String instruments are known in every culture.


String Instruments from Around the World

According to the classification system developed by E.M. von Hornbostel and C. Sachs, all string instruments are called chordophones. Chordophones are instruments in which strings are stretched under tension, and sound is produced by causing strings to vibrate. This may be done by plucking, strumming, striking, or bowing the strings, or even allowing them to be blown by the wind, as in the case of the Aeolian harp. String instruments are known in every culture.
String instruments can be divided into four categories: harps, zithers, lutes, and lyres. Because there are so many variations of these instruments, it is sometimes difficult to assign an instrument to one category.
Early string instruments may have looked like the hunting bow (bow and arrow). Such an instrument is called a musical bow. The first object drawn across it to produce sound may have been a stick. Various types of resonators such as gourds were added to these bows to enhance the sound. If you think of the hunting bow standing upright, with its curved back next to you, you can imagine, with the addition of some strings, how the harp came into existence. We know that the harp has existed since ancient times. Harps have frames, across which strings are stretched. There is a resonator, or in the case of the modern Western symphonic harp, a soundboard. A folk harp, called the arpa, is used in Mexico .
A zither is a simple string instrument that is basically a resonator with strings stretched across it. Zithers are often played in a flat or horizontal position. Instruments in the zither family include the kantele from Finland , the koto of Japan , the zheng and yangqin from China , and the citera from Hungary . The Autoharp is also a type of zither.
Lutes are instruments that have a long neck, a resonator body, and strings stretched across a bridge. Pegs are used to tune the strings of these instruments. Violins, guitars, banjos, and the sitar from India are each a type of lute. Others include the pipa from China and the balalaika from Russia . To change the pitch of these instruments, the player presses a string against the fingerboard at various places along its length to shorten and lengthen the vibrating length of that string. This allows the player to produce many different pitches. As with all instruments, a longer vibrating string produces a lower pitch, and a shorter vibrating string produces a higher pitch. Guitars and Western European renaissance viols have frets that help the player know exactly where to press the string in order to produce any given note.
Lyres are instruments that have two curved arms that are connected by a yoke and attached to the sides of a sound box. The strings run from the sound box over a bridge and are attached to the yoke. Lyres have been played since ancient times and are known in most cultures throughout the world. Lyres also come in different sizes, as do most string instruments, in order to play in different ranges.
Sound can be produced on string instruments by plucking the strings with the fingers or a plectrum (also called a pick). Strings may also be struck to produce sound, or a bow may be drawn across them. The bow may be made of horse hair or some other material. When a bow is used on a modern violin, viola, cello, or bass, the player puts rosin on the bow. Rosin is a sticky substance that adds friction as the bow is drawn across the string. The added friction causes the strings to vibrate more, thus producing a louder, clearer sound. Using a bow makes it possible to produce long, sustained sounds and to vary the dynamics more than by simply plucking the strings with the fingers or a pick. The addition of pegs, bridges, frets, and bows add more versatility to some of these string instruments.

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