The Country Music Hall of Fame has hundreds of historic musical instruments. Amongst the collection you’ll find a wide range or instruments that have long been a part of country music including the:
- Bass-The bass is a stringed instrument providing a rhythmic “bottom” end for the melody line. Basses come in all shapes and sizes from 1-string washtubs to 4 string bull fiddles (played standing up) in bluegrass bands, to electric 4 or 5 strings bass used in contemporary country music.
- Fiddle- The fiddle has its roots in European dance music traditions. Fiddle tunes typically consist of two distinct melodic sections, each of which is played twice in an AABB pattern for one complete execution of the tune. The tune is repeated several times in a performance, sometimes with variations. The fiddle has always been one of the principal instruments in country music
- Banjo- Banjos are plucked or strummed stringed instruments whose distinctive tones stem from the strings being supported by a bridge that rests on a tightly stretched skin membrane. The banjo is visually and aurally one of the most recognizable instruments associated with country music. Banjos are enormously popular around the world, particularly the five-string form played in bluegrass and other forms of folk and country music
- Mandolin-Derived from the ancient lutes of renaissance Italy, the mandolin came into its present form as a short-necked instrument with eight paired strings
- Guitar- After delta blues, country music was the first style of popular music based around the guitar. With the rise in country music following, it has become the dominant stringed instrument of the twentieth century. Prior to the 1920s the guitar had been a refined parlor instrument that was overshadowed in American popular music by the lute, minstrel banjo, mandolin and tenor banjo. By the end of the 1920s, however, players were finding the guitar to be more versatile and better suited for the new music than the banjo. Used as either a solo instrument or as part of an ensemble, the guitar could be strummed; its individual strings could be “finger-picked” in a variety of patterns; or single strings could be picked with a plectrum for solos and instrumental fills. There are two types of guitars: the acoustic guitar and the electric guitar. The first viable electric guitar was introduced by the Rickenbacker company in 1932, giving guitarists the volume necessary to compete with other instruments in a big band setting and setting the stage for its enormous increase in popularity.
- Pedal Steel Guitar- The Gibson Guitar Company introduced this instrument as the “Electraharp,” with its pedals and mechanical system able to alter various string pitches to create smoothly voiced and modulated chords. The pedal steel guitar was a derivation of the electric “lap” steel guitars that were popular for nearly a decade and which had origins in the music of Hawaii. Though pedal steel has risen and fallen in popularity through country’s changing trends, it remains one of the music’s most identifiable sounds.
- Washboard- First used by African-Americans, the washboard or “rub-board” is played by moving a fork or thimbles over the board’s corrugations to produce a loud, staccato rhythm.
- Zither- Composed of a flat sound box with strings stretched across it, the zither is played horizontally with either a plectrum or the fingertips. With origins in the Middle East and Europe, the zither emerged as the Appalachian or mountain dulcimer here in the U.S.
- Harmonica-The mouth harmonica has a series of chambers containing reeds that vibrate as the player inhales and exhales. Because most harmonicas are in a single key, it’s not unusual to see a musician use a multiple of “harps” over the course of a night’s performance.
- The piano is made up of a series of levers and linkages whose strings are hammered when activated by playing the keys with the fingers. An integral part of country music from its inception, it is more common to hear an electric piano or a synthesizer than an actual acoustic piano on a country record.
- Drums- The drums were not a part of the original instrument configuration used in country music. A contemporary drum or “trap” set usually consists of a bass or “kick” drum, a snare, tom-toms, cymbals and a set of “sticks” with which to hit the drum “heads.” Drums were scorned by early country musicians as being “too loud” and “not pure” but by the early 1960s, however, it was rare that a country band didn’t have a drummer.
You find all of these instruments at the Hall (and more!) as well as actual performer’s instruments such as Mother Maybell Carter’s Gibson L-5 guitar, Earl Scrugg’s banjo, Bill Monroe’s mandolin, and even Bob Wills’ fiddle. Many are one-of-a-kind models, some custom designed for the artist.
You can learn about the instruments that make country music sound country. Musicians perform and share information about technique and instrument history at the Hall in live performances every Sunday at 1:00pm in the Hall of Fame Rotunda. The audience is invited to ask questions throughout the program which is included with museum admission.
Learn more about the Country Music Hall of Fame at http://countrymusichalloffame.org/
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