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.

According to Sachs,

The sound is produced by a membrane ["skin" or "head"] stretched over an opening. Most, but not all, membranophones are generally called drums. They are classified according to material, if it's single or double headed, shape, skin(s), skin fastening, playing positions, and manner of playing.[1]


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

Length and breadth

Membranophones can also be divided into small divisions based on length and breadth of sound production:[3]

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:[5]

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

Traditional classifications

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

Other categories

See also: List of Caribbean membranophones

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. ^ Sachs, Curt (1940). The History of Musical Instruments, p.459. W. W. Nortan & Company, Inc. ISBN 0-393-02068-1
  2. ^ "Glossary#Membranophone". Essentials of Music. Archived from the original on January 19, 2007. Retrieved January 22, 2007.
  3. ^ Catherine Schmidt-Jones. "Classifying Musical Instruments: Membranophones". Connexions. Archived from the original on July 23, 2011. Retrieved January 22, 2007.
  4. ^ "Revision of the Hornbostel-Sachs Classification of Musical Instruments by the MIMO Consortium" (PDF). July 8, 2011. pp. 8–10.
  5. ^ "534m Membranophones". SIL. Archived from the original on July 10, 2006. Retrieved January 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. Archived from the original on September 30, 2007. Retrieved 7 November 2006.