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Glossary of Musical Instruments

By Catherine Hiebert Kerst,
American Folklife Center,
Library of Congress,
Washington DC, U.S.A.

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The following include a selection of musical instruments recorded, photographed, or sketched for the California Folk Music Project Collection. Information cited in quotes is taken from the WPA Final Report for the Project, entitled "A Study of California Folk Music," pp. 8-11. Browse by instrument:

Banjo: "American. . . 5-string banjo."

Blul: Also called blur. "The performer called it a "syrinx," but "it is probably a mistake . . . It is a single flute whose aperture is round, not closed or shaped in any way, except that its diameter is slightly less at the mouthpiece than at the bell. It is made of ebony. . . an instrument of the Kurdish shepherds. From Turkish Armenia."

Celtic harp: Also called "Irish or small bardic harp."

Cimbalom: Also called "cembalom . . . From Hungary. This is the ancestor of our hammer dulcimer and of our piano. It has forty-eight strings, which are stretched over a large sounding board and sounded with small hammers."

Clarinet: Played in place of the "kirnata" by Armenian performer.

Daph: Also called deff, def, or "defs . . . the tambourine, used in Greek and Turkish popular orchestras. From Azerbaijan."

Dulcimer: "American hammer-type dulcimer with 13 strings."

Dumbelek: Also called "dumbeg . . . the hour-glass drum of Syria, played with the fingers."

Dvorgrle: Also called "dvogrla . . . a double pipe [flute], with three holes for the right hand and four for the left. From Balkan Peninsula."

English guitar: Also called "guitarra portuguesa or Portuguese guitar, this guitar has five strings instead of six, and looks much like the vihuela of the Middle Ages . . . shaped much like our mandolin, with a characteristic fan-shaped tuning mechanism."

Guitar: In this collection, guitar occasionally refers to the Spanish guitar or "sonora, a very small form of the guitar."

Gusle: Also called "gusla. . . a one-stringed, bowed instrument, whose single string is made of thirty horsehairs. The string is only touched, not depressed, so that harmonics only are sounded. It is held between the legs with the long neck supported on one thigh."

Hardanger fiddle: "A small [Norwegian] violin with four sympathetic strings."

Harmonica: Also called "mouth harp."

Harp-lute: Also called "Swedish lute (known popularly as the 'double guitar')."

Hawaiian guitar: A guitar with steel strings that are plucked while being pressed with a movable steel bar.

Kamanche: Also called "kemancha . . . A small knee fiddle, bowed like a cello with four strings and four sympathetic strings. From Azerbaijan."

Lirica: "Small fiddle with three strings, held on the knee and bowed like cello, from Dalmatia."

Mandolin: Pear-shaped instrument of the lute family with fretted neck and from four to six pairs of strings.

Misnice: Also called "Mjersnice (one from Dalmatia, one from Hezegovina) . . . bagpipes made out of the skin of a goat . . . The chanter is a double pipe with six holes on each side. One pipe is used as the drone and occasionally fingered, the other side used for the tune, in nearly the same register as the drone."

Oud: Also called "Oude . . . the modern form of the lute, from Constantinople."

Qanun: Also called "Kanoon . . . A plucked instrument not unlike the zither, whose 30 strings may be varied in pitch by the use of small bridges. Its sounding box is half-covered in wood, half in a heavy skin like a drum. It has twenty-three strings all of gut. It is held flat on the knees for playing. From Azerbaijan."

San hsien: Also called Chinese long-necked lute, "3 strings . . . small snake-covered head.

Saz: "The old Azerbaijan guitar, with three strings, a small oval sounding box and an unusually long neck."

Svirala: "A simple six-hole shepherd's pipe [flute], from Dalmatia."

Tar: "A double-bellied guitar from Azerbaijan."

Triangle: Percussion instrument made of a rod of steel bent into the shape of a triangle, open at one corner, and sounded by striking with a metal rod.

Viola d'arame: Also called "Portuguese viola . . . Like the Portuguese [English] guitar, it has five strings which are plucked with the fingers; but it is more like the Spanish guitar in shape, longer and narrower than the instrument the Portuguese call the guitar . . .Traditionally the sound holes are cut in the shape of two small hearts."

Yaogu: Also called Chinese temple or flower drum.

Yueh ch'in: Also called Moon lute, Chinese lute, or "Moon violin . . . A round plucked string instrument."

Zurna: Also called "Surna . . . An oboe whose reeds are interchangeable with the Chinese oboe, whose tone it much resembles. From Azerbaijan."

California Folk Music

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