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15 Most Popular Musical Instruments Used in African Music

15 Most Popular Musical Instruments Used in African Music.

Different instruments have unique features. Their uses vary depending on the genre they are in – jazz, classical, and many more types of music.

A well-arranged instrument can significantly improve your music regardless of how amateur or professional you are.

Millions of people in Africa are playing these listed instruments. Many might need to be aware that these instruments have a deep history in African music and culture.

Although there are countless musical instruments used across the globe, the 15 listed below are the most popular in Africa.

1. Talking Drum

The most popular musical instrument in Africa is the talking drum, primarily used in Western Africa, like Ghana, Togo, Nigeria, and other West African countries. 

It looks like a timing instrument with connected glass bulbs that take minutes to enter the upper bulb to the lower bulb.

One can control the instrument’s pitch to imitate the tone of a person’s speech or words.

Also, the instrument ‘talking drum’ has two drumheads connected with a cord in a leather tension form. 

You can easily change the volume of the talking drum with the assistance of a leather-like cord centered between the body and arm side.

Usage in African music

The talking drum is commonly applicable in Nigerian fuji, juju, and Senegalese mbalax music.

2. Pot Drum 

The famous instrument known as the pot drum or kettle drum for western African origin (Igbos in Nigeria) is amongst the most relevant in today’s music scene.

The instrument, known by the local name, Udu, in Igbo land in Nigeria, West Africa, is a clay pot with a rounded bottom, made using soil from clay.

To play this instrument, one has to hit the hole of the pot drum, which produces a unique sound – bass.

African music genre suitable for pot drum

Pot drums suit all music genres, including blues, jazz, rock, country, and more. 

3. Rattles

The rattle is a percussion, hand-shaken instrument made of dried calabash, used in Cha Cha and jazz.  

A rattle is an instrument with many materials, types, methods, and timbre. It is made familiar across most of Africa.

The instruments are an incredible way to experience sound without the need for the use of electronic devices. They have incredibly diverse sounds, each tool feeling unique to your tastes.

A rattle is an instrument with resonant objects in a sliding frame that produces a sound when shaken.  

The rattle is one of the most fun percussion instruments and includes two parts: a container for sound production and various musical instruments that amplify the sound.

Style of music where rattles can be useful

Rattle musical instruments are most common in Latin American, Caribbean, South American, and African music to make a rhythmic sound

4. Metal Gongs

Metal gongs are essential in traditional music worldwide, from Ghana to Myanmar and many places.

Other than the Ghanaian Gankogui, metal gongs are also in Europe, Africa, and Asia, like Indonesian gamelan.

Although gongs used in Africa are numerous, the metal gong is most common in Ghana, Nigeria, and other parts of the continent.

Gong is a metal forged by blacksmiths and has a hollow interior. Its conical shape makes it able to take on different forms.

Music genre, metal gongs suit well.

Gongs are used in almost all African countries to create music that goes well with the gospel, highlife, and amapiano.

5. Clappers

The clapper is a percussion instrument consisting of two pieces of wood joined by a pivot at one end, typically struck to make noise heard over long distances.

Clapper’s musical instrument usage is in bands, modern orchestras, and percussion collections. 

This musical instrument, used in African tribes for thousands of years, can vary by shape, size, and number of striking pieces.

There is a wooden board with two short pieces at the top that produce different sounds when rapidly put together.

 Music genre clappers best suit

Clapper is helpful in music genres like gospel and Spanish, including flamenco and sevillanas.  

6. Thumb Piano

Another popular instrument in African music is the thumb piano, a generic name for the Mbira and Kalimba.

The instrument, traditional to Africans, especially in the habitats of Zimbabwe, is played by plucking the tuned keys. 

Thumb pianos are concerned with the uniqueness of their sound, so they are sometimes played with fingered and unpitched percussion instruments, easily found in hip-hop.

A thumb piano is a wooden board attached with staggered metal tines played by holding the handle and plucking the keys with the thumb.

Application in African music

Thumb piano creates a pleasant buzzing sound in all forms of music, especially in afrobeats, and it’s present in all music meant for social events, funerals, and weddings.

7. Slit Wooden Drums 

A slit wooden drum or slit wooden gong is a percussion instrument carved into a box from bamboo with slits. 

The slit drum, with one or more slits, is most commonly found in Zaire, Igbo from Nigeria (Ekwe, as the local name), Congo, and Guinea.

Slit drums have different sizes, ranging from small to large. They are cut into the shape of an H and have the closed ends serve as a reverberating chamber for sound waves.

The wooden drum is a rectangular slit made from scrape-out tree trunks and cuts into the top to produce distinct sounds. 

It can produce different pitches when you have a tone, like words or if the tongue is a different thickness.

Slit wooden drums and African music

The slit wooden drums modify the perception of African music, especially highlife and fuji, amplifying the vibration and sound. 

8. Marimba

Marimba is a musical instrument of African origin made using an assemblage of wooden bars with fingerholes attached, universally used for its polyrhythms and absorbing timbres.

A marimba instrument is a percussion tool comprising a wooden strike more resonant than the xylophone. 

Marimba has a lot of different sounds when it is played, produced from the striking of bars. These sounds can also be different depending on the area where musicians play the instrument.

The instrument is for solo performances, jazz groups, woodwind collections, marimba concertos, orchestral compositions, etc.

Marimba is a musical instrument that allows you to create different sounds. It’s typically a product of wooden bars, rubber mallets, and metal tubes.

The arrangement of keys on the marimba bar is the same as a piano, but it also has resonators that amplify its sound.

African music genres that appreciate marimba 

Eight-holed marimba is a type of melody instrument used in jazz music. It’s unique to this genre but has roots in classical, Latin, and African popular styles.

9. Kora

A kora, made from leather and tuned by inserting different metal rings through holes in the instrument, is an African traditional stringed instrument similar to the guitar.

This musical instrument is used in instrumental music to accompany songs and create solo pieces. 

The kora is a long-necked lute made by combing the features of the harp and lute.

Kora is equipment from a hardwood neck passing through a calabash, serving as a gourd resonator. 

This instrument has a mahogany neck and soundboard, with nylon strings attached to the top.

Style of music kora falls under

Kora is one of the most used musical instruments in jazz, country, pop, blues, reggae, folk, etc.  

10. Fiddles

Fiddles are bowed-string musical instruments that look like violins used by players in all genres of music. 

Fiddling produces multi-layered rhythms based on beat patterns and quick note changes.

Most times, African fiddlers accompany singing and dancing with one-string gourd fiddle.  

The fiddle is a curved wooden musical instrument with an empty body and four strings expanded tight across a thin neck. 

Type of music that uses fiddles

Since the 1950s, jazz, rock, and country have used fiddles to create “thrilling sounds.”

11. Lyres 

The lyre is one of Africa’s best-known musical instruments and has existed for many years, dating back to 1400 BC.

It has a metal frame and strings running from the bottom of the tailpiece to the crossbar. 

A lyre is a zither that can be played by either two people or one. It is part of a family tree branch called the zither family.

A lyre is an instrument with a soundbox, curved and connected close to the top by a yoke.  

12. Flutes 

The solo instrument, or the flute, has been around for a long time and is an integral part of African music. It provides a thrilling sound that will never become obsolete.

The flute is an edge-blown aerophone often used in orchestras and differs from other wind instruments.

A flute is a woodwind instrument in a tubular shape that plays sound by drawing air through its opening.

The flute has an embouchure that helps direct the airstream across the side of the tube.  

The music style that uses flute

The flute is a solo instrument primarily heard in different genres of music like jazz, afrobeat, and classical. 

13. Zithers 

Africans have been using zithers and other instruments for generations. You might know that these instruments are placed across players’ knees or on a table while playing them.

The zither instrument consists of numerous strings extended across a thin, flat body. 

The instrument is played by strumming the strings with fingers or plectrum like an acoustic guitar. 

Zither has existed since Ancient Greece in various symphonies throughout Africa, Asia, and Europe. It has 50 strings that are all the same length.

The instrument makes sound by vibrating the strings on it, and each line has a different frequency. 

Plucking a string is when you press and release the fret to create an uninterrupted sound. It is done by either placing an instrument on a table or kneeling.

14. Bells

Although used worldwide today, the bell, an idiophone percussion instrument, is the oldest samba instrument in West Africa, now widespread across the continent.

The bell musical instrument like chimes, carillons, and a group of bell players have different tones.

Be that as it may, this instrument generates sound from the vibration of resonant solid material.  

Bells are products of various materials and instruments created according to the intended use. The cultural context and construction material will determine the kind of bell that is most appropriate.

Bell usage in African music

As a musical instrument and key to rhythm, the bell gives an exceptional sound to amapiano and fuji.  

15. Scrapers

It is a percussion instrument familiar to many, but it comprises a woodblock with jagged edges that produce sound when run across with a stick.

The scraper instrument is a small tube made of wood, with different sizes producing different tones.

Application in African music

Scrapper is a musical instrument and a great way to express yourself; used in highlife and other music styles and formats like hip-hop, dancehall, pop, etc.

What are the main instruments used in Africa?

The chief African musical instruments include drums, rattles, slit gongs, bells, wind instruments, xylophones, and harp-like instruments

What are the four African musical instruments?

The various categories of African musical instruments include membranophones, idiophones, aerophones, and chordophones.

What is the most crucial musical instrument in Africa?

Musical instruments such as drums are used all over the world. Africa is no exception; they have been used since ancient times to help continue traditions and cultures.

Conclusion

All the above-listed instruments belong to the aerophone and idiophone categories, among others.  

African music has shown a wide array of instruments used in different genres, especially the ones that are widespread and used steadily.

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