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A membranophone is any musical instrument which produces sound primarily by way of a vibrating stretched membrane. It is one of the four main divisions of instruments in the original Hornbostel-Sachs scheme of musical instrument classification.

Most membranophones are drums. Hornbostel-Sachs divides drums into three main types: struck drums, where the skin is hit with a stick, the hand, or something else; string drums, where a knotted string attached to the skin is pulled, passing its vibrations onto the skin; and friction drums, where some sort of rubbing motion causes the skin to vibrate (a common type has a stick passing through a hole in the skin which is pulled back and forth).

In addition to drums, there is another kind of membranophone, called the singing membranophone, of which the best known type is the kazoo. These instruments modify a sound produced by something else, commonly the human voice, by having a skin vibrate in sympathy with it.



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

  • 21: by hitting the drumskin with a hand or object (most common form, including the timpani and snare drum)
  • 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)
  • 23: by rubbing the drumskin with a hand or object
  • 24: by modifying sounds through a vibrating membrane (unusual form, including the kazoo) [1]

Shape and technique

Membranophones can also be divided into large divisions based on shape and manner of sound production:[2]

  • Tubular drums include a wide range of drum shapes, like waisted, long, footed, cylindrical, conical and barrel
  • Kettle drums and vessel drums are characterized by the presence of rounded bottoms.
  • Frame drums consist of a membrane stretched across a frame.
  • Friction drums produce sound by rubbing a stick through a hole in a membrane stretched across a frame.
  • Mirlitons and kazoos vibrate by blowing air across a membrane. These are the only membranophones that are not truly drums.

SIL International maintains a classification system based largely on shape:[3]

  • 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.
  • Conical drums are sloped on the sides, and are usually one-headed. Examples include the Indian tabla and the Venezuelan chimbangueles.

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