German Musical Instruments

Did You Know?

Wolfgang Menzel called Germany Das Land der Dichter und Denker (the land of poets and thinkers) during the Age of Enlightenment. Such was the country’s contribution to art.After observing centuries of culture and tradition from all over the world, we can see that Germany did have an interesting and rich culture. Concurring with the English Golden Age under Queen Elizabeth I, the music in Germany was as diverse as the instruments they used. In the 18th century, German music had spread its wings throughout the globe and music was composed with modified versions of stringed, wind, keyboard, and percussion instruments. Till date, these musical instruments are used to create different genres of modern as well as traditional music. The instruments range from the more experimental origins like hunters’ horns, cow bells and bone flutes, to the ones that we use today.

Wind Instruments
Wind instruments were carved explicitly from wood, and therefore, they were also connoted as woodwind instruments. Such instruments have a tube with a resonator and when the air column inside the tube is set into vibration, sound is produced. The length of the air column is adjusted to produce different tunes. These instruments were also made of metals. Some popular wind instruments were piccolo, flute, reed, Dudelsack (a German variant of the bagpipe), Alpenhorn, oboe, clarinet, basson, and saxophone.


Stringed Instruments
Sound is produced by plucking the strings which then vibrate with a melody. The strings can be vibrated with fingers, sticks and plectrums. Stringed instruments used by German musicians were violin, Hackbrett, Hurdy Gurdy, Nyckelharpa, mandolin, viola, harp, lute, etc. The Scheitholt or scheitholz, coming in the category of drone zithers, was a traditional musical instrument used widely during the Renaissance period and also during and after 17th century. The mechanism for playing a scheitholt is similar to that of a guitar.


Keyboard Instruments
Tunes having different range of pitch and scales are set on the keyboard and such musical instruments include piano, organ, celesta, harpsichord, clavichord, and continuo. Accordion or a piano accordion is a vintage German musical instrument that has a keyboard and bellow. Also known as the squeezebox, an accordion is played by pressing the keys while expanding and compressing the bellows. It’s actually a combination of a keyboard and wind instrument. Melody adjustment is done manually.

Percussion Instruments
As the name suggests, a percussion instrument is hit, struck, rubbed or shaken to produce sound. However, this technique is applied with musical intent, in order to generate a rhythm, tune and melody. They are played either with hands or with percussion beaters and sticks. Percussion instruments used in Germany include bass drum, cowbells, rattle, glockenspiel, cymbals, castanets, marimba, tambourine, timpani, tubular bells, snare drum, tenor drum, and xylophone.

Snare Drum
Snare DrumXylophone

Bass Instruments
Either the wind inside the air column is blown or the strings are played to generate a low-pitched sound (bass). Most commonly used bass instruments in Germany were horn, natural horn, tuba, euphonium, baritone, cornet, trumpet, and the trombone. Double bass instrument like fiddle and violin were the quintessence of German classical music. The method of playing is similar to that of stringed instruments wherein a bow is used or the strings are plucked.


Brass Instruments
Brass was extensively used in Germany for the purpose of manufacturing musical instruments. Since brass is capable of producing different pitches it’s used to carve wind instruments. Flute, saxophone, trumpet, horn, cornet, etc mostly have a brass body. There are valves to adjust the tunes and slides for changing the length of the tubing. Traditional and natural brass instruments had a bulge that noted the harmonic series of the instrument.

Brass FluteSaxophone
Brass Saxophone
As the experimental instruments gave way to the stable, contemporary ones, the style and genres of German music shifted too. Just one look back and you’ll find the classical composers like Mozart and Schubert, as well as the genres like Volksmusik and Oompah. Although most of the instruments are now obsolete (yet still used for traditional purposes), you will always find their basic structure and utility in all our modern instruments.