Musical Instruments of the World

    -- by the Diagram Group, New York & Oxford: Facts On File, 1976. (also in French) 320 pages

Gazing wide-eyed in the library at this marvelous book, and similar ones, was my main occupation in graduate school. I spent most of my waking hours perusing the shelves in search of such riches, and this book led to much amazement as I considered the ingenuity, inventiveness, and expertise of musical instrument makers the world over.

The book is comprehensive, an illustrated encyclopedia with more than 4000 line drawings and many explanatory notes. Instruments from a veritable cornucopia of countries and centuries are represented. Many of the pictures show instruments held by musicians so you can see the playing position. An index helps you find what you’re looking for if you’re not in a mood to browse. Can’t sleep at night until you know about the oboe d’amore? the heckelphone? “Tippoo’s tiger” mechanical organ? various nose flutes? the glass harmonica? the eunuch flute? the banana drum? Set your troubled mind at rest, just turn to the index and become ‘illustratively enlightened.’

The first four chapters cover the standard “-phone” categories, and Chapter 5 provides examples of “Electrical and Mechanical Instruments.” The following three chapters organize the instruments according to various criteria. Chapter 6 groups instruments according to eight geographic regions. In Chapter 7, we see the historical progression of certain musical instruments from ancient times through the medieval period, the Renaissance, the Baroque and Romantic periods and into contemporary times. Chapter 8 demonstrates various types of music ensembles from around the world, ranging from a “one-man band” of pipe and tabor1 to a large Gagaku ensemble of Japan.

Each of the first five chapters has a unique circular chart that demonstrates the relationship between instrument types of that category. For example, among the aerophones, you see that some instrument types have a single reed (illustrated by clarinet and saxophone), some have double reeds (shawn, oboe and bassoon), and some have free reeds (mouth organ, accordion and harmonium). Different types of charts with helpful text are found in the latter chapters.

Consider carefully the 15 citterns, study the 17 simple zithers followed by the 10 long zithers (the latter from Asia), and meditate on the diversity of the 20+ board zithers (some of which are played by angels in icons). Ponder the plethora of percussion. Flip the pages and be astonished at the diversity of instruments upon the earth, and be glad at the soundmakers that man has made. And be thankful to the publishers for assembling this marvelous book (unfortunately going out of print in the US).

recorder-type woodwind and small drum, each played with one hand by a single performer

    --reviewed by Paul Neeley

Published in Vol.1, No.4 of

Published by
Artists in Christian Testimony