ScraperIdiophones are common instruments found throughout the history of Africa. These instruments include shakers, scrapers, rattles, clappers and castanets. Some (such as the mbira, also called the kalimba) have specific pitches that can be tuned by the length of the plucked rods (called lamellas). Others are typically used for rhythm making and do not have a specific pitch. The rattle and clapper are examples of idiophones that have indefinite pitch.


IMG-20130804-00348 The picture to the right is a mbira. The Mbira was the predecessor of the Kalimba.

Kora – Africa


The Kora is an African harp that can have over twenty strings strung across its bridge.  The sound boxes of the Kora is made from half a calabash. The front of the kora usually has a cow skin draped tightly across it and can be painted for decoration.  It is called a double harp because the strings are divided into two groups across the bridge area. The sound of the kora is similar to that of a harp and played with the thumb and first finger of both hands.


The instrument is tuned by moving the leather rings up and down the large neck that comes out of the sound box area. The extra “tubes” that protrude from the front face area permit the musician to hold onto the instrument while seated.



Lamin Saho demonstrates how to play the kora.

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This video is of Mamadou Diabate, a griot (musical storyteller)

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Kalimba (Mbira) – Africa

kalimba-africaKalimbas are fully enclosed hollow metal boxes that have keys (called lamellas) fastened on the face of the box. Each lamella can be tuned by its length as well as its position against the bridge piece that holds down all of the lamellas. Kalimas as also called thumb or finger pianos. The Kalimba was created based on the African mbira, an instrument that had its sound box made out of wood or a gourd.


mbira-africaThe lamellas (i.e. keys) are plucked by the thumb. Since the kalimba can be easily held with two hands, both thumbs can pluck the lamellas at the same time or after one another to create fluid tonal music.


The kalimba (and mbira) is part of the idiophone family and the percussion family.



Video Samples of the Kalimba


A professional Kalimba musician, Conny Summer plays the Kalimba in concert.

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Here is another song played on a Kalimba.

Can you hear the different pitches and the “resonance” coming from the sound box?

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A video on how to make your own kalimba (by Steve Ramsey)

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Udu – Africa

Udu - africa


The udu is an African idiophone that is made from a traditional water jug. Originally udus were used by women to carry water, however, udus are now made by professional instrument companies. When compared to the original water jug, the udu instrument has an additional hole is placed on the side of the drum to allow for different sounds to emerge. The udu is made out of clay and can be found in various sizes and forms. This instrument was found played by tribes in Nigeria.

(photo of LP’s Museum Udu drum)




Video of How to make an udu  (by Luftgeschaeft)

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Videos of Udu performances


Rendao Marting performs on the udu in this video.

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This is a video of a family of musicians performing the Zinli tradition with singing and dancing. You can see the udu in the front of the band.

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Talking Drum – Africa

Talking DrumThe talking drum is an African wooden drum that is known for its hour-glass shape.  There are two membranes on each end of the drum. The cords on the outside of the drum can be squeezed under the arm as it is held to create tension in the drum head. This tension changes the pitch of the drum sound. Drummers can quickly change the pitch of the drum by changing the tension and create very unique and complex drum rhythms.


The talking drum was used to communicate across distances in Nigeria , where it is said to have originated. This drum can be called by many other names, but many know it by its use – the talking drum.



Videos of Talking Drums

This is a helpful video that demonstrates the various sounds of the talking drum. The drummer is a native Nigerian named Kwame Ansah-Brew.

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Ken Anoff plays the African Talking Drum during a performance as part of his Drum Experience Seminar. Filmed and edited by David Skinner, Workingman’s Media.

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In this video Ayan Bisi Adeleke performs on his talking drum. Notice how the sound of the drum head changes pitch as he tightens and loosens the tension of the strings around the drum body.

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Lira (or Lirica)

There are many variations of the Lira, or lirica, depending on which nationality you are investigating. Variations of Lira have been found in the Ukraine, Serbia and Croatia. It is a sibling to the ancient lyre. Generally the strings are pitches to d2, A1 and e2. The Ukrainian Lira can also look like a type of “hurdy-girdy” which makes sound by the right hand winding a level while the left hand plays various “keys” that press onto the different places on the strings inside the sound box.





A trembita …

is a traditional Ukrainian instrument made of spruce or pine. It has a length of approximately ten feet long and is in the shape of a horn (i.e. conical). It was traditionally used to communicate messages across mountain ranges.


Video Overview: Here is a video showing a man playing a trembita. How many different pitches can you hear coming from this single bore instrument?

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ocarinaThe ocarina (or “okaryna” in Ukrainian) is a diatonic wind or flute instrument that is made from pottery or metal. It has a “goose head” shape, hence its Italian name “oca”.  Its small mouthpiece is attached to an oblong body that has a number of tone holes for playing different pitches. Generally, the ocarina has eight tone holes that are aligned in two rows for playing by the left and right hands. It can play notes in a range of one to one-and-a-half octaves. This instrument and its primitive variations have been found in areas of the Ukraine, Italy, China, Egypt and other countries.


Featured Videos


An ocarina trio

Video Overview: Ocarina from Ten Little Duet for Treble Instruments by Ross Edwards

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Evenstar from the Lord of the Rings on STL Hobbit Ocarina

Video Overview: This video is a music video with a featured ocarina player on the song “Evenstar” from Lord of the Rings.

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Choosing your first ocarina (by Docjazz)

Video Overview: David demonstrates how to choose your first ocarina purchase.

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Lena Plays Pokemon Bike Theme on STL Ocarinas

Video Overview: An advanced ocarina performance

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How to Play Zelda Songs on Your Ocarina

Video Overview: This video demonstrates how to play and read music for the ocarina. This is an intermediate level teaching.

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The Kobza is a wooden Ukrainian instrument with eight strings; two four-string pairs are separated by a central sound hole. The additional sound holes are found below both string pairs.  The strings are plucked by a plectrum.


Featured Videos

Fabri Geza
Video Overview:
Here is an example of Fabri Geza playing a kobza and singing in traditional Urkrainian forms.

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Antim Loan
Video Overview:
Here is another video with Antim Loan playing a kobza

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“Ion Albesteanu, Marin Cotoanta – Hora lautareasca”
Video Overview: A short video of a duet with a kobza and violin

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The husli (or husle) is part of the violin family and is one of the oldest known Ukrainian musical instruments. It has been documented by the Greeks as early as the 6th century CE. There are many different versions of the wooden stringed instrument.

The three or more strings are plucked by the fingers and can be tuned by the pegs at the top of the neck of the instrument like a violin. The stringed are secured above the wooden sound box by a wooden bridge that is located near the two sound holes.


Featured Video

Maria Pomianowska suka & Fidel orchestra Arcus Poloniae Folk melody

Video Overview: This video contains many photos of the various types of husle and other instruments found in the Ukraine.

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