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date: 20 February 2020

Lamellaphone [lamellaphone]locked

  • Gerhard Kubik
  •  and Peter Cooke



A musical instrument whose sound is generated essentially by the vibration of thin lamellae (Lat. lamella, from lamina: ‘a thin plate or layer’) or tongues (hence the term ‘linguaphone’) of metal, wood or other material. Here, however, the term ‘lamellaphone’ is not used for free-reed aerophones such as the Jew's harp, Accordion or the European Mouth organ , nor for the European Musical box , but for another type of idiophone found throughout many regions of sub-Saharan Africa and in Latin America.

Gerhard Kubik

Lamellaphones form a particularly important and much ramified family of African musical instruments.

A lamellaphone produces sound when a lamella (or tongue), fixed at one end (by a great variety of means) and free at the other, is caused to vibrate by being gently depressed and then released by the player. As far as we know lamellaphones with a complex structure and technology evolved only in sub-Saharan Africa. They represent a development of the principle outlined above: a number of lamellae are prepared for use, laid in order, fixed over a soundboard and tuned reciprocally. The soundboard may be a flat board or a resonator of various shapes, such as box- or bell-shaped. The lamellae can be attached in a wide variety of ways. On an exceptional type of instrument found in the lower Ruvuma Valley in Mozambique, Tanzania, they are hooked into the wood, but the most common method involves fixing them to a pressure bar placed between two strips of wood, which serve respectively as backrest and bridge. Extending over the bridge, the free end of each lamella can be a different length, and that determines its pitch (...

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Revue de musicologie
Yearbook, Inter-American Institute for Musical Research, later Yearbook for Inter-American Musical Research
African Music