The study of instruments is often termed ‘organology’. This is an area of study that offers a range of possibilities in the use of digital resources – one of the reasons why it is important to digitise instrument collections is to make their images and sounds available to the widest possible audiences. It is, however, very much a developing subject, with many new projects expected in the next few years.
One of the first important collections to start to make its acquisitions available in a digital format was the National Music Museum (NMM) & Center for Study of the History of Musical Instruments. Based in South Dakota, it has extensive collections of western and non-western instruments, including the Cristofori piano and the Amati violin, as well as a huge array of collected non-western instruments, some quite extraordinary. See, for example,.
Spend a few minutes exploring the resources on the website of the National Music Museum (NMM).
Then open the page on Violin, The Harrison, which shows you one of the museum’s iconic Stradivarius violins. Focusing on this instrument, note some of the benefits of the NMM digital resources.
- The instrument is available in high-resolution images, photographed on all four sides.
- It can be searched by area. Thus someone wanting to study violin scrolls, for example, can focus on this part of the instrument.
- There is a flexible search engine.
- There are sound files that demonstrate the range and quality of this violin.
- There is a bibliography directing you to further reading and other useful resources.
Choose an instrument and imagine you have to write an illustrated article on it. What information can you find on this site?
The NMM is not the only digital resource dealing with musical instruments. The Virtual Instrument Museum is a website showcasing the holdings of the World Musical Instrument Collection of the Wesleyan University Music Department in the USA. The site includes detailed descriptions and further reading on each instrument, and a wealth of photographs and video and audio recordings. There are also several collections in the UK that contain selections of instruments from around the world, for instance the Horniman Music Collection in London. Musical Instrument Museums Online (MIMO) is an extensive database which brings together instruments belonging to a consortium of museums and is essential browsing.