This lesson looks at the variety of natural materials that people from different cultures and geographical regions have used to make their musical instruments.
Description:This gallery explores the minerals, shells, fur and bones that have been used to make musical instruments representing peoples from all over the world, from Roman times to the 20th Century. As so eloquently stated in the MFA's Highlights book on Musical Instruments, "The range of materials used in the manufacture and decoration of musical instruments is seemingly endless...Virtually every type of wood and metal has been employed, along with ivory, bone, horn, seashells, gourd, clay, glass, textiles, leather, and plastic. Some rather unexpected substances can show up, too, like an armadillo shell used for the back of a small Peruvian guitar or a human thighbone used to create a ritual trumpet from Tibet."
Learning Goals: In exploring this lesson, students will...
- Understand how geography and availability of natural resources influence choices of materials for the musical instruments in a particular culture.
- Gain an understanding of why certain minerals, plants and animal parts are selected to be used in making a particular instrument.
- Understand how the materials that an instrument is made from influence the sound of that instrument.
- Understand how musical instruments contribute to the culture of a population.
This discovery will require students to...
- Locate the countries of origin for each instrument and understand where the materials for the musical instrument were found.
- Explore the uses for musical instruments within the culture of an area or country.
- Identify the different materials that make up each musical instrument in the gallery (i.e. which instruments use shells, which use metals, etc.).
Using this Resource: Social studies, science, and music teachers will be interested in this less to use as a visual supplement to explore how musical instruments are produced, project sound, and are received in cultures throughout history. Visual arts teachers may be interested in exploring the aesthetics of various musical instruments as inspiration for future class projects. Supplementary materials and activities can be accessed and/or downloaded under Related Resources at the bottom of this page. The objects in this lesson are just a beginning. We encourage you to explore the Museum's online collection through this web source - or even better, to visit the Museum and walk through the physical galleries - to look for other objects that will provide further insights into this topic.