Module Thirteen, Activity Two


This activity is divided into two parts. For Part One, you will read explanations of how instruments are classified. Using this information, you will then be expected to look at pictures of traditional African musical instruments and fit them into the correct category.

For Part Two, you will look at images of musicians and lyrics of songs to discuss how they show the concepts of diffusion, diversity, and musical functions. You can discuss with classmates and/or write your responses individually.


Part One:

All musical instruments in the world can be classified according to how they make sound when a person plays them. The standard system of classification is called the Sachs-Hornbostel system of classification, and we will use this one to understand the types of traditional instruments we find in Africa. The instruments that we show in this section are not all of the instruments of Africa, just ones that are used for more traditional purposes.

Membranophone: This class of instruments is characterized by the sound coming from a membrane (made of plastic, paper, or skin) that is stretched over the body of the instrument. When struck, the membrane sends sound waves through the body of the instrument.
Chordophone: This class of instruments is characterized by the sound coming from a chord, string or strings that are plucked or bowed. The chord is pulled to different lengths to get different tones.
Idiophone: The sounds produced by instruments in this class come from the body of the instrument itself. Idiophone means “self sounding.” There are three types of idiophones, depending on how they are played: Struck idiophones, where the musician uses her hand or another object to strike the instrument to get sound, Shaken idiophones, where the musician shakes the instrument to get sound, or Tuned idiophones, where parts of the instrument are different tones on a melodic scale.
Aerophone: This class of instruments is characterized by sound coming from the breath of a musician. The player will blow into a part of the instrument and air travels through to make sound waves. The pitch of the sound can be controlled by different holes on the instrument that are covered up by the musician.
Electronophone: This classification is not part of the Sachs Hornbostel system, but is necessary these days. This class of instruments makes its sound only with the assistance of an electric current. These instruments have to be plugged in, and their sound comes through an amplifier.
Lamellophone: This classification is also not part of the Sachs Hornbostel system, but some scholars believe that tuned idiophones should fall into this category because they have different tuned parts that make sound in different ways, and are not totally self-contained like other idiophones.


1. Look at the following 11 images (click on them to make them larger). Decide which category of instruments to which you think each belongs. For some, there may be more than one answer. Record your findings, and then discuss with other students.

Djundjuna. Djundjun Ngomab. Ngoma
Axatsec. Axatse Korad. Kora
Double Belle. Double Bell Mbiraf. Mbira
Balafoneg. Balafone Gankogi Bellh. Gankogi Bell
Log Slit Drumi. Log Slit Drum Hoshoj. Hosho
Chitendik. Chitendi

2. Which categories are not represented? Why do you think this is?

Part Two:

Read the lyrics to the following 5 songs. Think about what is being said, and what is being heard. What do you think these songs are used for? What do you think some of the experiences of the singers could be?

Song 1

Song 2

Song 3

Song 4

Song 5

Images (Click on the pictures to view a larger photograph)

1. How does the picture in Image A reflect the influence of other cultures on music in Africa? Think about the concept of diffusion as you formulate your answer.

2. Can you draw any similarities or differences between the musical practice of Africa society and those of your country or the New World by looking at Image B?

A. Zambian Boys
Zambian Boys Playing Tin Guitar








Zambian boys playing tin guitar: Central Africa Luvuyo’s machine

B. Univen Choir

Univen Choir








Go on to Activity Three or choose from one of the other activities in this module