Everyone knows the classic instruments used in every song: the drums that provide the back-beat, the bass, anchoring the harmonic framework and the guitar that provides the melody. Lately, artists have been stepping out of this mold and incorporating the sounds of different, and sometimes unusual, instruments that are not typically used in modern music. But just where do these music-making apparatuses actually come from? Here are 10 instruments from around the world that have symbolic or cultural importance within their country.
Australia – Didgeridoo
The didgeridoo is an Australian Aboriginal instrument in the form of a long wooden tube traditionally made from a tree branch. Sound is made by vibrating your lips continuously while blowing into the instrument using circular breathing techniques.
Brazil – Berimbau
A berimbau is a single-string musical bow made of wood that usually accompanies the martial art of capoeira, where the faster it’s played, the faster the capoeirista moves. The 5-foot-long instrument is strung with a single metal wire called an arame and is attached to the open-backed gourde resonator.
Ecuador – Rondador
The rondador, an Ecuadorian wind instrument, is a set of chorded bamboo pipes and they arranged so the player can simultaneously blow into two of the pipes so that they can produce both the harmony and and melody at once. The rondador is tuned pentatonically, which means the music scale only has five notes.
Greece – Bouzouki
A bouzouki is a modern string instrument of Greece that has a pear-shaped body and with four metal strings arranged over a fretted fingerboard. As one of Greece’s most popular musical instruments, it has gained a wide audience. The bouzouki is played in an array of musical genres throughout the world, such as jazz, bluegrass rock, and folk.
Japan – Koto
This traditional Japanese instrument is made with 13 strings that are strung over 13 movable bridges along the width of the instrument and produces sound from moving these bridges and plucking, creating different pitches. The national instrument of Japan has recently started to infuse its sounds with the modern music scene.
Norway – Langeleik
The Langeleik from Norway is a zither-type instrument consisting of a rectangular wooden box with five or six strings, one playing the melody and the others being drone strings. The player creates tones by stopping the melody string with the left hand, while plucking with the write hand.
Peru – Charango
Originating in South America, the charango is a small 10-string lute, a guitar-like instrument. The back of the instrument is traditionally made with armadillo shells, but can also be made of wood, which is said to be a better resonator and the most common material used today. Charangos play a huge role in festivals, weddings and religious events.
Trinidad – Steelpan
Created in Trinidad during the 1930’s, the steelpan is made from a 55 gallon oil drum and come in a variety of musical ranges. Their sound is made by striking the pan, which has a surface with different sets of pitches, with sticks tipped with rubber. The steelpan is played for performances on the streets of Trinidad and also in competitions.
United States – Banjo
The banjo is a string instrument of African origin, but was popularized in the United States by 19th century slaves. It is frequently associated with bluegrass, country, and folk music and is a mainstay of American old-time music. The banjo comes in a variety of forms produces sound by plucking the strings with your fingers.
Zimbabwe – Mbira
A Mbira, or thumb piano, is a wooden box with strips of metal attached in a way that the player can pluck them with their fingers to produce different notes. The classic instrument of Zimbabwe is so popular that it created it’s own musical genre. The most mainstream use of this instrument is on recordings of Earth, Wind & Fire.