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 drum's 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 with it.


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

Shape and technique

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

Mirlitons, as the kazoo in the picture, are a special class of membranophone, and is the only class that does not consist of true drums

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

A timpani is a kind of kettle drum
A cuica is a kind of friction drum

Traditional classifications

The traditional Chinese method of classifying instruments by composite material renders the following categories of drums:[4]

Traditional Japanese and Korean instrument classification schemes use essentially the same scheme.[5]

The traditional classification of Indian instruments include two categories of membranophones.[6]

Other categories

The predrum category consists of simple drum-like percussion instruments. 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.[7]

Water drums are also sometimes treated as a distinct category of membranophone. 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.[8]

The talking drum is an important category of West African membranophone, characterized by the use of varying tones to "talk". Talking drums are used to communicate across distances.[9]

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

See also


  1. "Glossary#Membranophone". Essentials of Music. Retrieved January 22, 2007.
  2. Catherine Schmidt-Jones. "Classifying Musical Instruments: Membranophones". Connexions. Retrieved January 22, 2007.
  3. "534m Membranophones". SIL. Archived from the original on July 10, 2006. Retrieved January 4, 2007.
  4. Gregory Youtz. "Silk and Bamboo" (pdf). Chapter 8. Retrieved January 24, 2007.
  5. Richard Hooker (1996). "The Earliest Japanese Music". World Civilizations. Retrieved February 4, 2007.
  6. David Courtney (2006). "Indian Musical Instruments". Chandra and David's Indian Musical Instruments. Retrieved February 4, 2007.
  7. Virginia Tech Department of Music. "Modern Instruments and their Families: Symphonic Classifications in Western Music". Music Dictionary. Retrieved January 22, 2007.
  8. Claire King. "Tuning the Water Drum". From Cradleboard to Motherboard. Archived from the original on September 28, 2007. Retrieved January 22, 2007.
  9. "Drum Telegraphy". TIME. 21 September 1942. Retrieved 7 November 2006.

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