chordophone with the 321.322 classification number in the Hornbostel-Sachs classification system. It applies to string instruments such as the acoustic guitar, classical guitar, and electric guitars.

How many chordophone are there? ›

The term chordophones is generally used to classify musical instruments that produce sound by way of vibrating strings, that can be plucked by a plectrum, rubbed by a bow or played by hand. Research has verified the existence of seven different instruments that can be listed under this category.

Is an electric guitar a chordophone? ›

The guitar is a type of chordophone, traditionally constructed from wood and strung with either nylon or steel strings and distinguished from other chordophones by its construction and tuning.

Which chordophone instruments have 6 strings? ›

The guitar is a musical instrument of the chordophone family. The standard guitar has six strings, others…

What are 4 examples of chordophone? ›

chordophone, any of a class of musical instruments in which a stretched, vibrating string produces the initial sound. The five basic types are bows, harps, lutes, lyres, and zithers.

What is the simplest type of chordophone? ›

Aerophones. Simplest type of chordophone, which consist of a single string attached to two ends of a curved stick, like the bow archers use. Most common type of harp in Sub-Saharan Africa, which is similar to the musical bow, except that it has several strings instead of just one strung across a curved stick.

What is one of the most prominent chordophone instruments? ›

The most common types of chordophones are lutes, which include strings pulled across the body of the instrument (the resonator) and up the instrument's neck. Lute instruments include guitars, banjos, violins, fiddle, and cellos.

Is string a chordophone? ›

In musicology, string instruments are known as chordophones. It is one of the five main divisions of instruments in the Hornbostel–Sachs scheme of musical instrument classification.

What organ instrument is a chordophone? ›

The piano and harpsichord are chordophones, and the organ is an aerophone that uses air columns flowing through pipes to create sounds, but all three are traditionally operated by a single musician at a keyboard, so they are typically considered part of the keyboard family.

What is a harp chordophone? ›

The harp is a multi-stringed musical instrument, or chordophone, that has a resonator (or soundboard) that vibrates with the movement of the strings, producing the sound of the notes.

Where did the chordophone come from? ›

Bowed chordophones seem to have originated in Central Asia and spread rapidly throughout Eurasia in perhaps the 10th century.

What is the name of this ancient chordophone? ›

The oud (Arabic: عود, romanized: ʿūd, pronounced [ʕuːd];) is a short-neck lute-type, pear-shaped, fretless stringed instrument (a chordophone in the Hornbostel–Sachs classification of instruments), usually with 11 strings grouped in six courses, but some models have five or seven courses, with 10 or 13 strings ...

What is the chordophone of China? ›

The yueqin (or yueh-ch'in) is a plucked box-lute chordophone of the Han Chinese. Known to the English-speaking world as the 'moon lute,' its name derives from the characters for 'moon' ('yue') and 'stringed instrument' ('qin').

Why is a ukulele a chordophone? ›

The ukulele is a string instrument that originated in Portugal in the second century B.C. With a small, guitar-shaped body that is fitted with four strings, it is considered a member of the chordophone family. Sound is produced through these instruments by plucking and strumming the strings.

Is a ukulele a chordophone? ›

The 'ukulele (or, in English, ukulele) is a plucked/strummed box-lute chordophone currently distributed worldwide but most strongly associated with the Hawaiian Islands. All three instruments pictured here are soprano 'ukuleles; other more-or-less standard sizes are the concert, tenor, and baritone.

Is the hurdy gurdy a chordophone? ›

The hurdy-gurdy is a mechanically bowed box-zither chordophone with keyboard-operated tangents.

What is the easiest instrument to learn? ›

Top 10 Easiest Instruments for Beginners
  • Triangle. The triangle is perhaps the simplest instrument to master. ...
  • Xylophone. The melodies are commonly recognized by children before they understand the words. ...
  • Harmonica. ...
  • Bongo drums. ...
  • Ukulele. ...
  • Flute. ...
  • Clarinet. ...
  • Piano.
Apr 13, 2022

What is the hardest instrument to play? ›

Top 5 most difficult instruments to play
  • Violin. The violin is a commonly learnt instrument, so you may be surprised to see this lying at the top of this list! ...
  • Bagpipes. The bagpipes rank high in this list for their challenging physical demands. ...
  • French horn. ...
  • Hammond organ. ...
  • Accordion.

What is the oldest instrument? ›

The oldest musical instrument in the world, a 60,000-year-old Neanderthal flute is a treasure of global significance. It was discovered in Divje babe cave near Cerkno and has been declared by experts to have been made by Neanderthals.

Is a bass drum a chordophone? ›

A bass drum is a percussion instrument that belongs to the membranophone percussion group because it produces sound when a pedal hits the drum head (membrane).

Is a saxophone a Aerophone? ›

Reed aerophones can be further sub-divided into two distinct categories: single-reed and double-reed instruments. The former includes clarinets and saxophones, while examples of the latter are oboes and bassoons.

What is a 4 string banjo called? ›

Tenor banjos are 4 string banjos that have a shorter neck and come in two varieties, the 17 fret and the 19 fret. The name “tenor” has nothing to do with a lower pitch such as a vocalist who is a tenor or a tenor saxophone.

Is Bandurria a chordophone? ›

The bandurria is a plucked chordophone from Spain, similar to the mandolin and bandola, primarily used in Spanish folk music, but also found in former Spanish colonies.

What is the queen of the instruments? ›

For many centuries, the organ has been considered as the Queen of all instruments. It is the largest and noblest instrument as concerns the equipment. This is why playing the organ is no easy task to learn.

Is a cello a membranophone? ›

membranophones, such as drums or kazoos, which produce sound by a vibrating membrane; chordophones, such as the piano or cello, which produce sound by vibrating strings; aerophones, such as the pipe organ or oboe, which produce sound by vibrating columns of air.

Is a flute an idiophone? ›

Idiophones are instruments whose own substance vibrates to produce sound (as opposed to the strings of a guitar or the air column of a flute); examples include bells, clappers, and rattles. Membranophones emit sound by the vibration of a stretched membrane; the prime examples are drums.

Is an accordion an Aerophone? ›

Free aerophones are instruments where the vibrating air is not confined to the inside of the instrument itself (eg. accordions and pitch pipes). In non-free aerophones, the vibrating air is confined inside of the instrument (eg. ocarinas and bagpipes).


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