Nearly all African music instruments in the United States can be categorized in three ways: string, wind and percussion. Let’s begin with the string instruments.
Another name for string instruments is chordophone. These create sound from vibrating strings made of metal or gut, and within the family of strings there are three sub-categories:
Harps- which mount their strings in a right angle to the soundboard.
Citres or Zithers- instruments which don’t have a neck and use the body for the string-mount. A common zither or citres in the U.S. is a piano or harpsichord.
Lutes – a device with strings supported on a neck and with a resonance chamber. Americans know this type from guitars and violins.
There are a variety of ways to produce sound from a string instrument. Musicians can pluck the strings with their fingers or with a plucking device like a pick or even a feather. Some instruments are played with the assistance of a bow of horse-hair or similar synthetic material. By moving the bow across the strings, the strings vibrate and create sound. Lastly, struck string instruments involve hammer sticks to make sound by hitting keyboards attached to strings.
Another category of African instruments in the U.S. are the winds. Among these are flutes, reed pipes, lip vibrated instruments and free reeds.
Another word for wind instruments is aerophone, both the pipe aerophone like flutes and trumpets, and the free aerophone such as the mouth organ and accordion. The pipe aerophones create sound by resonating air blown into or over an opening. The free version controls the pitch by lengthening or shortening the length of the reed.
In some countries reed instruments are made from metal such as the harmonica or the accordion, however the African music instruments in the United States typically use wood and other materials that come from the land.
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