Welcome to the Grinnell College Musical Instrument Collection, the holdings of which have been packaged on this site to serve as a resource through which visitors can explore the world of acoustic musical instruments. The collection includes: the standard Western instruments used in music making today throughout the cosmopolitan world; earlier historic forms of many of these same instruments; and a generous sampling of instruments used in musical traditions around the non-Western world. Each instrument has a page dedicated to it that includes an overview of its contexts of usage, design, musician-instrument interface, and history, and most of these pages include image and audio or video illustrations. Visitors can also learn about the standard ensemble combinations of instruments found in the Western tradition as well as many non-Western traditions. Ample navigational options are built into the site to allow visitors both to find information about specific instruments and to freely explore connections between instruments from around the world.
Information About This Site
For an overview of this site's mission, organization, contents, exploratory potential, and evolution, click ABOUT.
Getting Started—Search Strategies
To find the page dedicated to a particular instrument, you will first need to isolate the thumbnail image of the instrument, which, when clicked on, opens its full record. How you arrive at an instrument’s page depends on the nature of your search. Each strategy presented below begins in the navigation banner found at the top and the bottom of each page of this site.
If you know the name of an instrument—type the name into the Search field;
If you wish to find out about the instruments of the Western world—click WESTERN INSTRUMENTS and select from the links provided on this page to execute a sort that produces a gallery of thumbnail images;
If you wish to find out about the instruments associated with a particular continent, world region, or country—click BROWSE and select from the Filter options the particular continent, region, or country designation in which you are interested. These sort options are feathered, so, for example, if you choose the “Asia” option in the Continent filter for your initial sort, only the pertinent Region and Country (and Category) filter options will appear on the sort page. By selecting one of the Region or Country filter options, you can further refine your sort results. For example, applying the series of filter options: Asia > South Asia > Sri Lanka will provide you with a final sort of two instruments;
If you wish to find out about the instruments associated with a specific ethnic or social identity—type the name of the identity group (e.g., Aboriginal, Shona, Chinese, Javanese, Hawaiian, etc.) in the Search field;
If you have the name of an ensemble and wish to find out more about it and the instruments that comprise it—click ENSEMBLES to find links to the ensemble pages found on this site, each of which produces a page with text and a gallery of thumbnail images;
If you have seen an instrument but do not know its name or anything about its associations with a place or cultural identity—click BROWSE and either: 1) scroll through all 400+ thumbnails until you encounter the instrument you are seeking; or 2) if you know even a little about how sound is produced on the instrument, execute a sort using the Category filter on the Browse page. Aerophones are wind instruments; idiophones are percussion instruments excluding membranophones (see below); chordophones are stringed instruments; membranophones are drums, i.e., instruments with a tensioned membrane as its primary sounding element; and electrophones, which involve an electronic signal and the use of an amplifier and speaker/headphones to be heard. You will still need to work though a number of results after selecting one of these filter options, but they will be far fewer in number than the 400+ instruments found on the unfiltered Browse page.
A Sampling of Instruments in the Collection
Images of a few of the 400+ instruments documented on this site are highlighted in the screen below. Click on an image to bring up its full entry, which will include: text; more images; often times an audio clip, occasionally a video, and ways to link to other instruments in the collection.