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Stringed instruments

Table of contents

What are stringed instruments?

Stringed instruments are musical instruments that use one or more strings stretched between two points to produce sound. The strings are made of different materials such as metal, gut or nylon and are stretched over a neck with a fingerboard on which the player can produce the notes. There are plucked stringed instruments such as the guitar, where the strings are plucked with the fingers or a plectrum, and bowed stringed instruments such as the


where the strings are bowed with a bow.

Stringed instruments are divided into

plucked instruments


string instruments

instruments. On plucked instruments, the strings are vibrated by plucking them with the fingers or a plectrum, while on stringed instruments the strings are vibrated by bowing them with a bow. This distinction has a decisive influence on the sound and playing style of these instrument categories.

Stringed instruments are of great importance in many musical styles and genres. The guitar, for example, is a popular instrument in pop and rock music and is often used as a rhythm instrument. The violin, on the other hand, is an important instrument in classical music and is also often used in folk and country music.

Stringed instruments can be divided into different categories. So there are
lute instruments
lutes and lyres, zithers and harps


. The strings are usually plucked or bowed. The shorter, the tighter the tension and the thinner the string, the higher the pitch.

Live concerts are an important part of rock music. This often includes the stage show, which can range from extravagant outfits to spectacular lighting effects. Interaction with the audience is a central component and contributes to the unique atmosphere of a rock concert.

Overall, stringed instruments offer a wide range of possibilities for musical expression and are therefore an important part of the musical world. Whether in classical music, jazz or pop music


– and

rock music

– Stringed instruments have an indispensable place in the history of music.

music history

and will continue to play an important role in the future.

History of stringed instruments

Musical instruments have a long history dating back to the dawn of mankind. The oldest instruments are


like beaten stones that can produce rhythms. Flutes were probably played from the Aurignacian (40,000-31,000 BP) onwards, while stringed instruments only emerged later. Bows with one string appeared from the late Upper Paleolithic or the Mesolithic onwards. It is not known whether they were first used as hunting bows or musical bows. The oldest depictions of a musical bow come from 15,000-year-old cave drawings. Musical bows are considered the archetypes of all stringed instruments and can be developed into harps and lyres.

The musical bow consists of a flexible wooden stick with a string or a piece of gut pulled around the ends to tighten the stick into a bow. Plucked with a small stick or the fingers, the musical bow produces several fundamental and overtones, which can be amplified by a resonating body such as a calabash. The further development of musical bows led to stick zithers, such as harps and lyres, as well as idiochord bamboo tube zithers.

String instruments are relatively young compared to other instruments. The first references to making music with a bow date back 15,000 years to cave paintings. Plucked stringed instruments probably consisted of a flexible wooden bow with a taut gut or string. The sound was created by plucking. Over the course of time, the instruments were further developed to amplify the sound with sound bodies. This gave rise to the well-known and popular plucked and stringed instruments such as the guitar,


and ukulele.

Different stringed instruments have developed in different cultures. In ancient Egypt, plucked instruments were often used to make music. The Greeks loved the soothing sounds of their lyre and kithara. Oriental instruments with their special sound, such as the sitar, are represented in the Asian region. The lute was already a popular instrument in the Middle Ages and was developed further over the course of time. The most well-known stringed instruments include the


and the violin, which have made a name for themselves all over the world.

Classifications of stringed instruments

Stringed instruments can be systematically classified in various ways. A common method for this is the

Hornbostel-Sachs system

according to

Erich Moritz von Hornbostel


Curt Sachs

which makes an initial distinction between simple (zither) and compound chordophones.

Vibration generation

Another approach to classification is based on the method by which the strings are made to vibrate:

On plucked instruments, the strings are plucked either with the fingers, a pick or mechanical devices (keels). This can be done:

  • without fingerboard, like the


    , kithara, lyre and third-bridge zither,
  • with fingerboard, such as guitar, electric bass, lute, mandolin, banjo, balalaika, zither, ukulele, saz, oud, bouzouki and sitar, or
  • with keyboard, like the harpsichord.

On stringed instruments, on the other hand, the strings are bowed, such as the violin (violin), viola (viola), cello, double bass, fiddle, Hardanger fiddle, viola da gamba, psaltery, erhu and nyckelharpa. Alternatively, a stick can be used, as with the Umrhubhe (mouth bow), or a wheel, as with the hurdy-gurdy.

Some stringed instruments are played by striking the strings with mallets or hammers. The instrument is struck either with clappers held in the hand, as with the hammered dulcimer, or via a keyboard, as with the piano and clavichord.

Finally, there are instruments in which the strings are produced by blowing, either by the wind, as with the aeolian harp, or by the mouth, as with the gora.

Vibration transmission

Regardless of the playing style, the instrument maker distinguishes between three basic forms of stringed instruments, depending on the way the vibrations are transmitted to the resonating body, which has a direct effect on the timbre and development of the sound.

On the harp, the strings are connected directly to the resonator at one end. When playing, the string tension directly influences the physical properties of the strings, resulting in a characteristic, floating sound. At the other end, the strings are attached to a solid neck which, together with the front bar, allows the harp to vibrate to fill the room, especially when it is resting on the floor.

On zithers, the vibrations are not transmitted directly from the strings to the soundboard. Instead, the strings are attached to solid side pieces (clappers), which in turn are connected to the soundboard. The sound is created by the interplay of the soundboard and clappers and can be further amplified and distributed by a zither table.

Lutes are single-necked instruments in which the string vibration is transmitted to the soundboard via a bridge. The sound is produced by the soundboard and the air particles it causes to vibrate.

Resonating body for stringed instruments

The timbre of a stringed instrument is determined by all the fixed parts and their specific material properties. In the case of stringed instruments, these include the wood grain and density, the alloy of the metal parts, the type of casting or forging and the string gauge. In instruments without a resonating body, such as solid-body electric guitars, only a small proportion of the vibrational energy is converted into sound. To amplify the sound in these cases, the strings are usually picked up by a pickup and amplified electrically.

List of stringed instruments


Stringed instruments