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A membranophone is any musical instrument which produces sound primarily by way of a vibrating stretched membrane. Membranophone_sentence_0

It is one of the four main divisions of instruments in the original Hornbostel-Sachs scheme of musical instrument classification. Membranophone_sentence_1

Hornbostel-Sachs Membranophone_section_0

The Hornbostel-Sachs scheme of musical instrument classification divides membranophones in a numeric taxonomy based on how the sound is produced: Membranophone_sentence_2


  • 21: by hitting the drumskin with a hand or object (most common form, including the timpani and snare drum)Membranophone_item_0_0
  • 22: by pulling a knotted string attached to the drumskin (common in Indian drums, and can be considered an example of a chordophone as well)Membranophone_item_0_1
  • 23: by rubbing the drumskin with a hand or object (common in Irish traditional music, an example is the bodhran)Membranophone_item_0_2
  • 24: by modifying sounds through a vibrating membrane (unusual form, including the kazoo)Membranophone_item_0_3

Shape and technique Membranophone_section_1

Membranophones can also be divided into large divisions based on shape and manner of sound production: Membranophone_sentence_3


  • Tubular drums include a wide range of drum shapes, like waisted, long, footed, cylindrical, conical and barrelMembranophone_item_1_4
  • Mirlitons, Kazoos and Swazzles vibrate in sympathy with sounds travelling across a membrane. These are the only membranophones that are not truly drums.Membranophone_item_1_5

SIL International maintains a classification system based largely on shape: Membranophone_sentence_4


  • Cylindrical drums are straight-sided, and generally two-headed. A buzzing, percussive string is sometimes used. Examples include the bass drum and the Iranian dohol.Membranophone_item_2_6
  • Conical drums are sloped on the sides, and are usually one-headed. Examples include the Indian tabla and the Venezuelan chimbangueles.Membranophone_item_2_7


  • Barrel drums are normally one-headed, and may be open at the bottom. They bulge in the middle. Examples include the Dhak from eastern parts of India, bendre, made by the Mossi of Burkina Faso out of a large calabash, and the trong chau of Vietnam.Membranophone_item_3_8
  • Hourglass drums (or waisted drums) are hourglass-shaped and generally two-headed. The drumheads are laced onto the body, and the laces may be squeezed during performance to alter the drum's pitch. Examples include folk drums in India (like the damaru) and much of Africa, as well as some talking drums.Membranophone_item_3_9
  • Goblet drums (or chalice drums) are one-headed and goblet shaped, and are usually open at the bottom. Examples include the Egyptian darbuka, West-African djembe, and the Arab darabukka.Membranophone_item_3_10
  • Footed drums are single-headed and are held above the ground by feet. The space between the drum and the ground provides extra resonance. Examples include a range of East African and Polynesian drums.Membranophone_item_3_11
  • Long drums are a diverse category, characterized by extreme length. Examples include the single-headed hollow tree trunk drums of Africa and the ornately carved and dyed gufalo of the Nuna in Burkina Faso.Membranophone_item_3_12
  • Kettle drums (or pot drums or vessel drums) are frequently played in pairs, and have a vessel or pot body, are one-headed and usually tuned to a specific note. Examples include the timpani and the Indian tabla.Membranophone_item_3_13
  • Frame drums are composed of one or more membranes stretched across a frame. Examples include the tambourine and bodhran.Membranophone_item_3_14
  • Friction drums produce sound through friction, such as by rubbing a hand or object against the drumskin. Examples include the Brazilian cuica and the Spanish zambomba.Membranophone_item_3_15
  • Mirlitons, Kazoos and Swazzles produce sound by blowing air across a membrane.Membranophone_item_3_16

Traditional classifications Membranophone_section_2

The traditional classification of Indian instruments include two categories of percussion. Membranophone_sentence_5


  • Ghan: Percussion without membranes, such as chimes, bells and gongsMembranophone_item_4_17
  • Avanaddh: Percussion with membranes, such as drums with skin headsMembranophone_item_4_18

Other categories Membranophone_section_3

See also: List of Caribbean membranophones Membranophone_sentence_6

The predrum category consists of simple drum-like percussion instruments. Membranophone_sentence_7

These include the ground drum, which, in its most common §—Form, consists of an animal skin stretched over a hole in the ground, and the pot drum, made from a simple pot. Membranophone_sentence_8

Water drums are also sometimes treated as a distinct category of membranophone. Membranophone_sentence_9

Common in Native American music and the music of Africa, water drums are characterized by a unique sound caused by filling the drum with some amount of water. Membranophone_sentence_10

The talking drum is an important category of West African membranophone, characterized by the use of varying tones to "talk". Membranophone_sentence_11

Talking drums are used to communicate across distances. Membranophone_sentence_12

Military drums or war drums are drums in various forms that have been used in the military. Membranophone_sentence_13

See also Membranophone_section_4


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