Guitar is classified as a string instrument even though it shares some similarities with other instruments. Guitar is not known as a percussion instrument since it is intended to make sound by amplifying the sound of the vibrating strings.
In this article I will show you exactly why guitars are string instruments, and also look at the fact that a guitar can be used for percussion even though it’s not known as a percussion instrument.
Why Guitars Are String Instruments
Guitars have strings that vibrate when plucked or strummed, and a body or electronics that amplify the sound of the vibrating strings. For this reason guitars are in the category of stringed instruments, which all share the common property of having strings that vibrate.
Why Guitars Are Not Percussion Instruments
If we look back in history the word percussion meant a striking, or a blow. This word eventually became used in music to describe a type of instrument that was hit, tapped, brushed, or struck.
A guitar’s first method of playing (the intended way to play it) is by plucking or strumming the strings to cause them to vibrate. This clearly defines the guitar as a string instrument and not a percussion instrument.
Can Guitars Be Used As Percussion Instruments?
When you look at an acoustic guitar it obviously has some similarities to a drum, in that it has a hollow body. Like a drum, the body will resonate when struck and the sound will be amplified out through the sound hole.
So, although not classified as a percussion instrument, guitar can be used in a percussive manner by tapping, slapping, or knocking on the body.
There are many famous players who use percussion in their playing style such as Tommy Emmanuel, Mike Dawes, or the late Michael Hedges.
It’s not just the body of a guitar that can be used for percussion. The strings can be tapped rhythmically to produce sounds that complement the vibrating string sound.
Why Guitars Are Also Chordophones
Another category that guitars fall under is Chordophones, which is another term for vibrating string instruments. The guitar is classified as a composite chordophone since it has a body that resonates as part of the sound generation.
Chordophones are further broken down into four different instrument types: lutes, zithers, lyres, and harps (with the guitar belonging to the lute family).
These four different instrument types are based on the construction of the instrument, and so instruments that share basically similar construction are in the same family.
Although guitar shares the category of being a chordophone with a violin or cello, they fall under different classifications from an orchestral perspective. Violins are bowed string instruments since the method of playing requires a strung bow, and guitars are in a separate string family category since they are typically played with a plectrum or fingers.
Read more: Is guitar a band or orchestra instrument?
Are Bass Guitars Also String Instruments?
Bass guitars can be constructed with a hollow body or more commonly for modern popular music have solid bodies and need amplification.
Since all bass guitars produce sound through vibrating strings, this places them in the string family alongside guitars. Another way that bass has been categorized is as a rhythm instrument.
Similar to guitars a bass guitar (commonly referred to as simply ‘bass’) can be played in a percussive style to add variety to the sound.
Why Guitar Is Not A Woodwind Instrument
Woodwind instruments were traditionally made from wood, but the ‘wind’ part of the name is a giveaway when looking at the nature of all woodwind instruments.
All woodwind instruments are played by blowing air past a small hole or through an arrangement of reeds to produce sound. While guitars are mostly made form wood you certainly don’t blow into them to produce sound unless you are very confused about how to play them!
Is Electric Guitar Classified As An Electrophone?
What is an Electrophone?
The term ‘electrophone’ is part of the Hornbostel-Sachs classification system, and when this classification method was invented the electric guitar did not exist.
Some instruments included in this category are the theremin, electric organ, and electronic synthesiser, and many sources include the electric guitar in this list.
An electrophone is defined as an instrument for producing sound by means of electric currents. The electric guitar fits into subcategory 52, which is electrically amplified acoustic instruments.
This is an area of debate as some experts argue that in keeping with the original spirit of the original classification scheme, instruments should remain in categories that describe their primary way of producing sound.
A Quick Look At Musical Instrument Classification
Musical instruments are classified in two different ways, and at first this may seem confusing.
To simplify it:
The first (more modern) way of looking at musical instrument families simplifies the groups but does not define individual instruments very well.
- This method of classification splits instruments into the four groups of strings, woodwinds, brass, and percussion. This is how instruments are organized in a modern orchestra.
The second (older method) is the Hornbostel-Sachs classification system, which was invented by Erich von Hornbostel and Curt Sachs in 1914.
- This method groups instruments according to how their sounds are produced and is more accurate and specific in categorizing individual instruments. This method is generally preferred by music scholars.
- The classifications in this method are chordophone, idiophone, membranophone, aerophone, and electrophone.
To wrap it all up we have determined that the acoustic guitar, electric guitar, and the bass are all members of the string family, are also classified as chordophones and (currently) electrophones.
Given that electrophones are classified as instruments that primarily produce sound using electricity, it may be more accurate to place electric guitars only be in the chordophone category.
Although a guitar can be played percussively it is not classified as a percussion instrument since the intended way of playing is by causing the strings to vibrate.
Percussion instruments primarily produce sound via tapping, hitting, slapping, scraping or brushing the surface, and so guitars do not fit in this category.
Woodwind instruments primarily produce sound via air being blown over a small round hole or through a single or double reed, and so guitars do not fit into this category.