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            Music can be said to be abstract or non-figurative art that comes as an expression of emotional feelings to create diverse reactions in the heart of any listener depending on how it is performed. Africans are known to believe that music has magical powers embedded in it and could be used to invoke whatever deity they desire to invoke. Though it, is necessary to note that the kind of music performed at any point in time depends largely on the individual or group performing such music, and this is why there exists a thick wall of difference between the kinds of music performed in African societies and in the western world, as well as the kind of instruments involved in their performances.

Music, as history has it, started right from the existence of man through the sounds they perceived and the things that went on in their immediate surroundings. This gave birth to the production of rhythms through clapping of hands and stamping of feet which later evolved to the making of drum-like structures and many more like flutes and string instruments. According to ethno-musicologists the musical instruments that existed in those primitive times could be classified into four categories namely:

  • Membranophones _____ Drum (dundun)
  • Aerophones          _____ Blown instruments (kakaki)
  • Chordophones      _____ String instruments (Goje)
  • Idiophones _____ Self sounding instruments (Sekere)

In line with these classifications, a researcher called Curt Sachs (1959) was a German musicologist known for his extensive study and expertise on the history of musical instruments. Sachs worked alongside Erich Moritz von Hornbostel (18877-1933) an Austria musicologist and expert on the history of non-European music. Their collaborative work is now known as the Sachs-Hornbostel system, a method of classifying musical instruments according to the type of vibrating material used to produce sound.


Idiophones- Musical instruments in which a vibrating solid material is used to produce sound. Examples of solid materials used n such instruments are stone, wood, metal. Idiophones are differentiated according to how you make it vibrate. Such as:

  1. Concussion- A pair of similar instrument that are struck against each other to create sound. Examples: cymbals, castanets.
  2. Friction – Instrument that produce sound when robbed. An example of glasses in which the musician rubs his moistened fingers on the rim of the glasses to produce sound.
  3. Percussion – Musical instrument that produce sound by striking or using a striker. Examples: xylophones, triangles, bells, gongs, steel drums.
  4. Plucked – Also known as linguaphones, these are musical instruments that need to be plucked to create sound, such as the Jew’s harp in which the player plucks the “tongue” of the instrument.
  5. Scraped – As the name implies, these instruments that when scraped, produce sound. Examples of these are cog rattles and washboards.
  6. Shaken – Musical instruments that need to be shaken to create sound. A perfect example is maracas, which are believed to have been invented by native Indians of puerto Rico.
  7. Stamping – Instrument that produce sound when stamped on a hard surface, such as the shoes used by tap dancers.
  8. Stamped – When sound is produced by the material itself that’s being stamped on.

Membranophones- Musical instruments that have vibrating streched membranes or skin that produce sound. Membranophones are classified according to the shape of the instrument.

  1. Kettle Drum – Also known as vessel drums, these are rounded at the bottom and may be tunable or non-tunable. This vibrating membrane is either laced, nailed or glued to the body and player uses his hands, a beater or both to strike it.
  2. Tabular Drum – Are further classified into barrel, cylindrical, conical, double conical, goblet, hourglass and shallow. Tubular drums may either be tunable and non tunable. Like the kettle drums, it may be played by using both the hands or a striker and the vibrating membrane is laced, nailed or glued to the body.
  3. Friction Drums- Instead of striking, the stretched membrane vibrates when there is friction. These are non-tunable and the player uses a cord or stick to create sound.
  4. Mirlitons- Unlike other musical instruments belonging to memebranophones, mirlitons are not drums. The membranes produce sound with the vibration of a player’s voice or instrument. Mirliton are non-tunable, a good example of this type are kazoos.
  5. Other membranophones are called frame works in which the skin or membrane is stretched over a frame drums in which the skin or membrane is stretched over a frame such as tambourines. Also, pot drums and ground drums fall under the membranophone category.

Aerophones – Music instruments which produce sound by a vibrating mass of air. This is more commonly known as wind instrument and there are three basic types:

  1. Brass winds- Made of metal, particularly brass, these instruments create sound through the vibration of a player’s lips on the mouthpiece. The air that passes from the player’s lips goes to the air column of the instrument and thus creates sound. Examples: trombone trumpet, tuba.
  2. Woodwinds- Originally made of wood but now other materials have also been used. On reed instruments like the saxophone and the clarinet, a thin material is placed on the mouthpiece so that when the player blow into it the air is forced to go to a reed and sets it to vibrate. In double –reed instruments such as bassoons and oboes, the materials placed on the edge of a mouthpiece thus creating sound.
  3. Free-reed- Refers to wind instruments that have a freely vibrating reed and the pitch depends on the size of the reed. A good example of this type of is the accordion.

Chordophones – Music instrument that produces sound by means of a stretched vibrating string. These are five basic types on the strings’ relationship with the resonator. When a string vibrates, the resonator picks up that vibration and amplifies it a more appealing sound.

  1. Musical bow- May or may not have resonators; the string are attached and stretched over a wooden bow.
  2. Harps- They are not parallel to the sound board.
  3. Lyres – The string run through a crossbar holding it away from the resonator. Lyres may either be bowed or plucked.
  4. Lutes- These instruments have neck; the strings are stretched across a resonator and travel up the neck. Lutes may be bowed or plucked.
  5. Zithers- Have no necks; strings are stretched from one end of the board to another end. Zither may be plucked or strucked.

postulated among other things, that the present status reached in the fabrication of musical instruments is as a result of a gradual revolution. He also went further to suggest the way the different group of instruments were made in the course of which he claimed that drums were invented from calabash and coconut shells, which were protected against dirt, dust, decay or insects by covering them with tight fitting bladders, or skin

At this juncture, it is expedient to state that the dundun drum is a type of membranophone which evolved from among the Yorubas. Various Yoruba oral traditions have their own stories on the origin of the dundun drums which will be treated at length under the historical background of the dundun drum.






Even though the sachs and Hornbostel’s classification of musical instruments are accepted worldwide, Kunst (1959) draws attention to the four classifications, thus:

Each of the four main groups naturally been divided. In this subdivision, however, there is not the same unity of criterion as seen in the main group. The Idiophones are classed and arranged according to the playing method; the  Membranophone , in the first instance, also according to the playing method, but further according to shape; the  Chordophones are first split into two groups, i.e.., that of the simple, and that composite instruments, and they are further classified according to shape; in the case of the aerophones we first find a division into “free” aerophones and wind instruments proper, after which the latter group is again subdivided according to the manner in which they are blown. (p.59)

Incidentally, Kunsts’ comment on the four classifications as table by Sach and Hornbostel addressed the issue on the classificatory style of  Sach and Hornbostel, and concludes with the observation that there was , however, a conspicuous absence of homogeneity of criterion in their considerations. Even though, it appears that Sachs and Hornbostel were aware of what they did and why they did it, the research thereby poses the question, thus: what criteria then, did they use in arriving at such conclusions and the final classification system




By the second hakf twentiesth century, some Nigerian musicologists have become curious about this same issue- the classification of African musical instruments. Wilberforce Echezona, one of the few Nigerians, an Igbo by tribe, tried to classify Igbo musical instruments. During the 1977 Nigerian festival of Arts and Culture (FESTAC), Echezona was a director in charge of the exhibition of musical instruments, which offered him the opportunity to document the musical instruments which were submitted by different ethnic groups in Nigeria. After observing the variety of these musical instruments, Echezona grouped them thus:

  1. Instruments of inherently resonant materials,
  2. Membranophones,
  3. Prongaphones,
  4. Aerophones, and
  5. Stringed instruments.

The researcher observe that Echezona’s classification sysyem falls in line with the four categories of Sach and Hornbostel, but with some modifications as well as sub-divisions as follows:-

  1. Instrument of inherent resonate materials like,
  2. The clapperless series
  3. Bell series (with sub-division):simple xylophone, compound xylophone, Hollow xylophone, metalophones, pallet bells, clapper bell.
  4. Jingle series
  5. Sistrum series
  6. Hollow rattles
  7. Musical rasps and friction instruments.
  8. Membranophones ( with sub- division); Single membrane drums, Double membrane drums.
  9. Prongaphones – as instruments consisting of a number of flexible tongues of bambioo, wood or metal, whose bases are attached to a board or a box- like resonant body.
  10. Aerophones – (wind instruments) with sub-divisions;
  11. Flute series (with sub-division)
  12. Pan-pipe group,
  13. End- flute group,
  • Transverse wind group,
  1. Notched flute group,
  2. Duct- flute,
  3. Talking tube,
  • Trumpet series,
  • Red instruments,
  1. Spinning wind instruments.
  2. Stringed instruments ( with sub- divisions) ;

Extmporarized monochords.

Musical bows,

Split stringed instruments,


Plucked stringed instruments,

Bowed stringed instruments

( Echezona, 1981 : pp2-230)

From a critical view on the grouping above, it would appear that the prongaphone and instruments of inherently resonant materials refers to, or rather belong to Sach and Hornbostel’s “Idiophone” group, which still buttress my view that Echezona’s classification, even though they are collection of instruments, is still the same with that made by Sachs and Hornbostel, in spite of the fact that they are categorized into five.



  1. Mannerphones: Traditional musical instruments identify by their manner of playing.
  2. Materiaphones: Traditional musical instruments identified by the material from which they are made.
  3. Onomatophones: Traditional musical instruments identified according to their onomatopoetic derivsations
  4. Utiliphones: Traditional musical instruments known by their utilarian associations
  5. Abstractophones: Traditional instruments identified by their abstract appellations. (Chukwu 2007. Igbo musical instruments: A taxonomical study of traditional musical instruments of Imo State. Phd thesis, unpublished.p.89.). He further explain that:

from his point of view, and critical research activities for over ten years, he gathered his data in deriving the above five classification of traditional musical instruments from many elders as well as youth of different localities in Imo State; that is those who regularly make use of these various musical instruments in their day to day social lives. He also said much information was also gathered from musical instrument makers.

With Chukwu’s system of classification, the dundun musical instrument can say to be categorized under “Materiaphones“because any musical instrument made off: Igba- akpukpo – (Skin drum), “Ogwe or Conga” – (drum or skin drum), Odu – (animal horn or ivory horn), Okpokporo mbe – (tortoise shell), also called okpokporo nnabe, Opi achara – (bamboo flute), Opi igwe – (whistle, made of metal). (Chukwu 2007.pp94)



(Chukwu, 2007 .pg 156-157).  Use his system of classification to tabularize the vocalization of traditional musical instruments.

Type of Instrument English name Vocalization Researcher’s Classification
1.      Achara Bamboo fe-fee, fe-fee Utiliphone
2.      Ekwe Medium slit wood drum Koto- koto Onamatophone
3.      Ichka or Osha Calabash Rattle Cham- cham Onamatophone
4.      Igba Skin drum specie ke- gba kelem Materiaphone
5.      Ikoro Large wooden slit drum Ti- koro-koro-korom Abstractophone
6.      Ija Anklet Jam-jam-jam Onamatophone
7.      Kwa-kwa Stringed Rattle Kwa-kwa-kwa Onamatophone
8.      Mgbirimba Conical bell with a hanging beater Gbam-gbam Onamatophone
9.      Ngelenge Xylophone Gelem-gelem Onamtophone
10.  Nkuku  Calabash horn Ku-ku-ku Utiliphone
11.  Odu Ivory or animal horn Pupuu-pupuu Materiaphone
12.   Ogeleorogene

13.  Oja

Conical bell

Notched wooden flute





14.  Ogwe Skin drum Kelem-tu-kelem Materiaphone
15.  Okwa Small wooden slit drum Ka-ka-ka-ka Onamtophone
16.   Okopkoro nnabe or mbe Tortoise shell Ko-ko-ko-ko Materiaphone
17.  Opi- achara Flute amboo Fi-fi-fi-fi Mateeriaphone
18.  Opi igwe (wisulu) Metal whistle Pi-pi-pii Materiaphone
19.  Ubo-aka Thumb piano Kpi-kpom-kpi-kpom Mannerphone
20.  Udu Musical  pot Dudum-dum Onamatophone
21.  Udu mmiri Water pot Dum-dum Utiliphone
22.  Une Musical bow (with mouth resonator) Go-gom-wo-gom Abstractophone




(Chukwu, 2007:73), pointed it out that Omibiyi in her own contribution toward the classification of musical instrument, stress her own point of classification on what she caption “The Gourd in Nigeria Folk music.” According to (Omibiyi, 1983:31) in his work, stressed that the gourd, as material, is used variously, in different Nigerian cultures, to construct musical instruments. Hence, she examined different types of gourd instruments prevalent in the various societies in Nigeria, and classed in different sub- headings as thus:

  1. Gourd Idiophoines- which fall into four categories
  2. Those that are hand held and shaken;
  3. Those that are placed on the floor and some other surface and struck;
  4. Those that are hand held but beaten against another object; and
  5. Those that serve as resonators for tuned idiophones.
  6. Memebranophone gourd – which are not as extensive as idiophone gourd
  7. Gourd aerophone – are occasionally found in combination with wood. Althouh, gourd aerophones are not as common as those made from other materials, they are found all over the country.
  8. Chordophone gourd – in this category, the gourd is utility as a resonator. These are found extensively in the northern areas.

As a matter of fact, Nigeria ethnomusicologists have not been able to arrive at specific conclusion in classifying musical instrument. Day to day we have different scholars in ethnomusicology coming out with different point of view in classifying musical instrument, and that was why Omibiyi (1977), tried to explain the fact that in trying to tackle the various problems associated with identifying and classifying the musical instruments found in Nigeria, “the most important consideration oath to be accorded the craftsmanship and artistic quality of instrument.”

As a matter of fact, dundun musical instrument still belong to “membranophone gourd” as examined by Mosunmola omibiyi’s system of classification which supported that of Sach and Hornbostel.

At this junction, I want to state it clearer here that according to Sach – dundun belong to membranophone, while Mosunmola makes her own Membranophnoe gourd, and finally Chukwu categorize it under materiaphone

The dundun drum comes in an ensemble with which it is performed, which consists of the following drums:-

  • The Iya ilu (the mother drum)
  • Agunda or kerikeri
  • Kanango
  • Isaaju
  • Atele
  • Gudugudu

These drums differ in sizes, pitch and functions with the dundun serving as the mother drum due to the fact that it is the biggest and has the ability to produce powerful and brilliant sounds as well as imitating the human voice. The dundun drums could be used to perform at different occasions such as naming ceremonies, house warming, marriage ceremonies, festivals, rituals etc. Hence, dundun drums indeed reflect the richness of African culture, history and traditions of the Yorubas.

The dundun drum is an hourglass instrument covered on both sides with leather which are held firmly to the frame of wood or shell by series of leather strips unlike other drums which are pegged down. The leather strips are used to vary the pitch produced. It is hung across the shoulder with a wound cloth or leather and played with a butt stick. It produces different tones which span almost an octave. The dundun drums of all drums can be said to be the most sonorous of all Yoruba musical instrument and can produce quarter tones and provides semitones as well. Although Yoruba speaking people do not speak in semitones, but the dundun drum has the capability of producing semi tonal effects if played by a virtuoso.

Finally, though the dundun drum is considered to be a presume of the Yoruba, there exists the variants among the Hausa people. The Hausa call it Kalangu.





Due o her interest on the trends in the study of Igbo musical instruments, Nwachukwu ( 1981: 3), tries to establish what the author found out as a ‘ folk evaluation’ in her system of classification, using a locality in Imo State as a case study. Nwachukwu bases her system of classifying Igbo musical instruments from the folk taxonomy of Mbaise people, and finally establishes five categories, with major distinguishing characteristics, namely:-

  1. Instruments Named After the Material of Manufacture;

Agbo– calabash

       Odu – ivory horn

       Igba akpukpo– membranophone

Ekpuru nnabe – tortoise shell

  1. Musical Instruments known By Utilitarian Names for Objects of Dailyuse;

Okwa – small wooden slit drum

Udu – percussion pot

Agbo or mkpa- calabash horn

Ebi afa – wooden clapper bell

  1. Instruments known by Abstract Names with No Reality Discernible Deeper Meanings;

Oja- natched flute

Opi igwe – whistle

  1. Musical Instrument Names Connoting Manner of Playing;

Uhie – large wooden slit drum

Ubia – ankle rattle

Oyo – hollow rattle

Ikpa or Uba aka- sansa

  1. Names for Musical instruments Denoting Characteristics Sounds;

In this group, Nwachukwu subdivides the instruments into:

  1. Instruments bearing onomatopoeic or sounding names;&
  2. Names which denote, by implication, the musical role of an instrument.

This system of classification is in agreement with what the writer has considered as a “culture- owner- based classific ation,” which is in line with the opinions expressed in this dissertation. However, it should be noted that Nwackukwu’s scope of study was limited to the people of Mbaise in Imo State, just as the author’s earlier research was based on the instrumental resources of the people of Ihitte- Uboma, in Imo State. The author, however, notices some incocictency in te classification, in therms of those local instruments that denote characteristics sound from Mbaise, and tries to stride a little further, by researching on the musical instruments of the same people as well as the entire people of Imo State, as to authenticate a n appropriate classification system of the traditional musical instruments of the Igbo, especially in Imo State.








In as much as the present system of classification helps to differientiate one set of instruments from another (as it is in the Western culture), it does not seem quite in describing and classifying African musical instruments. In his statement, Akpabot (1986) suggest that;

Since the drum and gong are both percussive instruments, it will make for better understanding if all African instruments are classified as string instruments, blowing instruments and percussion instruments. All the string and blowing instruments have definite pitches and the percussive instrument are constructed with high, low or medium tones. (pp 2-3)

Akpabot based his argument from the fact that two of the three groups have definite pithches while the percussive ones are constructed with high, low and/ or medium tones. In buttressing his argument further, Akpabot opines that:

This idea of viewing a percussive instrument as having high, low or mwdium tone is borrowed from African speech which is inflectionary in character, and African instrumental music borrows much from vocal music which in turn is tied to speech melody and speech rhythm.(p.3)

This is a clear fact, because any instrument constructed from an African ethnic group, has a speech representation of the people’s language, and that is why African instrumentalist as well as the member of the community understand and interprete the language of Oja flautist without much ado. In some Igbo communites, when an Ikoro (large wooden slit drum) player makes a statement on the instrument, elder of that community respond to the dictates of the chief priest, who plays the ikoro. However, it appears Akpabot’s suggestion is an attempt to classified African musical instruments into three groups, not necessarily agreeing with the four groups as established by Sachs and Hornbostel.



Okafor’s work on the classification of musical instrument of Africa is an organological discuss on the Nigeria musical instruments, and an elaboration of Sachs and Hornbostel’s classification. However, Okafor (1994) states that, “These four classifications are present severally or in combination but some other consideration like context or manner of execution play in giving meaningful, local classification”. (p.188)

He goes further to enumerate some types of musical instruments yet, grouping them into  Idiophones, Membranophones, Aerophones, and Chordophones. (Okafor, 1994 and 2005).

  1. Idiophones: They are instruments whose bodies vibrates in order to prodice sound. They are the most common varieties of instruments found in Africa. Some of them are truck, beaten or shaken.
  • Log xylophones (with a list of different types and their local names according to dialects.
  • Slit drum of various sizes and shapes (listing different types and their local names in different dialects.
  • Clapperless bell of various kind (various kind with dialectic names).
  • Rattles of varous kind – chaplet bead, basket and rattles (with culural and dialetctic differences in Nigeria)
  • Thumb piano – (with various kinds from Igbo, and their dialectic name)
  • Percussion pots or clay pot drum water- pot drums ( with various kinds in Nigeria and their local nams)
  • Stamping sticks and tubes and wooden clappers (with various kinds in Nigeria and their local names)
  1. Membranophones

They are those instruments that depend on membranophones of animals, fixed on wodden frames, from their source of sound. They will not sound unless the membranes at either end of the hollow body are excited. Membranophones include the single and double- headed drums. Some are mainly percussion instruments and are played with sticks or bare hands. Some are talking drums and some are melody- borne. Drums appear in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, and some may be open-ended or stopped. (With example of different kinds from different cultures in Nigeria and Ghana)

  1. Aerophones (Wind Instruments)

These include instruments of the flute family, made from materials with a natural bore, such as bamboo or the tip of a horn or gourd. They depend on the Column of air for them to sound. Alternatively, they may be carved out of wood…. (With examples as enumerated below)

  • Flute (made of wood) – with examples from different cultures in Nigeria.
  • Horns (made of animal horns and elephant tusk), with examples from various cultures in Nigeria.
  • Reed pipe – (with example from the North part of Nigeria)
  • Trumpet – (with example from Hausa, although, there is another type found in nsukka area of Igbo)
  • Gourds – (with examples from some localities in Nigeria)
  • Clarinet – ( with examples)
  1. Chordophone ( String Instrument)

They are those instruments which depend on the agitation of strings for musical sounds to be produced. They are no longer easily found in traditional society. These include the zither, musical bow, and luees from Northern Nigeria, he gave some examples, thus:-

  • Musical bow (with different types in Nigeria and local names)
  • Zither (with example from Igbo culture)
  • Lute (with example from Nigeria and the local names, also.)

Okafor (2005) went further to look into making of some Nigerian Musical instruments. As an ethnomusicological study, it became obvious that there was need for readers to understand the source of culture’s musical instruments. Like he rightly observes, “Nigeria musical instruments are virtually all made of materials source from the local environment” (p.166).However, it is necessary to observe also, that Okafor’s system of classification is based on the ‘tchnique of sound generation’ which generally and clearly identifies his efforts from one culture- owner’s perspective, but seems to have overlook some salient considerations. He, however, agrees with the four classification made by Curt Sach and Eric Hornbostel which, as he point out, depend mainly on the cause of sound generation.


Kwemba Nketia is one of the most prolific African ethnomusicologists who has written extensively on African music theory and practice. Out of his Five “early research objectives” (Nketia, 1998:28), on the study of African music, he did some extensive work on the historical and descriptive account on the traditional music of Africa, exploring some documentary source of data. On the issue of African musical instruments and classification, Nketia seems to have gathered most of his information and data from available resources which must have been collected and collated by Sachs and Hornbostel. From Nketia’s account, it was evident that the classifications made were influenced by these non- cultural owners, even though “the instrumental resources at the disposal of performers naturally tend to be limited to those in which their respective communities specialize” (Nketia, 1974:67). This statement, in the writer’s view, explains that most of the instruments used by instrumentalist or performers in every African culture are basically those made from their respective societies. This may not generally follow, since there are certain instruments used in some African cultures which are not necessarily product of that culture, due to acculturation. Explaining further, Nketia (197: 67) states that, “every society maintaining its own norms or accepts creative innovation in its musical practice or instrumental types, without reference to other societies with whom they have minimal cause for musical contact.”   This statement confirms further that musical instruments are studied in context of locality in which the performers belong. In other words, the study of musical instruments could also be studied or viewed from different perspectives; historical, social, religious and/ or materoal (in terms of the technology). Below, is the way Nketia classified he inventory he made :-

  1. Idiophone, ( with sub-division):
  2. Shaken idiophone, e.g.: rattles
  3. Primary rattles, and secondary rattles,
  4. Struck and concussion idiophones, e.g.:

Resonant slab of stone or wood struck by metal,

Stone clapper or rock gongs,

Iron or wooden bells with clappers,

Single and double clapperless bells,

Wooden slit drum,

Gourd percussion,

Iron cymbals or gourd tied together to function as concussion rattles.

  1. Scraped and Friction idiophones, e.g.:

Piece of notched bamboo or palm stem scraped with another stick;

Scrapping bottle with the lid of a tin, by rubbing a calabash or gourd against a board, etc.

  1. Stamped idiophones, two (2) main types:
  2. Stamped sticks – used for hitting the gourd,
  3. Stamped tubes- closed end is hit at an inclined position against hard grounds or preferably against a slab of stone.
  4. Tuned idiophones are wo types:
  5. Hand piano (e.g Mbira or sasal)
  6. Xylophone : (i) pit xylophones

(ii) Banana stem type

(iii) Wooden frame

  1. Memebranophones: Drums with patchment heads. These include:-

Simple make –shift drums played by women,

Stripes of wood bound together by iron hoops,

Earthenware vessels used as drum shells,

Large gourd or calabash

Shapes: – Conical held under the armpit at play, etc.,

Heavy drums of various types – normally placed on the ground when played

Single headed, open at one end and closed at the other end by means of a board or non- sonorous skins,

Double- headed drums;

Sets of tuned drums.

  1. Aerophones : These fall into three broad groups;

The Flute (open ended or stopped), design for playing vertical or transverse position;

Reed pipe;

Horn and Trumpet made of gourd, wood or bamboo

  1. Chordophones: a) Musical bow, earth bow, moth bow, mouth with resonators,
  2. b) Zithers- Idiochord zeithers,

Raft zithers,

Tube zithers,

Flat bar zithers, and

Bow zithers.

  1. c) Lutes: Strings running parallel to its neck,

Spike fiddle with resonator,

One fiddle with resonator,

Tube fiddle,

Bowed fiddle lutes,

Harp lutes, etc.

  1. d) Lyres: Strings running from a yoke to a resonator.

(Nketia, 1974: pp. 70-107)

Judging from the observation and the classifications made by Nketia, one would have expected that a more folk- oriented approach could have been applied. Instead, the system of classification made by Cutt Sach and Hornbostel were followed. However, he sub- divided the four categories, and captioned it, “inventory of African musical instruments”. Nketia seems to have limited his “observations primarily to the uses to which the instrument s are put and to the basis of their selection” (Chukwu, 1999: 37). It is necessary to state that all the classifications made by Nketia fall into basically three categories, from the observations the writer made on the taxonomy and classification of Igbo musical instruments. From any findings on the musical instruments of Igbo culture, those instruments Nketia outlined as “Idiophones, Memebranophones, and Chordophones” are classified or grouped as Manner-phone, Material-phone and Onamato-phone instruments, respectively. In the same vein, those instruments which are identified as Aerophones are classified as Onamato-phones because they are identified by “their characteristic onomatopoeic derivations”. It is worthy of note that “the study of musical instruments may be approached from different angles. It may be viewed historically, in terms of origin and development, or culturally, in terms of social uses, functions, and the beliefs and values associated with them”. (p. 68). He also went further, stating that “ Musial instruments amy also be studied as material objects in terms of their tehnology, with respect to their design and craftmanhip, materials and construction, amd musical function. (p.68)



Generally speaking, there are so many musical instruments which are identifiable in the Nigeria musical culture, especially amongst the Igbo speaking areas. These instruments, however, can be identified by their generic names, and according to class. Yet, “within this class”, according to Nzewi (1991), “ there are varieties which are distinguished according to morphology, structural variation, performance techniques, ensemble role and in some instances, societal role” ( p.57). In Nzewi’s classification, he treis to recognize the ‘folk system’ of classifying musical instruments, and primarily according to ‘the sounding material or the technique of production’. Nzewi goes on to classify Igbo musical instruments into four categories;

  1. Melorhythm,
  2. Blown,
  3. Shaken and pot instruments and lastly,
  4. The plucked (soft-toned) instruments.

He refers to melorhythm instrument as “those instruments that are made of wooden, metal and membrane materials but are capable of a wide range of phonic manipulation without producing definite pitches” (p.57). The Blown instruments are referred to as instruments that are phonic-effects producing instruments as they make melodies. The Shaken and pot instruments are referred to as instruments that plays percussion roles in ensembles and the Plucked melody instruments as ‘soft toned’, and are played primarily as solo instrument.

Even though Nzewi’s classification has recognized aspects of a culture owner representation- using the folk system, the writer is of opinion that the attempt seems to be one dimentional, basically concentrating his grouping on the same technique of sound production, which are in line with four of Lo-Bamijoko’s Iku, Ifu, Iti and Ikpo, respectively




            There are so many stories and beliefs surrounding the historical background of the dundun drum. These beliefs vary from people to people hence, making it impossible to claim that one story is authentic. Most of the stories are still unconfirmed as far as the historical background of the dundun drums is concerned, but it is necessary to state that some of the stories are more widely believed than others, thus making such stories more reliable.

According to Adegoke, O.O. (1991) There exists a widely spread belief that the dundun drums originated from Egypt due to the fact that the Yoruba are believed to have migrated from Egypt. Another widely believed story is that the dundun drum was first constructed in Ile-Ife which is believed to be the first settlement of Oduduwa when he came from Mecca. The story has it that Oduduwa had a friend called Ayan who accompanied him from Mecca to Ile-Ife. It was said that the too friends played on a one sided drum to enjoy themselves and on getting to Ile-Ife, Ayan gave this drum which is now called gudugudu to Oduduwa. While performing on this drum one day, they found out the drum gave only two tones which led to the construction of a bigger drum. When they played on this newly discovered drum, it gave a bass tone which sounded “dun-dun” and they therefore called it dundun up till date.

It is also contained in some other unconfirmed information that the Dundun ensemble was created by Obatala, the Yoruba god of creation to be used at different times for relaxation as opposed to the Igbin Ensemble which is principally used in the worship of the diety-Obatala. In another dimension, it is believed that many centuries ago the dundun ensemble was basically an instrument of war, used in communicating, entertaining, praising as well as encouraging the troops at war fronts.

There are further claims that this drum was used to dictate the position of the enemies as well as talking about the strength of their arms. An age long belief of the Yoruba is the fact that drumming, singing, dancing and other music inclined activities are powerful means of communication and that all spirits be it good or evil, are more apt to understand the language of music than  mere speaking. This explains the important role played by the dundun ensemble and the reason why it is highly demanded amongst the Yorubas for the provision of music for leisure, social engagements, festivals and religious rites.

According to the Ifa oracle’s chief priest, the first person to construct the dundun was kusari Ayan. These stories and many more make up the oral tradition concerning the origination of dun dun drum.

With these and the written works of divers’ authors and ethno-musicologists we can come to a meaningful conclusion that the history and evolution of the Dundun drums   could be considered from two angles:

  1. The oral tradition passed from generation.
  2. The scholarly aspect.

Hence rendering its history may not be possible to exhaust completely.





The aims and objectives of this study on the constructional techniques            of dundun drum include the following:

  • To know the origin and development of the dundun drum in Nigeria in order to emphasize its socio-cultural significance.
  • To encourage the construction and use of the dundun drum in the field of music technology.
  • To create general awareness on the steps and technicalities involved in its construction and performance.
  • To enhance the appreciation of locally made instruments.
  • To help spread the knowledge of the richness of the dundun drum to other parts of the country thereby fostering unity.
  •  To promote African heritage in the world of Music.
  • To examine the various wood and animal skins used in construction.
  •  To document the Acoustic consideration in the construction of Dundun drum.





For research purpose, I consulted various Literature / books so as to obtain relevant information concerning the dundun drum of the Yoruba.


I have derived additional information via observation of stage performances (music circles) watching and listening to itinerant musicians in the Ibadan Metropolis and its environs as well as observing instrument producers while they worked on the dundun drum, from  Dugbe (Ibadan city) Oyo state, and Mr. Abdullahi Ayulla from Oyo State.





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