Whether it's a clarinet or an accordion, a piano or a trombone, musical instruments are beautiful pieces of engineering, which are lovely to look at but even better to listen to when played by someone who has practiced, practiced, practiced.

Instruments can be divided into general categories such as woodwinds, horns, strings, and percussion, although there is often a lot of crossover. For example, a piano is a percussion instrument with strings, while a saxophone is actually classified as a woodwind even though it is usually part of a band’s horn section.

Flutes are considered the oldest musical instruments, whose hollow-bone forebears have been dated to 40,000 years old. Duct flutes such as recorders feature a mouthpiece on one end, while transverse or side-blown flutes are held horizontally, with air blown by the performer across what’s known as the instrument’s embouchure hole.

Drums may be just as old. Hand drums, which are called membranophones by technical types, feature a solid, cylindrical frame made of wood, earthenware, or dried gourd, plus a drumhead that’s usually fashioned from some sort of dried hide. As with most early instruments, drums were probably used to send signals, herd animals, and celebrate religious rituals. Their application as musical instruments likely came later. The drum kits that are familiar to concertgoers, with their various toms, bass drums, snares, and cymbals, evolved out of instruments played by military bands.

Trumpets also have ancient roots, as in the use of ram’s horns as “shofars.” Metal trumpets appeared beginning around 1500 BC, while the cousin of the trumpet, the trombone, is comparatively new, evolving in the 15th century. Wind instruments such as clarinets came of age in the 17th century, while the saxophone, the invention of a Belgian named Adolphe Sax, is a 19th-century creation.

All the while, people were playing stringed instruments, too. Banjos came to the United States with African slaves as hide-covered gourds affixed to a stick before developing, in the early 19th century, into the instruments we recognize today. Guitars and mandolins evolved during the same period, especially after C.F. Martin was founded in 1833. Ukuleles, in contrast, became popular in the early 1900s, especially after the 1915 Pan-Pacific Expo in San Francisco, where the ukulele and hula-dance demonstrations at the Hawaiian pavilion were a huge hit.

A similarly democratic instrument was the harmonica and its fixed-reed relation, the accordion. Both were used to play the people’s music, from German polkas and Cajun ballads (accordions) to cowboy songs and the blues (harmonicas). At the opposite end of the music-appreciation spectrum is the piano, an early 18th-century creation of Italian instrument maker Bartolomeo Cristofori, whose pianoforte was embraced by composers such as Bach and Mozart. Eventually the piano would be electrified (Wurlitzer and Rhodes made pianos that were both electric and mechanical) and the keyboard would be repurposed by synthesizer guru Robert Moog, and countless others, to produce other-worldly sounds.

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

National Music Museum

National Music Museum

The National Music Museum, which is located at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion, features 15,000 instru… [read review or visit site]

Most watched eBay auctions    

Kenny G Signature Silver Soprano Sax - Als Charity AuctionElektron Machinedrum Sps-1 Mkii Drum Machine Very Old And Interesting Antique 18th Century Unlabeled Violin-no Reserve!!!Selmer Mark Vi Tenor Saxophone 75xxx Beautiful!Dave Smith Instruments Prophet '08 Analogue Synthesizer Keyboard. Exc Cond.Roland Sh-101 Vintage Analog Synthesizer Keyboard €Vintage Rogers Drum Set, Mardi Gras FinishVery Old Fine Italian Violin Labeled: Ferdinando Alberti Milano 1737 ! ! ! Look1974 Gibson Mandolin F-5 Master Model! Vintage Bluegrass 1924-1925 Hn White King Saxello Soprano Saxophone #76xxx - Excellent Used Cond!!Sonor Sq2 Drum Kit In Red Yellow Sparkle Finish 22 13 16 - Free Global Shipping 19th Century French Violin By Richelme, Marseille 1894 (old, Antique Violin)Vintage Gretch 4 Pc Drum Set 95275 - No ReserveConn 10m Tenor Sax 1942 Overhauled***yamaha Yas-23 Alto Saxophone!!! Great Condition! Ready To Play!Buffet Super Dynaction S-1 Tenor Sax-orig Lacquer-video-ship Ww Listentomusic NrBach Model 37 Trumpet Stradivarius Elkhart In No Reserve AuctionSelmer Cigar Cutter Alto Saxophone…gorgeous!!!Conn Chu Berry Alto Saxophone 1930 Restored1956 Conn 6h Trombone, Mint Condition, See Pics. Selmer Mark Vi Alto Sax---nice Sound --- Beautifil Player!!Dw 3pc Collectors Series Maple Drum Set New Store Demo! No Reserve Auction!!1920s Vintage Super Ludwig Snare Drum Vintage Gibson Mandolin 1966 Or 1969 A-40Wfl Ludwig Buddy Rich Super Classic Drum Set White Marine Pearl Vintage Jan 2 58Selmer 1929 New Largebore Tenor Sax/saxophone, Super Action 80 Neck, Nice!18th Century Violin With W.e. Hill & Sons Inventory NumberVintage Bach Stradivarius Professional Bass Trumpet Model 440 W/case No ReserveMaster Antique Old Violin Violino Violine Viola Violini Vintage MarkneukirchenAntique French Violin & Bow In Case F Breton Brevete 1801 Restoration And RepairYamaha P Series P35b 88-key Black Digital Piano - Electric Electronic KeyboardAntique Early 20thc Wunderlich Mop Inlaid 8-string Arch Back Mandolin NrItalian Violin Early 19th Century, Beautiful Flamed Wood, Stunning Sound!1957 Selmer Tenor Sax Saxophone Mark Vi - Paris Made - Completely Overhauled1914 Vtg Antique C.g. Conn Elkhart Alto Saxophone Ltd. Silver - Parts Or RestoreRoland Tr-707 Vintage Drum Machine W Original Manual - Clean With Extras MidiLudwig 14"x5" 1968 Supraphonic Snare Drum Keystone Badge Ludalloy Chicago EraBackun Moba Grenadilla Clarinet Bell With Voicing Groove For Buffet Etc.Antique Conn Chu Berry Tenor Saxophone With Case-beautiful Instrument!Vintage Gretsch Round Badge 4 Piece Drum Set Lb417t Ludwig Black Beauty Snare Drum 6.5x14, Tube Lugs, No Reserve! Alesis Dm10 Drum Kit With Dm10 Module/ With 682drums Mesh Conversion KitVintage 1959 Olds Recording Model Bb Trumpet Awesome! No Reserve! Vintage Buescher 400 Tenor Sax ---sweet Sound!Interesting Violin, 19th Century, Made Approx. 1820 (old Violin)Antique Estate Violin In Case With Bow Label Verona Giacomo Zanoli 1756Bach Stradivarius Trumpet 37 Ml BoreYamaha Flute - Legendary Professional Solid Sterling Silver Yfl 561 Conn 5g Valve Trombone With Case & Mouthpiece As Is Handsome 18th Century Violin With Italian Label!!Dw Drums 9000 Series Double Brace 2 Leg Hihat StandZoom H4n Digital Digital RecorderLeedy Ludwig?? 14" X 24" Cocktail Drum With 11" TomVintage Early 1950's Slingerland Radio King Drum Kit 22-16-13-14 Gold GlitterYamaha Yts-475 Tenor Saxophone With Hard CaseBeaugnier Tenor Saxophone France Full Repad W/ Reso's, Case And Yamaha #4c MpcSuperb Vintage Cased Boosey & Hawkes London Regent Clarinet, & Stand, No. 199881King Super 20 Bb Tenor Sax - Saxophone C. 1948Linn Drum Lm-21968 Ludwig 3-ply Sky Blue Pearl Drum Set 22" 13" 16" Dual Mufflers & Rail Mount