The string instruments have the most number in music. Besides, there are more than three hundred of them in the world. This is why you’ll find up to eight of them in an orchestra! But, what makes a string instrument? This is simple! Any instrument that produces sounds using vibrating strings is a string instrument.
Are you confused about what instrument to learn? Do you want to learn a new instrument? The string instruments are fun to learn and exciting to the ears! In this article, we’ll share with you a list of the top 20 string instruments you should know.
What Are String Instruments?
String instruments are instruments that produce sounds by vibrating strings. Moreover, the string may be played by a bow, plucked with the fingers, or struck with hammers.
In each case, the effect is to move the string from its normal position of rest and cause it to vibrate in complex patterns. Nearly all chordophones are built with strings stretched across a resonator.
Besides, the resonator is a hollow part of the instrument that vibrates with the string for a more pleasing sound. It also has one or two sound holes cut into it to help the sound travel out of the instrument. Examples of this include the circular hole in a guitar and the two f-shaped holes of a violin.
Brief History of String Instruments
To start with, the first string instrument is unknown as strings have been used to make sound since time immemorial. String instruments are mostly made up of fragile materials like wood, dried gourds, bamboo or other hollow reeds, and strings.
The earliest evidence of string instruments exists in ancient culture from Central Asia to Egypt, the Mediterranean, and Mesopotamia. In terms of physical evidence, the remains of ‘Lyres’ from Ur are the longest surviving string instrument.
They date back more than 4500 years. After the Lyres, instruments like ravantstron, rebab, Byzantine Lyra all came to be, making them the grandfathers of modern string instruments.
Throughout the Middle Ages, many types of string instruments were created, used, and performed. The start of the Baroque period (1600 C.E.) paved the way for a series of instruments known as lira da braccios- the forerunner of the modern violin. It is sometimes called the “grandfather” of the modern violin.
String Instruments List: Top 20
Now that you know what string instruments are and their history, it’s safe to dive into the top 20 string instruments list. They are:
The guitar is one of the most played instruments in the world. It comes in a variety of sizes and types making it suitable for a wide range of players.
Besides, guitars are a part of most music ensembles, yet you can play them solo and sound amazing. It’s a fretted instrument with six strings.
Types of the guitar are; electric, acoustic, electro-acoustic, steel, touch, and resonator guitars. The guitar makes a sound when the player plucks or strums the strings with their finger or a guitar pick. This sound is transmitted acoustically or using an amplifier or a pickup or a resonant chamber.
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The violin is the smallest and highest-pitched member of the string family. It’s the instrument with the most number in the orchestra (up to 34!). A full-size violin is about 24 inches.
You can play the violin by restring it between your chin and left shoulder. While your left-hand holds the violin’s neck and presses down on the strings to change the pitch, your right-hand moves the bow or plucks the strings.
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The cello, which has four strings, is played similarly to the violin or viola in that the tone is produced by gliding a bow across the strings. However, a cello is longer than a violin or viola.
It stands upright and is usually played at a considerably lower register with much deeper, richer tones. The cello playing technique is simple to learn, but it takes practice to perfect. It’s worth noting that the cello is often played as part of a string quartet, symphony, or orchestra.
The viola is one of the lower members of the string family. It’s over 14 inches in length and has thicker strings that produce a richer and warmer sound than the violin.
Like the violin and cello, you can play the viola by gliding a bow across its strings. In an orchestra, there are normally 10 to 14 violas who play in alto clef. The viola often plays harmony to support the violin’s melody.
5. Double Bass
The double bass is the largest and lowest-pitched member of the string family. It’s about 42 inches long, and it’s either played on foot or in a seating position.
Like the cello, the body of the double bass stands on the ground, supported by a metal peg, and the neck rests on your left shoulder. You can produce sound using the left hand to change pitch and the right to move the bow or pluck the string.
The harp is an instrument with a set of strings running at an angle to its soundboard. To produce a sound, the player plucks the strings with their fingers. It’s mostly triangular and is made of wood.
Harps come in a variety of sizes, from large to small. Hence, they can serve a wide range of musicians, even kids. The harp is a versatile instrument that you can play solo or in a band.
Good Read: How Many Strings Does a Harp Have
The banjo is a string instrument of African origin. It uses a stretch membrane, from animal skin, to amplify the sound of its strings. To produce sound, the banjoist’s either pluck the string by finger or a pick.
The use of banjos transcends different music genres. Its cultural heritage and role in the history of American race relations may be the most profound of any musical instrument. Banjos come in a variety of forms, including the 4-string, 5-string, and 6-string banjos.
The ukulele is an instrument made from wood, with four strings that looks like a small acoustic guitar. It has a Hawaiian origin but also has roots in Western Europe.
Besides, the ukulele is a successor of two instruments from Portugal; the cavaquinho and the braguinha. There are four main types of ukelele namely tenor, concert, baritone, and soprano ukulele. Just like the guitar, you need to strum the strings with your finger to produce sounds.
Good Read: How Many Strings Does a Ukulele Have
The mandolin is another string instrument that you can play with a bow. It has a pear-shaped body and eight strings. Moreover, the mandolin looks like a guitar with a longer neck and wooden body.
A mandolinist plays it by plucking or strumming the strings. Also, it has a higher pitch than a guitar and is widely played alongside lower-pitched instruments such as banjos and guitars.
Check out: How to Tune a Mandolin With a Guitar Tuner
The lute is a string instrument that has a neck and a deep round back enclosing a sound hole or opening in the body. It may have frets or not. The strings are attached to pegs or posts at the neck’s end.
Lutes are almost entirely made of wood. A thin flat piece of resonant wood serves as the soundboard. To produce sound, the player of the lute plucks or strums the string with their finger.
The sitar is a string instrument of Indian origin. The instrument became a worldwide sensation as a result of the works of Ravi Shankar in the 1950s. A sitar can have 18, 19, 20, or 21 strings.
Six or seven of these are played strings that run across the frets, while the rest are sympathetic strings. Also, the instrument has two bridges. The instrument is balanced between the left foot and right knee of the player. Then, the player plucks the strings using a pick.
The zither is an instrument in which the player plucks or strums its strings with their fingers or plectrum. Similar to the lute, a zither’s body serves as the resonator.
However, it lacks a neck assembly. The number of strings varies between one to fifty. In modern music, the zither has three main types: concert, alpine, and chord zithers.
The koto is a string instrument of Japanese origin. The most common type has 13 strings strung over adjustable bridges for tuning, with different sections sometimes needing different tuning.
A 17-string koto is also popular and serves as the bass in groups. Generally, players of the koto pluck the strings using three fingerpicks (tsume), which they wear on the first three fingers of the right hand.
The guzheng is a string instrument from China. Modern guzhengs often have 21, 25, or 26 strings, are 64 inches (1.6 m) long and are tuned in a major pentatonic scale.
It features a huge, resonant soundboard made of Paulownia wood. Other woods are used for structural or ornamental purposes in other components. Guzheng players may wear fingerpicks on one or both hands to pluck the strings.
The hurdy-gurdy is a string instrument that makes sound by rubbing the strings with a hand-cranked, rosined wheel. The wheel works just like a violin bow, even a note from the instrument sounds similar to the violin’s note.
Besides, it has a soundboard and a hollow cavity, like most other acoustic string instruments on our list, to make the vibration of the strings audible. Most hurdy-gurdies have drone strings that provide a continuous pitch complement to the song, producing a sound like bagpipes.
The kora is a string instrument with a long neck from West Africa. The kora is an ancient instrument that’s still in use as an accompaniment for storytelling, poem recitation, and singing.
It features a hardwood neck that passes through a calabash gourd resonator and a leather soundboard. It has 21 strings, made from nylon or leather. The strings pass over a notched bridge.
When playing the instrument, it rests on the ground and the musician should sit close to it. Then, the player plucks the strings with their finger.
The pipa is a string instrument of Chinese origin. The instrument has a pear-shaped wooden body with frets ranging from 12 to 31. Besides, the pipe has a long history, dating as far back as two thousand years ago.
To play the instrument, you need to have long fingernails or a plectrum for strumming and plucking of the strings. Also, some of the techniques of playing the guitar apply to the pipa.
The erhu is an instrument with two strings that looks like a spike fiddle. Erhus are from China. Besides, the erhu is a great solo instrument that also features small ensembles and orchestras.
The Erhu has two strings, a long vertical stick-like neck with two large tuning pegs at the top and a small resonator body at the bottom. To make music with the erhu, the player sits down and carries the instrument like a cello, while holding the bow in the right hand to strum the strings.
Lastly, the left hand helps to change the pitch of the strings.
The charango is a string instrument of Andean origin. After its invention, the instrument has spread all over Europe. The instrument is about 66cm long and is built with an armadillo shell or wood.
Because wood is a better resonator, designers of modern charangos make use of it. The most common charangos have ten strings (a pair of 5 strings) tuned GCEA, similar to the C-tuning of the ukulele. To produce sound, the charango player plucks its strings with their fingers.
Last but not least on our list of string instruments, we have the bouzouki. It’s a string instrument from Greece. It features a long neck, a round body, a flat body, and a fretted fingerboard. It has steel strings that you can play with a plectrum to produce a sharp metallic sound.
There are two main types of bouzouki; trichordo and tetrachordo. The number of strings of the bouzouki depends on the choice of the manufacturer. Some modern bouzouki use pickups for amplification of the sound.
What is the Smallest String Instrument?
Of all the string instruments on the list, the violin is the smallest. Besides, it has the highest sound. A full-size violin is around 2 feet long, with a slightly longer bow. Also, violins have other smaller sizes suitable for toddlers and children.
Other small instruments in the string family are the cello, ukulele, guitar, and viola.
Which of the String Instruments is the Most Popular?
The most popular string instrument is the guitar. The use of the guitar transcends different music genres. Besides, the guitar has many types namely acoustic, electric, bass, electro-acoustic, resonant guitars, and so on. Also, you can play the guitar as a solo instrument or in a band.
Other notable mentions for the most popular instrument are the violin, double bass, harp, viola, and cello.
What is the Easiest String Instrument to Learn?
While there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to this question, I’d say the ukulele is the easiest string instrument to learn. Moreover, it comes in a variety of sizes. This makes it suitable for players of different age ranges.
Also, its strings are closer than that of the guitar. As a result, it’s easier to move between them when playing the instrument. Lastly, you can easily practice on a ukulele without making noise.
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That’s all there is to it, top 20 string instruments that you should know! We hope you’ve learned a thing or two from our list of string instruments. Do you think we missed out on any instrument that should be on the list?
Which of the instrument is your favorite? Share your thoughts with us in the comments!