different types of musical instruments

A Look at the Different Types Of Musical Instruments You Can Learn to Play Today

Listening to a beautiful piece of music, whether by Mozart or Fleetwood Mac, can stir something beautiful inside us all. 

Each piece of music has been created that may involve one or all of the six types of musical instruments you can learn to play. 

This article will look at each of these six different types more closely, and take a look at the different types of musical instruments. 

A Little Background Into Musical Instruments 

The playing of musical instruments has been around for thousands of years. Archaeologists have identified that music has been around as far back as paleolithic and neolithic times

The kinds of instruments that they were playing were somewhat basic. During paleolithic times they would use whistles and pipes. During neolithic times, they used percussion instruments such as drums made of clay and large shells as trumpets. 

Over time, the creation of musical instruments that resemble those we continue to play today started to occur. However, no one can say when the first real musical instrument was developed. 

We can confidently say that the development of such a wide and varied range of instruments results from four crucial factors. 

  1. The material from which the instrument was made meant they would only use materials local to the area where they lived. So anyone who lived where wood was plentiful would make instruments from, well, wood. 
  2. The technological skills of those who made the instruments. 
  3. The symbolic and mythical preoccupation of those who made these items, in some societies, the instruments they made would make a sound similar to the animals they kept.
  4. The migration and trade patterns that took place throughout the centuries resulted in each continent learning about different musical instruments.

Different Types of Musical Instruments - How Are Such Instruments Classified? 

Group of Senior People Playing Musical Instruments Indoors

Over the centuries, all instruments have been classified in various ways, resulting in some overlapping. 

In China, throughout the centuries, they divided instruments into multiple groups based on the kind of material that they were made from. 

However, the Romans and Greeks chose to use the terms wind, stringed, and percussion to distinguish what each musical instrument was. 

These three classifications are still very much in use today, but now also include brass and keyboard instruments. 

These days most musical instruments we can play are now classified using the Hornbostel-Sachs system. Below, we look at each group of the five musical instruments based on this method. 

The Six Classes of Musical Instruments 

1. String Instruments 

These are often referred to as stringed or chordophones. They can produce a sound as a result of the strings vibrating. 

Generally, a sound made by a string instrument requires the musician to pluck or play the strings. 

These days, the musician will use their fingers or a plectrum to produce the sound. 

However, a string instrument produces sound by pulling a bow over the strings or hitting them with a hammer.

Then there are other stringed instruments where making a sound requires the musician to press a key. 

The examples of string instruments that are classified as being part of the string family include the following:

  • Guitars
  • Violins
  • Cellos
  • Violas
  • Double Bass
  • Harps

2. Woodwind Instruments 

This is a distinctive family of musical instruments with hollow bodies that one can learn to play. 

However, although all in this class are called woodwind instruments, it is essential to note that they aren't always made from wood. These days a wind instrument can be made from a wide variety of materials, including brass, silver, gold, or platinum. 

The main difference in this type of instrument is that there is a reed along with finger holes that helps them produce a particular sound. 

Currently, there is a wide range of different musical instruments that are classified as woodwinds. Many of those we list below are ones that you will often find played in any orchestra. 

The main instruments classified as woodwinds include:

  • Flute
  • Clarinet
  • Oboe
  • Bassoon

The Saxophone, like all the others we have mentioned above, is also included in this group and uses a reed to help push a column of air through it that helps it produce its fantastic sound. 

3. Percussion Instruments

Instruments classified as part of the percussion family make a sound by being either scraped or struck using a beater or rubbing one's hand on them. 

Again, such instruments play a critical role in many orchestras, and in some cases, there are pieces of music that composers have created to show their beauty. 

The instruments that are often listed as being percussions include the following:

  • Snare Drum
  • Bass Drum 
  • Timpani
  • Triangle 
  • Tambourine

Plus, a few other instruments included in this group are known as non-percussive, such as whistles and sirens. 

Also important to note is that when it comes to drums these are also referred to as membrane instruments. They are classified as this as they include a membrane that has been stretched and held in place and when hit, will vibrate and produce a particular kind of sound.

4. Keyboard Instruments

Each instrument in this classification is characterized by the fact that it is made up of a row of levers that, in order to play, require you to press down on them with your fingers. 

When pressing down on the keys (levers), these are attached to a small component referred to as a hammer. The hammer hits a string when the key is pressed down, and the sound is produced.

The main instruments that you will find classified as being a keyboard include the following:

  • Acoustic Pianos 
  • Organs
  • Synthesizers
  • Digital and Electronic keyboards
  • Celestas
  • Carillons

Today, most modern keyboards may sound just like a conventional piano, but they tend to weigh less and are much smaller in size. 

Also, you will find that modern keyboards tend to be made using plastic keys to which a spring is attached rather than a hammer. 

However, a few more modern instruments these days that come with weighted keys offer the same type of resistance you would expect from playing an acoustic piano. 

5. Brass Instruments 

These types of instruments work in much the same way as those classified as woodwinds. 

However, there are some differences between these two groups of instruments. First, instruments in this group feature air columns that help them produce a distinctive sound.

Anyone playing these instruments can alter how much air passes through the columns by pressing down on valves or using a slide mechanism. 

The kinds of instruments that are classified as brass include:

  • Trumpet
  • Tuba
  • Trombone
  • Cornet
  • Bugle
  • Conch
  • French Horn 

The fantastic thing about these instruments is that the valves enable the musician to play a wide range of different notes on the air column. Plus, opening and closing certain valves allow the player to alter the pitch of the sounds made. 

But it isn't just the valves that help to change the pitch on these instruments. Various crooks, keys, and slides allow changes in the notes produced by an instrument that is part of the brass instrument family. 

Furthermore, those playing these beautiful instruments can alter the pitch themselves. They do this by changing how much air they allow to flow into the instrument and how much lip tension they place on the mouthpiece. 

However, there are now some musical instruments that some scholars feel should be included in this group even though they are not made from brass. 

The instruments that are now often included in this particular group of the six musical instrument groups include the didgeridoo, alphorn, serpent, and cornet. Most of these are usually made from wood. 

6. Electronic Instruments 

These are instruments that, when played, you can modify the sound they produce through electrical or electronic means. 

The two main instruments included in this group are electric guitars and electric keyboards. 

In this group, you could also include the synthesizer and an electronic drum kit.  

These are among some of the most popular instruments people like to learn to play today.

Some Interesting Facts Regarding Musical Instruments

musical instruments in vintage background

It may surprise you to understand the following when it comes to learning more about the history of music and how the instruments we know today came about. 

The first instruments played by people thousands of years ago were very basic. Most of them were made from animal horns or bones. 

However, by the Bronze Age, there was evidence that people living in Scandinavian countries had begun to play instruments made from metal.

By the Middle ages, the instruments proving popular were transverse flutes and harps. In fact, archaeologists discovered flutes 7,000 years old and made from bones in the Central Henan area of China. 

As for the trumpet, the first one was invented back in the 15th Century. It looked nothing like the ones you see being played today, as these were straight in shape. In fact, we would suggest that the closest relative to the first-ever trumpet would be the bugle. 


Now that you´ve learned more about the kinds of instruments you can learn to play, you probably have some more questions you need to answer. We hope the information provided below will help with your music education.

What Is the Right Instrument for Me?

Whatever you learn to play depends on which of the above categories you find the most interesting. Also, it depends on the kind of music you would like to learn to play. 

However, if you are interested in one particular instrument, then, of course, we would recommend you choose that one. After learning the basics of one instrument, it becomes much easier to learn something new. 

How Often Should I Practice?

When learning any musical instrument, the more time you dedicate to practicing it, the more progress you will make. 

If you aren't willing to commit time to practice what you have learned, then over time, you may find that you become less motivated and eventually give up. 

How Much Do These Instruments Cost?

As you will soon learn, the prices of any of the musical instruments we´ve discussed in this article vary. How much you spend will depend on the model and type of instrument you want to learn to play. 

Nowadays, the most affordable instruments you can buy include guitars, keyboards, or a xylophone. 

However, if you aren't sure about what type of instrument it is you would like to learn to play, rather than buying one, consider renting it first. 

Let's Wrap Things Up 

If you are serious about learning to play any of the different types of musical instruments we´ve discussed above, you will find it will prove beneficial to you in many ways. 

It will help to improve your memory, as well as sharpen your mind. You will also find it helps to improve your coordination and patience. 

You must take time to carefully choose which instrument it is you would like to learn to play. 

You may find that starting with something simple such as a guitar or even a recorder, is ideal. Then, when you feel you have gained enough ability, you can learn other instruments listed in the groups above. 

Of course, with this article's help, you can familiarize yourself with the different musical instruments available. This will help you better understand which of them suits your skills and talent best. 

Before making that all-important decision, you may consider taking time and visiting a local music store. This way, you can spend some time trying out a few of the instruments in the store to see which one you feel most comfortable with. 

We hope that you have found this article of some help, and we would love to know which of the different instrument groups you chose from. Make sure to take a look at our picks for the best classical music!

About the Author Classical Music Pro