An introduction to music research
An introduction to music research

This free course is available to start right now. Review the full course description and key learning outcomes and create an account and enrol if you want a free statement of participation.

Free course

An introduction to music research

3.9 Instruments

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, Images from the Beede Gallery: Serpentine Horn (Nagfani) [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] .

Activity 13

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.

Activity 14

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.

Figure 11 Harpsichord that once belonged to Franz Joseph Haydn. Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna. Photo: © Bridgeman Education.

Take your learning further

Making the decision to study can be a big step, which is why you'll want a trusted University. The Open University has 50 years’ experience delivering flexible learning and 170,000 students are studying with us right now. Take a look at all Open University courses.

If you are new to university level study, find out more about the types of qualifications we offer, including our entry level Access courses and Certificates.

Not ready for University study then browse over 900 free courses on OpenLearn and sign up to our newsletter to hear about new free courses as they are released.

Every year, thousands of students decide to study with The Open University. With over 120 qualifications, we’ve got the right course for you.

Request an Open University prospectus