Aerophones: Types & Examples

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  • 0:00 Instrument Families
  • 1:27 What Are Aerophones?
  • 1:51 Types
  • 3:31 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Charis Duke

Charis has taught college music and has a master's degree in music composition.

Aerophones are a family of instruments that use a vibrating column of air to produce sound. They are prevalent throughout all cultures. This lesson explores the different types of aerophones.

Instrument Families

Every Fourth of July, Thanksgiving Day, New Year's Day, and other holidays as well, people take to the streets to celebrate and watch parades go by. If you've ever attended a parade, you'll know they feature floats, giant balloons and, last but not least, marching bands. But, what are those instruments you see in the bands marching past? There are drums and cymbals, of course. But there are also wonderful assortments of aerophones in every parade band. Let's take a closer look at these instruments.

In Western European cultures, musical instruments have been traditionally classified into four family groups: strings, woodwinds, brass, and percussion. This model served well for centuries. At the dawn of the 20th century, two musicologists, Erich von Hornbostel and Curt Sachs, realized that the standard family groupings were no longer adequate. Non-Western instruments, such as those from Africa and Asia, often didn't fit well into these groups. Newly created instruments added to the confusion.

To solve this dilemma, Von Hornbostel and Sachs devised a classification system that is now the standard for organology, or the study of musical instruments. Their system includes the following groups: aerophones, membranophones, idiophones, chordophones, and electrophones.

What Are Aerophones?

Aerophones are instruments that produce sound by vibrating air. The vibrating air is most often inside the instrument. The length of the instrument will determine the pitch of the sound. A shorter length creates a higher sound than a longer length. Von Hornbostel and Sachs divided the aerophones into groups according to what produces the initial vibration.


There are six types of aerophones. The first two, whistles and blowholes, are similar. For whistles, air is blown directly on the sharp edge of the instrument, as in a recorder. For blowholes, air is blown across a sharp edge of the instrument. The flute is an example of a blowhole.

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