Chordophone Instruments: Definition & Examples

An error occurred trying to load this video.

Try refreshing the page, or contact customer support.

Coming up next: Coloratura: Definition, Arias & Technique

You're on a roll. Keep up the good work!

Take Quiz Watch Next Lesson
 Replay
Your next lesson will play in 10 seconds
  • 0:00 What Is a Chordophone?
  • 1:23 Types
  • 2:54 Chordophones…
  • 3:32 Lesson Summary
Add to Add to Add to

Want to watch this again later?

Log in or sign up to add this lesson to a Custom Course.

Login or Sign up

Timeline
Autoplay
Autoplay

Recommended Lessons and Courses for You

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Charis Duke

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

Chordophones are a group of instruments that use vibrating strings to produce sound. This lesson will examine the origins of the term and discuss the instruments.

What Is a Chordophone?

On a Saturday afternoon, there's nothing you'd rather do than head to the basement with your electric guitar for a little jamming. You plug in the amp, crank up the volume, and hit the strings with a satisfying strum. You have just joined millions of people in every culture around the world in making music with a chordophone.

Chordophones are a family of instruments that use vibrating strings to produce sound. The word is derived from the Greek 'chord,' meaning string. In Western classical music, we often call this group the string family. In the early 20th century, however, musicologists Erich von Hornbostel and Curt Sachs realized that the designation 'string family' was too narrow a term. Instruments from non-Western cultures were often hard to classify. Also, new instruments were being invented that sometimes bridged the traditional instrument family lines.

To address this problem, they devised a system of classification based upon the material that vibrates to produce the tone. We therefore have chordophones, in which a string vibrates, membranophones, in which a membrane vibrates, aerophones, in which the air vibrates, and idiophones, in which the solid body of the instrument vibrates. Some musicologists add electrophones to the list for instruments such as synthesizers.

Types

Chordophones are divided into five basic types: zithers, harps, lutes, musical bows, and lyres. The types are defined by the relationship between the string and the resonator. The resonator is the part of the instrument that picks up the sound of the string and amplifies it. For example, on a violin, the resonator is the wooden body of the violin that the strings stretch across.

A violin. Note the wooden body that acts as a resonator.
Photo of Violin

Zithers have strings that are stretched over, across, or inside a resonator. They can also be stretched between two resonators. Examples include dulcimers, harpsichords, and pianos.

A hammered dulcimer
Photo of Hammered Dulcimer

With harps, the strings are stretched at an angle between the resonator and the neck, which is attached to the resonator. Irish harps and orchestral harps are two examples of this type of chordophone.

A lady with her harp
Painting of a Lady with a Harp

Lutes have strings that stretch across the resonator and up a neck, which may or may not have frets. Frets are raised elements near the top of stringed instruments that affect pitch. Lutes may be bowed, like violins and cellos, or plucked, like banjos and guitars.

A lute
Picture of a Lute

To unlock this lesson you must be a Study.com Member.
Create your account

Register for a free trial

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use Study.com

Become a Study.com member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about Study.com
Free 5-day trial

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 160 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? Study.com has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it free for 5 days!
Create an account
Support