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This open source searchable database is intended to provide its users with visual, sonic, and written information about a broad sampling of acoustic musical instruments of both Western and non-Western origins. Its primary audience is envisioned as students in undergraduate general education music courses (Western music history/appreciation classes, introductory ethnomusicology/’world music’ courses). This resource provides its users with supplemental information about many of the musical instruments or combinations of instruments (ensembles) that are mentioned but not illustrated or explicated in depth in the textbooks being used in introductory music courses. The site is also designed to encourage spontaneous exploration of the world of acoustic musical instruments. It does so by providing the user with ways to link facets of any one instrument to other instruments sharing those same characteristics, and by providing a number of essays on a variety of topics about the physical design, historical evolution, and social and cultural meanings of musical instruments. The instruments presented on this site are found in the extensive holdings of Western and non-Western instruments at Grinnell College.


The musical instruments presented here are objects in the inventory of a college music department and are used for studio instruction, by ensembles, and in classroom teaching. They were not acquired as part of a coherent, planned collection building project, but come together as a ‘collection’ only by their inclusion in this website. Unlike the historically and artistically significant instruments found in museum collections, this collection is comprised of for the most part student and low-end professional model instruments of modest monetary value. Their greatest value as presented here is educational, enhanced by the way in which they have been put into social, cultural, and musical context and placed in relation to one another.


All of the 370-plus instruments represented on this site are treated in a similar fashion. The entry for an instrument commences with its primary English language name and a listing of some of its alternate names (these include differences in spelling, and for Western instruments its name in French, German, and Italian). At least one portrait or 'gallery' image of the instrument (enlargeable by clicking on it) follows; for many instruments, images of further specimens may be presented as well as one or more analytical (called ‘detail’) images. Most instrument entries include one or more brief audio clip, and for a few a video clip will be found. At the core of an entry is a four-section overview essay about the instrument and a short bibliography listing the resources that were consulted in the writing of the essay. The first paragraph of an essay situates the instrument geographically, culturally, and socially, presenting generalizations about how the instrument is associated with various non-musical formations and constructs. A close description of the physical features of the instrument is presented in the second paragraph, touching on details of design and construction that have consequences in how the instrument sounds and how it works acoustically. In the third paragraph the interface between the object (the instrument) and the operator (the musician) is described, including how the instrument is operated and information about the resulting sounds (tuning, pitch range, dynamic range). Commentary on the invention, evolution, and distribution of the instrument, when information is available, is the subject of the fourth and final paragraph. The ‘Instrument Details’ sidebar that runs alongside the essay includes many options for relating the instrument at hand with other instruments in the collection through: the geographical region and national and cultural associations of its origin (region and national categories as designated by the United Nations); ensembles of which the instrument is a part; its place in the Sachs-Von Hornbostel numerical classification system (as revised by MIMO); a few select design and playing features; and up to four materials used in its manufacture. Also included in the sidebar are: at least one measurement for the instrument; identification, when available, on the manufacturer and model number of the instrument; and acknowledgement of the author of the entry.


This site includes a number of exhibit pages that in one way or another cut across multiple instruments in the collection. Three groupings of exhibit pages are found on this site, one presenting early and modern Western instruments grouped by their classification categories, another focusing on ensemble combinations of instruments, the final one on special topics such as the historical evolution of particular European instruments or on variations in the design/construction features of similar instruments.


A list of technical terms used on this site related to the description of musical instruments is presented, along with definitions, in the section titled Definitions.


An explanation of the pitch naming system used on this website is presented in the Note Naming section. This section includes audio clips for each of the pitches of an 88-key piano, affording the visitor the opportunity to hear and compare the notes mentioned on the instrument pages when presenting string tunings and the ranges of instruments.


All audio and video examples are compressed in formats readable by QuickTime (version 4 or higher required).


Roger Vetter (Compiler); Mike Conner (Site Developer)

This project originated in 1999 as a collaboration between Professor Roger Vetter and Dr. David Berk, who at the time was the Curricular Technology Specialist (CTS) for the Fine Arts at Grinnell College. In 2003 they launched the predecessor of the present site, which ran on FileMaker Pro software. Over the years other CTS’s, including Dr. Todd Coleman and Jared Price, added components to the website. When computer service administrators decided to no longer support FileMaker Pro it was necessary to identify a new platform for the database, and Omeka software was selected. This change of platform provided the incentive to rethink the purpose and design of the website, and during the period of 2012-2015 two Grinnell College Instructional Support Specialists, Stephanie Peterson and Mike Conner, have collaborated with Roger Vetter to create this second edition of the Grinnell College Musical Instrument Collection website. During the summer of 2015 Grinnell student Sara Ramey ’15 contributed to the site’s design.

Throughout this project data and text has been generated by Roger Vetter, but not alone. He has worked with a few Grinnell College students, in particular Jim Edwards '03 in 2003, Gaelyn Hutchinson '12 in 2012-2013, and Toby Austin ’14 in 2013, all of whom have made significant contributions to the design and content of the site. A few Grinnell College faculty colleagues, Professor Elizabeth Hays and Jeannie Chenette, have contributed text to and commentary on a few of the entries.

The bulk of the photographs seen on this site, taken in 2000 and 2001, are by Carla R. González, © 2001. All of these images may not be reproduced in print under copyright law without prior written consent of Carla R. González Photography. Other images seen on this site, characterized by their distinctly lower professional quality, were made by Roger Vetter between 2003 and the present. These images may not be reproduced in print under copyright law without prior written consent of Roger Vetter.