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Home Ensemble Category Acknowledgment


> Extracted from the summary of "An introduction to a classification system for all musical isntruments" by Catherine Schmidt-Jones.

In a chordophone, the sound is made by vibrating strings. The main groups of chordophones are classified according to the relationship between the strings and the resonator. (Resonators pick up the original vibrations and vibrate sympathetically with them, amplifying the original sounds and altering them so that they sound more musical.) Subcategories depend on how the string is played (plucked or bowed for example), and types of resonators.



Figure 1: A banjo is classified as a  plucked lute chordophone.

Figure 2: Harps are one of the main subcategories of chordophone.

Illustration by Margaret Jones

3.1    In zithers, the strings are stretched across, over, or inside a resonator, or between two resonators. The resonator can be a hollow tube, a gourd, a board, a hollow box, or even a pit in the ground. Some have fingerboards with or without frets; some have a keyboard with a complex mechanism; many are simply a multitude of strings strung from one end of the resonator to the other. The strings can be struck (as in a piano or hammered dulcimer) or plucked (harpsichord or Appalachian dulcimer).

3.2    In lutes, the strings stretch across the resonator and up a neck. They may be plucked (guitar, banjo) or bowed (violin, fiddle). Examples of the Malaysian instruments in this category are:

Figure 3: A gambus is a  plucked lute  chordophone with no frets.

Figure 4: Initially sapeh, the guitar-like instrument measured less than a metre, and had only two rattan strings and three frets.

Illustration on All

Gambus: This Arabian oud is a stringed instrument with a body shaped like a pear (sliced lengthwise) and a neck bent just below the tuning pegs. It is played in a variety of styles in Malay folk music, primarily as the lead instrument in Ghazal music.

Relab: A three-stringed spiked fiddle. It varies from 42 to 54 inches long and consists of three sections, namely, the pusuk rebong, the top section of which is detachable, the batang or fingerboard and the muka or body.

Sape: The sape is found among the Kenyah, Kayan, Kelabit, Iban and Penan, but it is identified most with the Kenyah. It varies from 3.5 inches to 6 feet long. 4 metal strings are used on this instrument.

Bilikan: A three-stringed lute from the Iban community. It resembles the chinese er-hu. The pegs are located either one on each side or at the bottom of the scroll. The body is cylindrical with a skin-covered top. There is another Iban bilikan which resembles a small sape.

Sundatang: A two-stringed gambus-like instrument, it is made from nangka or other species of hardwood and measures three feet long. The strings are a fifth apart

3.3    In lyres, the strings leave the resonator at right angles to an edge and run to a cross bar that is held away from the resonator(as in the classical Greek lyre that is so often used as a symbol of music).

3.4    In harps (like the orchestral harp and the Irish harp), the strings leave the resonator at a slant (smaller than a right angle) up to a neck connected to the resonator.

3.5    In a musical bow, the string or strings are stretched from one end of a wooden bow to the other. Some have resonators, but many don't. They can be plucked or bowed (with a second, smaller bow).

Figure 5: Basic Chordophone Types