Be the Historian!

What is a musical artifact?

When historians and ethnomusicologists seek to understand a musical performance and its musical system, they not only listen to the music. They also examine the instruments themselves. Understanding how the instruments are played and their historical origins is useful for understanding the society in which the instruments were produced or used.


The Task:
Look carefully at this picture from a concert given in 1995 in Chennai, South India. It features four instruments common in classical music from South India: the flute, the violin, the drum, and the clay pot. Three of the four of these instruments were named and described in written documents, including ancient Hindu texts called Vedas, and are depicted in sculptures and paintings that date as far back as the first millennium CE. One of them, however, was introduced into South Indian classical music much later.


Match a description of the instrument with a picture from approximately its earliest appearance in India. Then, try to determine which instrument was incorporated most recently into South Indian music.


Go to the task