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Saturday, June 25, 2016


A Musical Instrument Classification System As Model Web Repository

Taken together, the Hornbostel-Sachs instrument classification system and each instrument's range of musical configurations provide a base for a composite, global instrument indexing and storage system comprising both form (construction) and function (musical qualities). Clearly of use in online and distance or remote instrument learning, just how might this work?

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Musical Instrument Classification

Several classification systems for musical instruments exist, chief amongst them perhaps that of Hornbostel-Sachs.

This widely-used system splits musical instruments into families based on their their generic construction characteristics (or 'form'). Though challenged by more recent instrument interface developments, it's wide applicability to conventional musical instruments makes it of particular interest to creators of highly interactive social media sites focussed on graphical instrument modeling - such as our visualization aggregator platform.

Chordophones (stringed instruments), for example, are split into various sub-families such as zithers, harps, lutes and their hybrids.

The 'leaves' on this instrument tree are specific instruments. Some have a unique index, while -perhaps as a result of parallel development across geographically separate cultures- others share an index.

Web Instrument Repository

Example Instrument Data in JSON format. #VisualFutureOfMusic #WorldMusicInstrumentsAndTheory
Example data in JSON format
This hierarchy represents not just a highly structured tree of instrument construction (form) definitions, but it's nodes are the perfect place to store details of the associated musical configurations ('function'). In this sense, each node in the hierarchy represents both form and (as dependent nodes) function.

Using a text-based file format such as JSON, these configurations are easy to create, store, and (using any of a number of javascript data visualization libraries) access, construct and manipulate.

Here (in a screenshot taken from the code editor 'Sublime Text') an example of such a JSON file applied to the classification of stringed instruments (chordophones), but with the details 'collapsed'.

JSON is widely supported by development tools, allowing the same principles to be applied to other classification hierarchies.

There are innumerable examples spread across the internet.

Decoupling Form and Function

Because Hornbostel-Sachs' system omits any mention of an instrument's musical characteristics, instrument form (appearance) and function (musical behaviours) remain entirely decoupled. This.Is.Good.

It also brings some striking benefits.

Working from a generic base, any instrument's musical function can in essence be both modelled and dynamically changed simply by modifying:

o number of notes per octave
o Temperament
o scale or channel lengths
o number of channels
o general layout (parallel, lattice etc)
o tunings 
Nevertheless, not just instrument form, but also the associated function can share the same Hornbostel-Sachs index. The index for guitar (321.322), for example, is shared with multiple other instruments, yet even a guitar can comprise a wide variety of musical configurations.

Moreover, radar charts -superimposed- open the possibility of direct visual comparison of instrument configurations:
To return to our main theme, however, the Hornbostel-Sachs hierarchy can be used both as classification system and indexing system for our instrument repository (database).

Instrument Repository Web Access

Carefully applied, so-called static or semantic URLs such as these can also greatly simplify web addressing (so-called URL routing), making life easier -even if not consciously- for everyone.
Most front-end frameworks rely on non-semantic routing and hence require special measures to visualise both data and routes.

World music visualization aggregator platform or framework. #VisualFutureOfMusic #WorldMusicInstrumentsAndTheoryIn our case, and as seen in the screenshots above, the instrument and routing hierarchy are one and the same, meaning a single visualization library provides the means for the data tree to be interrogated, browsed, added to and if necessary rearranged.

In place of some predetermined view returned by routed query, we have instrument-specific JSON configuration data returned by static URL, and used to build the instrument directly from it's parent (instrument family's) generic model.

For a multi-instrumentalist, this may in sum (and as hinted at in the illustration to the left) mean:
o directly populating the user interface (menus etc) with own instrument preferences.o free choice of instrument models or theory tools 
o simultaneous display and animation of several models side-by-side
o consistent behaviours across all models
o the ability to detach models from notation for 'what-if' experiment

This points the way towards a simple, intuitive environment fully configurable to personal preferences.


online music learning,
online music lessons
distance music learning,
distance music lessons
remote music lessons,
remote music learning
p2p music lessons,
p2p music learning
music visualisation
music visualization
musical instrument models
interactive music instrument models
music theory tools
musical theory
p2p music interworking
p2p musical interworking
comparative musicology
world music
international music
folk music
traditional music
P2P musical interworking,
Peer-to-peer musical interworking
WebGL, Web3D,
WebVR, WebAR
Virtual Reality,
Augmented or Mixed Reality
Artificial Intelligence,
Machine Learning
Scalar Vector Graphics,
3D Cascading Style Sheets,

Comments, questions and (especially) critique welcome.