- Howard Mayer Brown
- , revised by Frances Palmer
General term for musical instruments that produce their sound by setting up vibrations in a body of air. Aerophones form one of the original four classes of instruments (along with idiophones, membranophones and chordophones) in the hierarchical classification devised by E.M. von Hornbostel and C. Sachs and published by them in Zeitschrift für Ethnologie in 1914 (Eng. trans. in GSJ, xiv, 1961, pp.3–29, repro. in Ethnomusicology: an Introduction, ed. H. Myers, London, 1992, pp.444–61). Their system, which draws on that devised by Victor-Charles Mahillon for the Royal Conservatory in Brussels and is widely used today, divides instruments into groups which employ air, strings, membranes or sonorous materials to produce sounds. Various scholars, including Galpin (Textbook of European Instruments, London, 1937) and Sachs (History of Musical Instruments, New York, 1940), have suggested adding electrophones to the system, but it has not yet been formally extended.
Aerophones are subdivided into ‘free aerophones’ (e.g. the bullroarer), in which vibrations are set up in a body of air unconfined by the structure of the instrument, and wind instruments where the air is enclosed inside a tube or vessel. The latter group includes those instruments where sound is produced by directing a stream of air against an edge (flutes and duct flutes), by the vibration of a reed, or by the vibration of the player’s lips. Each category is further subdivided according to the more detailed characteristics of an instrument. A numeric code, similar to the class marks of the Dewey decimal library classification system, indicates the structure and physical function of the instrument. The Hornbostel-Sachs classification (from the ...