Often associated with country, folk, and bluegrass, the banjo (along with the fiddle) is considered a staple of old-time American music. Banjos have either four, five, or six strings, and are actually believed to have originated from Africa. Many modern Indie-folk groups, like Mumford and Sons and the Lumineers, have the banjo as one of their main instruments.
The bagpipes are known historically for their use in the military when they replaced the trumpet as the battle cry of choice during the Scottish Reformation. Prominent in Scottish, Irish, and many other European cultures, the bagpipes are a unique alternative to other woodwind instruments.
Typically used in traditional Indian music, the sitar possesses movable frets for microtonal scales and two bridges. Sitars can have up to 21 strings; six or seven of them being drone strings, while the rest are sympathetic strings. Sympathetic strings create overtones giving the sitar a recognizable timbre.
The harmonica exploded in popularity in the U.S. in the 1850’s. The instrument served as a comfort to both confederate and union soldiers during the Civil War, and it’s said that Abraham Lincoln even carried one around in his pocket. Each individual reed in the harmonica is tuned to a certain pitch. The main body of the harmonica is called the comb, and the comb is covered on both sides by two reed plates.
A stringed instrument in the lute family, the mandolin evolved from the mandolino in Italy during the mid 18th century. This instrument is also popular amongst indie-folk musicians.
The bongos are a high-pitched, african-cuban percussive instrument.The drum heads are traditionally made out of animal skin, and the bottom of the bongos are open. Bongos are used quite commonly in cuban jazz and spanish salsa, and they are played by striking different parts of the drum heads with your fingers or palms.
The ukulele is a small, guitar-like instrument with four strings. The strings are tuned to the notes G, C, E, and A. Most people consider the ukulele to be significantly easier than other stringed instruments, especially if you have previous guitar knowledge. The most popular songs played on the ukulele to date are Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s rendition of Somewhere Over the Rainbow/ Wonderful World and Can’t Help Falling in Love by Elvis Presley.
The piccolo (a word meaning “small” in Italian) is a woodwind instrument that is half the size of a standard western flute. The difference between the Piccolo and it’s larger sibling is that the piccolo is an octave higher; Italians named it ottavino (“little octave”) for this reason.
The harp is one of the oldest instruments in the world. This ancient instrument is notorious for being extremely difficult to play, seeing as it can have up to as many as 90 strings.
The accordion, commonly referred to as the squeezebox, is a German creation and is quite possibly one of the strangest instruments out there. Not only is the accordion’s physical build complex, to say the least, but it has quite a history as well. Among some noteable accordionists are Drew Carey, Matt Hensley, and of course, Weird Al Yankovic.