Favourite alternative musical instruments

June 19th, 2013 by Dexter Findley

The world of music isn't all pianos, violins, guitars and clarinets. There are plenty of wonderful, wacky and obscure instruments, each with their own fascinating sounds. We've compiled a list of some of our favourites.


Not the most radical of starting-off points, but one that illustrates music's depth and variety of forms. Most contemporary Western music is derived from a mix of European and African diaspora styles - specifically the marriage of the European classical tone structure with African rhythm and blues. It is this rhythm - the beat - that is the core of African music. In cosmology it represents the universal heartbeat, and can be played on drums, other percussion instruments, or with the human voice alone (the technique of which gave rise to rapping).

The djembe is a West African drum, and one of the most widespread African drum-types outside of Africa. It is capable of a variety of tones and has a very evocative, powerful sound.


Sometimes called a 'hang drum', although not a drum in the classic sense (definitely not when compared to a djembe), but a tonal instrument which requires 'hitting' in certain places to produce different notes.

It was manufactured in Switzerland in the year 2000, and looks like a UFO. Definitely one of the world's more obscure instruments, but it has a deeply melodious sound, as demonstrated here.


Another modern instrument, this time of Japanese origin. It is completely electronic, made up of a 16 by 16 grid of pushable LEDs, with basic tunes being formed with the Y axis representing pitch and the X axis time. It has multiple modes imitating various instrument types - including percussion - and a loop memory function, allowing players to build a single live performance with multiple tracks.

The sounds you can coax out of this instrument are incredible.


From modern inventions to an timeless instrument with a resonant, haunting sound. The harp requires no introduction: variations of it have been found in nearly all ancient cultures in various forms, from intricate ceremonial items from Ancient Egypt (see below) to hand-held lyres played by bards. In contemporary times, harps come in a variety of shapes and sizes, by virtue of its numerous backgrounds. Concert harps (the biggest ones you can find) can cost considerable amounts of money, whereas small lap-harps may not be as pricey as you'd imagine.

The demonstrate this wonderful instrument, here's a harp interpretation of a classic modern song.


Definitely the cheapest on the list, the Harmonica is the instrument for those who want a bold, evocative, yet portable sound. While it actually originated in Vienna in the early 1800s, it is a typically American instrument, enjoying massive popularity in the country's music styles and capturing the hearts and minds of its public. Lincoln carried one wherever he went, and both Union and Confederate soldiers played them on the long night watches during the Civil War. After World War Two, American blues and the Hollywood cowboy concreted the instrument's romantic image, along with its expression of individualism, ruggedness and freedom.

From Western soundtracks to modern techniques, the Harmonica is versatile, portable and good value for money.

Categories: History, Instruments