Musical Instruments Made of Metal (2022)

September is classical music month! In honor of this excellent music and the often outlandish composers who created some of the most iconic pieces in history, we wanted to look and see what metals are used for musical instruments.

Nowadays, the most common materials used are woods and metals. Historically, wood, bone, animal hides, and reeds have been popular choices for musical instruments.

The oldest device ever found that historians agree is a musical instrument is a flute that’s about 67,000 years old. However, it’s worth keeping in mind that we probably were making music for longer than that. Most likely the instruments just didn’t survive because of what they were made from.

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After the Industrial Revolution, metals became increasingly popular in musical instruments. Now, we’re also seeing a rise in plastics and other synthetic composites. But despite this, wood and metal are still the most popular, especially in the types of musical instruments used in classical music.

Broadly speaking, most instruments used in classical music can be broken into four groups, Brasses, Woodwinds, Percussion, and Strings.

Musical Instruments Made of Metal (1)

Brass Instruments

Interestingly, brass instruments aren’t necessarily always made from brass. They certainly are named for brass because they were and are usually made from that. However, what really makes a brass instrument is how they work. Musical instruments that fall under the brass category are tubas, trumpets, trombones, and horns.

Most brass instruments are made with yellow brass, gold brass, or red brass. Yellow brass is the most common, with a mix of 70% copper and 30% zinc. For the gold brasses, 85% copper, 15% zinc is preferred. Red brasses are the least common, with 90% copper and 10% zinc.

Why are instruments made of brass?

There are multiple reasons brass is the most popular material. Firstly, there’s just something about brass that produces a good timbre. Those rich sounds that you hear are made possible by brass. Interestingly, the sound of the instrument is impacted by how much zinc is in the brass. The sound is produced by vibrations in the metal, and the chemical makeup changes how the metal vibrates. This, in turn, changes how it sounds. Yellow brasses are known for having a bright and tighter timbre. Whereas gold brass has a broader, richer, and deeper timbre. Red brasses have softer sounds, but they don’t resist corrosion as well so they are less common.

Secondly, brass is malleable and easy to work with. Given all of the round, complex, and curving surfaces in brass instruments, this matters. Third, brass is durable and holds up well to friction contact. Most brass instruments utilize sliding parts, so this is important.

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Fourth, brass, especially when polished and maintained, is beautiful. Looking at an orchestra full of gleaming brass instruments is visually striking. Lastly, musical instruments made from brass are easier to clean. Brass is corrosion resistant, and copper has inherent antimicrobial properties. Instruments made from brass will look nicer for longer and have lower risks of mold, fungus, or other bacteria growing inside them.

Other metals

Nickel-Silver is a less common material, but also common enough to mention. As a reminder, nickel-silver is neither nickel nor silver, it’s another copper alloy related to brass. Typically the alloy used is 60% copper, 40% nickel/zinc blend. It is more corrosion resistant than brass. Also, it produces an especially deep and sonorous sound.

Lacquer/plate

These instruments can also be lacquered or plated, and this slightly impacts their sound. Typically, musical instruments are lacquered or plated to provide even more corrosion resistance. Clear lacquers, gold lacquers, gold plating, and silver plating are the most common.

Musical Instruments Made of Metal (2)

Woodwinds

Much like brasses, woodwinds are not necessarily made from wood. Again, it’s how the instrument works that determines the name. Instruments that fall under this category include oboes, clarinets, saxophones (yes, those are technically woodwinds), bassoons, flutes, and recorders.

For example, specific clarinets are often made from metal. People started making metal clarinets in the early 1900s. Originally, this popularity was due to the more dramatic high and low notes. However, this wound up being a bit of a flash in the pan. Modern metal clarinets are most appreciated because they are easier to work than wooden ones. However, the contrabass clarinet carries on the tradition from a century ago with flamboyant high and sonorous low notes.

Of the metals used in woodwinds, brasses are the most popular. The aforementioned metal clarinets and also saxophones use brass. They use them for the same reasons as brass instruments. The timbre, corrosion resistance, and antimicrobial properties all are useful.

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Ooh, shiny

Woodwinds are also interesting in that they make use of precious metals in a way that other instruments don’t. In particular, flutes are often plated in silver, gold, or nickel. Some flutes are even made from solid gold or solid silver! These metals give the flute a visually stunning aesthetic, but also provide bright, clear, and sharp notes.

Musical Instruments Made of Metal (3)

Percussion

Whether cymbals, drums, bells, or marimbas, these musical instruments all make sound from banging something into another. This type of instrument heavily relies on metals. In particular, cymbals and bells are all metal. Drums often use metal for the bodies or fasteners, but the drum skin itself is usually animal hide or plastic.

Bell Metals vs. Brass? Cymbals and bells use another copper alloy, bronze. Bronze, like brass, is a mixture of copper and other metals. Unlike brass, which is a mixture of copper and zinc, bronze is a mix of copper and tin. The bronzes used in cymbals and bells range from 80% copper, 20% tin, to about 92% copper and 8% tin. Generally speaking, the more tin there is, the richer, fuller, and more sustaining the sound of the musical instrument is.

Brass is also used in bells and cymbals but is generally considered of inferior quality. For percussive music, brass just doesn’t work as well and tends to sound more muffled. But, it is cheaper, often significantly so. Consequently, many entry-level cymbals and bells are made from brass.

Musical Instruments Made of Metal (4)

Strings

Strings use the least metal by far. Violins, violas, cellos, harps, and guitars are all examples of string instruments. Overwhelmingly, they are still made from wood, including the screws and pegs. Modern guitars, especially electric guitars, are an exception to this. They typically use stainless steel or aluminum plates and screws for adjustment.

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While not really used in classical music, this was too interesting not to mention. There is a company called the Electrical Guitar Company that specializes in guitars made entirely from aluminum.

Musical Instruments Made of Metal (5)

Others

Two other instruments that are less common in classical music but are worth mentioning are the pipe organ and harmonica. Given that both of these instruments generate sound in manners similar to brasses or woodwinds, it’s not surprising both use brass as the main metal. The pipes in pipe organs are typically made from brass. Similarly, with harmonicas, the body can be plastic, tin, aluminum, wood, or other things, the guts are consistently brass.

How To Make DIY Musical Instruments

While not common in classical music, DIY instruments are worth mentioning. These instruments tend to be made from steel and aluminum because of their price and availability. They are also much more often used for percussive instruments. Even though the metal gives off a less impressive sound than bronze or brass, you can still shape the material to create interesting, unique, and striking sounds.

Check out this cool videoabout DIY metal musical instruments and the science behind how that works.

FAQs

Musical Instruments Made of Metal? ›

Whether cymbals, drums, bells, or marimbas, these musical instruments all make sound from banging something into another. This type of instrument heavily relies on metals. In particular, cymbals and bells are all metal.

Why are musical instruments made of metals? ›

Explanation: This is because metals are good in making sound, that means they have the property of sonorous which allows them to produce good quality sound. For this reason, metal are used to make Strings of musical instruments.

Are all brass instruments made of metal? ›

Although their early ancestors are known to have been made of wood, tusks, animal horns or shells, today's modern instruments are made entirely of brass. Brass instruments are essentially very long pipes that widen at their ends into a bell-like shape.

What woodwind instrument is made out of metal? ›

Despite the name, there are several woodwind instruments that are made of metal, such as the saxophone, which is a woodwind instrument. Saxophones have always been made of metal, and even this clarinet is made of nickel silver.

What is metallic instrument? ›

Metal instruments represent very large group of musical instruments with different shapes, sounds and tonal textures that are ideal for various types of music therapy, music education and also for a pure sound joy and creative music communication.

Why are trumpet made of metal? ›

Brass is the most commonly used material for making "brass" instruments such as the trumpet. Brass is an alloy of copper and zinc and has long been used as the material for brass instruments, as it is easy to work with, resistant to rusting, and beautiful to look at.

What metal is a French horn made of? ›

Typically, Kruspe models are constructed from nickel silver (also called German silver, an alloy of copper, nickel and zinc, containing no actual silver) while Geyer horns tend to be of yellow brass.

Is flute a brass instrument? ›

While there are many differences between brass and woodwind instruments, the main difference between the two is what they're composed of. Woodwind instruments, such as clarinets and flutes, are made out of wood or metal, while brass instruments are made exclusively out of metal or brass.

Is gangsa a metal made instrument? ›

The gangsa is a metallophone idiophone of the Balinese people of Bali, Indonesia. It is a melodic instrument that is part of a Balinese gamelan gong kebyar.

Is Bungkaka made of metal? ›

A bungkaka, also known as the bamboo buzzer is a percussion instrument (idiophone) made out of bamboo common in numerous indigenous tribes around the Philippines such as the Ifugao, Kalinga, and Ibaloi.

Is trumpet brass or wind? ›

Wind instruments are typically grouped into two families: Brass instruments (horns, trumpets, trombones, euphoniums, and tubas) Woodwind instruments (recorders, flutes, oboes, clarinets, saxophones, and bassoons)

What materials is gangsa made of? ›

The gangsa is a two-octave metallophone with ten rectangular-shaped keys (don) suspended by rope and posts over tuned tube resonators (tiying or bumbung). The keys of this gangsa are made from bronze (krawang).

What do you call a metal xylophone? ›

Glockenspiel = Metal Xylophone = Wood. In all, it's in the name. Glock in German is Bell, ergo the Glockenspiel. The Xylophone is made of Xylos, aka wood.

What musical instrument in which the sound producing body is a piece of metal? ›

A metallophone is any musical instrument in which the sound-producing body is a piece of metal (other than a metal string), consisting of tuned metal bars, tubes, rods, bowls, or plates.

What instruments are in a heavy metal band? ›

Heavy metal is a loud, aggressive style of rock music. The bands who play heavy-metal music usually have one or two guitars, a bass guitar and drums. In some bands, electronic keyboards, organs, or other instruments are used. Heavy metal songs are loud and powerful-sounding, and have strong rhythms that are repeated.

What is a flute made of? ›

Flutes are made of substances such as copper-nickel, silver, gold, and grenadilla (a type of wood). Each of these materials produce different sound characteristics. Even among flutes made of the same material, sound quality and timbre vary according to the thickness of the material.

What is a saxophone made of? ›

The metal parts of a saxophone are made of brass

Brass is an alloy composed of copper and zinc, and compared to iron, it has good rust resistance properties and is easy to work with. Some saxophones are gold plated or silver plated, but underneath the plating is brass.

What is a trombone made of? ›

Silver-colored brass (a copper and zinc alloy) is used to create the outer slide of a trombone, while a metal that combines brass and nickel called "nickel silver" is used to create the inner slide.

What is a harp made of? ›

Harps are essentially triangular and made primarily of wood. Strings are made of gut or wire, often replaced in the modern day by nylon or metal.

Are there instrument made of wood or metal? ›

Violins, violas, cellos, harps, and guitars are all examples of string instruments. Overwhelmingly, they are still made from wood, including the screws and pegs. Modern guitars, especially electric guitars, are an exception to this. They typically use stainless steel or aluminum plates and screws for adjustment.

What is a brass instrument made of? ›

Brass, which is an alloy consisting of copper and zinc, is more malleable (easy to work with), and corrosion resistant (resists rusting) than iron or other metals, and since it is also pleasing to the eye, it has long been the primary material used for making the bodies of brass instruments.

Is saxophone a brass? ›

Though the saxophone is made of metal, it generates sound with a single reed, and so it is classified as a woodwind rather than as a brass instrument.

How many brass instruments are there? ›

The brass family consists of 5 major instruments with many other similar variations on them. The Trumpet/Cornet, the French Horn, the Trombone, the Baritone/Euphonium, and the Tuba/Sousaphone. Sound is produced by each instrument in the family by buzzing the lips together into the mouthpiece.

Is a flute woodwind or brass? ›

The woodwind family of instruments includes, from the highest sounding instruments to the lowest, the piccolo, flute, oboe, English horn, clarinet, E-flat clarinet, bass clarinet, bassoon and contrabassoon.

What kind of instrument is kudyapi? ›

The kutiyapi, or kudyapi, is a Philippine two-stringed, fretted boat-lute. It is four to six feet long with nine frets made of hardened beeswax. The instrument is carved out of solid soft wood such as that from the jackfruit tree.

What kind of instrument is Tongali? ›

It is a four-holed nose flute (with one hole in the back) and often played by the Kalinga and other people of Luzon. Tongali is one of the traditional musical instruments that is still actively taught to the next generations.

What is Kalutang instrument? ›

Kalutang is a pair of percussion bars which are struck against each other at specific angles to produce a pitch. These sticks are a part of an entire ensemble of kalutang which when playing together produce melodies. The instrument is cut from the kwatingan tree which grows in Marinduque.

What materials it is made of Tongali? ›

Tongali(mouth flute) Description: It is a solo instrument made of bamboo and has an average length of 60cm.

What material are the Mindanao instrument mainly made of? ›

One stringed bowed lutes (fiddles) of the long neck variety are found in Mindanao. They have a sounding box made from a coconut half shell covered with a leaf, or a piece of bark or animal skin. The string is make of abaca fibers, horse hair, and more recently, wire.

What kind of instrument is Tongatong? ›

A tongatong is a percussion instrument made of various lengths of bamboo, which is found in the Kalinga province of the Philippines. It is played by hitting it against the earth. Traditionally, the tongatong is used by the people of Kalinga to communicate with spirits, particularly as part of healing rituals.

Why are musical instruments made from copper? ›

A Unique Sound

For example, an instrument of pure copper would produce a “dead” sound and lack flash. Brass, on the other hand, possesses rich tones and sound that its parent metal cannot approach, which is why many musicians swear by brass instruments.

Why are musical instruments made of brass? ›

Brass, which is an alloy consisting of copper and zinc, is more malleable (easy to work with), and corrosion resistant (resists rusting) than iron or other metals, and since it is also pleasing to the eye, it has long been the primary material used for making the bodies of brass instruments.

Why is wood used for musical instruments? ›

Come to think of it, a stringed instrument is made predominantly of wood, strings and a few metal parts. A guitar, for example, produces sound by passing the string's vibrations into a hollow chamber. This is why you need good, resonant wood to produce a sound that's rich and mellow.

Why are trumpets made of brass? ›

Why Are Trumpets Made of Brass? Brass is used for trumpets and horns because it is easy to work with and very resistant to rust. Brass is also used because it is relatively cheap and because it can be soldered which is useful for repairs.

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