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Musical instruments range from simple to complex. They differ from one part of the world to another. But all instruments produce sound the same way, by means of vibrations (rapid back-and-forth movements). These vibrations reach our ears as sound waves. We can group musical instruments into families by how they produce vibrations. Vibrations come from striking, plucking, and blowing on instruments, or by moving a bow across them. Faster vibrations produce higher notes.

INSTRUMENTS WE BLOW ON

Flutes, trumpets, saxophones, and other instruments produce sound through vibrations of air. A flute sounds when we breathe air into a hole on its side or its end. By covering finger holes on the flute, we can change the pitch of the notes—how high or low the notes are.

In some instruments, a thin piece of metal or plastic in the mouthpiece vibrates when we blow on it. These instruments are called reed instruments. They include the bassoon, clarinet, oboe, and saxophone. The bagpipe is also a reed instrument. The bagpiper blows air into the bags, and presses the bags to send air into the pipes where a reed vibrates. Pressure from our lips helps make the air vibrate when we blow into a horn, trombone, trumpet, or tuba.

INSTRUMENTS WITH STRINGS

Some musical instruments, such as violins and harps, have strings that vibrate. Stretching the strings by plucking or striking makes them vibrate. Violins, violas, and cellos are played by drawing a bow across their strings. The guitar, lute, banjo, and harp have strings that are plucked with the fingers. The piano has strings and a keyboard. Pressing a key on the keyboard causes a string to be hit with a small hammer.

INSTRUMENTS WITH ELECTRICITY

Some instruments use electrical equipment to produce or change their sounds. Electric guitars use electric current to make their sound a lot louder than the usual guitar. Synthesizers use electric current to produce sound. A group of synthesizers linked together can produce the sound of an entire orchestra. Computers control sound synthesizers made today.

Source: Microsoft ® Encarta ® 2009. © 1993-2008

 
 
   
       

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