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I saw a couple other threads with slightly similar questions. But I want to stress with this one, that the focus is what instrument and instrument family would be the easiest to build anywhere in the world if we started from the beginning of human civilization again. Also, definite pitch capable designs only! Even if it’s only capable of one pitch at a time.

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    $\begingroup$ This is "yes you're very clever" answer: The easiest musical instrument is the one we all carry wherever we go: the voice. Singing ftw $\endgroup$
    – James K
    Oct 20, 2023 at 21:03
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    $\begingroup$ @JamesK ah no! Nice try! But I don’t think we know who designed the voice but we can’t design it ourselves lol! It is the best instrument though! $\endgroup$
    – Lecifer
    Oct 20, 2023 at 21:12
  • $\begingroup$ Hambone $\endgroup$
    – user458
    Oct 21, 2023 at 17:13
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    $\begingroup$ What could be easier than a drum? We all know a half-way sophisticated drum has a skin over a sounding body - and do we not also all know that's a later development and at its simplest, a 'drum' need be no more than a lump of wood - though of course preferably, a hollow lump? Beyond that, doesn't the subject descend into vocabulary? $\endgroup$ Oct 22, 2023 at 0:28
  • $\begingroup$ @RobbieGoodwin “Definite pitch” designs tho. I guess now I’m just trying to understand which wooden instruments are pitch capable and easy to design considering metal ones are typically harder to design and more modern (handpan etc). As you mentioned though some skin over wood designs are definite pitch, I’ve found a couple others like the wooden slit drum. $\endgroup$
    – Lecifer
    Oct 22, 2023 at 1:07

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End-blown flutes are very easy to construct from readily available materials.

You only need a reed or other hollow-stemmed woody plant, with some way of cutting and shaping it (stone tools will suffice.) You can either make a set of pan pipes, with the different lengths forming different pitches, or make finger holes to create something like the North African/Middle Eastern Ney.

Transverse flutes and fipple flutes are also easy to design, and were made (for example from bones of large birds) in prehistoric times.

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  • $\begingroup$ Or as in the case of didgeridoo, you use solid wood but let termites do most of the hollowing out work. $\endgroup$
    – biziclop
    Oct 23, 2023 at 12:21
  • $\begingroup$ This is why they have kids play the recorder in schools (spawning a series of memes). It's cheap and indestructible: you can buy a Yamaha recorder for under $10. $\endgroup$
    – user71659
    Oct 23, 2023 at 21:23
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    $\begingroup$ That you can get a recorder for $10 is a miracle of civilization. Think how long it would take you to make one from scratch (I mean really from scratch, no metal tools, unless you first make the metal) $\endgroup$
    – James K
    Oct 26, 2023 at 16:39
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Flutes and Drums

Flutes are the oldest known instruments in the archaeological record. Some date back up to around 50,000 years old! Also, it's argued that Neanderthals made https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paleolithic_flute It's also thought that a prehistoric flute can be attributed to neanderthals though this is debated. https://www.nms.si/en/collections/highlights/343-Neanderthal-flute

No pitch but drums have probably been around for similar periods of time, in the form of skins stretched over stuff and banged, but these soft materials don't preserve through time in the archaeological record so we can only speculate.

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    $\begingroup$ Re, "no pitch, but drums..." Wha'd'y'mean, "no pitch?" youtube.com/watch?v=PRTxPJfCKhY&t=30s Most drums have some discernable pitch. I would argue that whether or not a thing "rings" with some discernable pitch when we hit it, and the purity of the tone if it rings at all, is a pretty good test to decide whether we should call the thing a "drum" or a "bell" or neither of the above. $\endgroup$ Oct 21, 2023 at 20:16
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    $\begingroup$ Also, just in case you think that it's unfair of me to cite classical tympani, youtube.com/watch?v=4NEnwLn2V1A&t=54s $\endgroup$ Oct 21, 2023 at 20:22
  • $\begingroup$ @Nosajimiki instruments that are monophonic or polyphonic $\endgroup$
    – Lecifer
    Oct 23, 2023 at 17:18
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    $\begingroup$ The trouble with drums isn't that they don't have pitch (they very much do) but that ones that can be reliably tuned to a definite pitch are a lot more difficult to construct. $\endgroup$
    – biziclop
    Oct 23, 2023 at 22:07
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    $\begingroup$ @biziclop You are describing specific pitch, definite pitch just means that it makes a single pitch noise instead of multiple overlapping pitches. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Oct 27, 2023 at 15:00
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Pan Pipes/Flutes

Andean Pan Flute

or Wood Chimes

Wood Chimes

They can be made with a number of naturally grown hollow plants. Materials available all over the world, require minimal tools to construct, and require no complex assembly. You don't even need to space or cut complex holes for multiple notes, just trim to length to tune.

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  • $\begingroup$ Random question. But are steel drums, tongue drums, handpans, & uh singing bowls are fairly all difficult to craft in comparison to these? $\endgroup$
    – Lecifer
    Oct 20, 2023 at 21:35
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    $\begingroup$ Those all have multiple tones in one object, with tuning done by bending the metal, (note: require sheet metal) . If you manufacture one tuned section incorrectly you've often broken the whole instrument. If you mess up one chime it only messes up that one. Much simpler to tune and manufacture. $\endgroup$
    – Josh King
    Oct 20, 2023 at 21:43
  • $\begingroup$ Ahh gotcha makes sense $\endgroup$
    – Lecifer
    Oct 20, 2023 at 23:09
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    $\begingroup$ @Lecifer The biggest obstacle to all those is always going to be the metal. Humans have only had metalwork (copper, then bronze) for the last 7000 years, and that entirely depended on the luck of having suitable ores around. (South America and Australia never had ore available, so didn't have metalwork until Europeans arrived.) You then also need flat metal sheets; making that much metal and having it available for frivolous purposes instead of for tools and weapons pushes your date still later. $\endgroup$
    – Graham
    Oct 21, 2023 at 6:47
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    $\begingroup$ @Lecifer, drum-scale metal sheets only date back to about 600 BC for bronze, and 1200 AD for steel. $\endgroup$
    – Mark
    Oct 23, 2023 at 21:21
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Literally Everything Less Electric


Pitched Percussion. This is simple! If your world is Post-Pockyclyptic, then you've got loads of already existing metal, stone and wood bars around. You just need to harvest, shape to the desired form and carve down or add mass to tune. Add some carved sticks and connecting strings and you've got a carillon.

Even if your setting is naked humans dropped off on a new planet, it only takes very basic skills to shape bone, wood, stone and leather into fully functional and well tuned xo-phones.

A hollowed log, a piece of prepared skin and some ropes are enough to make a tunable drum! Metalwork can get you nakers and timpani.


Bamboo, long hollow bird bones, clay, hollowed wood all make the basis for wind instruments. With very basic metallurgy you can fashion simple system flutes, clarinets, oboes and cornetts. The better your woodworking skills, the bigger the instruments you can make.

But really, anyone can make a well tuned whistle or flute or shawm from a piece of pipe and a reed.


Wood and horn and some basic techniques can yield you a pibgorn, a cornett, an oliphant; add some leather for bagpipes and the like.


A smallish log can give you the basis for a dulcimer, a harp, or a zither. You've got many string choices from gut to silk to other plant fibres. Add a little metallurgy for brass strings! As your woodworking improves, you can thin the walls of the instrument body and make any stringed instrument that exists now.


Even keyboard instruments are not beyond reach! You won't be able to make a modern piano until you get cast iron and steel, but harpsichords, clavichords, regals, organs, harmoniums, wheelharps are all within reach once you've got carpentry skills and some decent tools.

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    $\begingroup$ @Lecifer --- Yep! Handpan / Hang is less than 25 years old or so. Steel drums are only just about 100 years old. The 55 gallon drum was patented in 1905, so there's your basic terminus ante quem. I'd not be surprised if people were banging on them as early as 1905, but the instrument in question dates to the 1930s. I would concede that a steel drum could have been invented as early as the late 1700s with the introduction of rolled steel. I don't think other metals would work well if at all. $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Oct 21, 2023 at 22:31
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    $\begingroup$ @Lecifer --- You might be interested in these, made from brass and aluminium: guda-drum.com/guda-coin-brass $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Oct 23, 2023 at 1:05
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    $\begingroup$ @Lecifer More like 3500 years. Which is still a long time ago, but consider that' difference is the difference between present-day and the fall of Rome. :) Metalwork is way harder than you think, and way more dependent on the luck of whether you've got copper and tin resources anywhere near you. Far more likely than a tongue drum would be a kalimba, but even there you need good quality spring-grade metal, not simply a cast or wrought arrowhead. $\endgroup$
    – Graham
    Oct 23, 2023 at 7:20
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    $\begingroup$ "anyone can make a well tuned whistle or flute or shawm from a piece of pipe and a reed" Getting the shape of the mouthpiece right to create an actual whistling sound is harder than you may think. I think most people could figure it out eventually, yes, but it takes a fare amount of trial and error to figure it out, especially if you don't have youtube or an existing instrument to use as a prototype. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Oct 23, 2023 at 22:15
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    $\begingroup$ @Nosajimiki --- Making it perfect, like a high quality professionally made musical instrument, yeah, I'd agree with you. I don't think the OP is trying to reinvent the Yamaha factory here. And as someone who has made these kinds of instruments, it really is not that hard to do! $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Oct 25, 2023 at 2:10
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For a percussion instrument with definite pitches, try a xylophone.

The difficult part is simply to carve a suitable piece of wood so that it makes the desired note when struck. Once you have a set of these pieces of wood, you can place them on straw to create a strohfiedel.

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See the Wikipedia article on the Chelys. This was an early form of lyre. A myth (there are many variations) had it that Hermes found the dried corpse of a tortoise that had dried in the sun, leaving seven fibres stretched across the shell. That does not explain how the lyre got its extended neck, but once you have the basic idea, the rest follows.

Another possibility if resetting the world left lots of scrap metal is the Mbira or Thumb Piano. Africa had these for thousands of years. They can use wood instead of metal.

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One more instrumen I can think of is the Kalimba or its close relative the Mbira.

A series of metallic spikes of different lengths generate different pitches when plucked or striken. A wooden box would serve as a resonator and metallic spikes are scraped from older artefacts. How far the civilization is "reset" can determine how adept this civilization would be in processing the metal ores and from what sources. On the other hand, wooden spikes, presumably bamboo, have been used for the task as well. See the history of the tool here [source]

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I understand that stringed instruments have already been suggested, but this answer aims to specify a motivation for them, though speculatively at best.

If the world reset, I'd wager that hunting would be important again and I would assume that bow and arrow designs would be developed rather quickly.

Of course this depends on how much history and folklore is available. But it's easy to see that different sized bows, custom made for different hunters or for different purposes, would make different sounds when the strings are plucked.

Assuming further that a good hunt, and given that cooperative hunting is much simpler and lower effort than farming for small, clan like pockets of humanity, leads to leisure time ( personally I think our common intuitions about modern society and the role of farming are short sighted ). I'd also guess that variations on bows to make different sounds would be considered.

Animal calls and bird songs are natural and serve to inspire curiosity and creativity in humans. So it's not a big stretch to imagine stringed instrument abstractions, along with the sounds that we hear in sea shells, and so on.

All simply ripe for the fertile mind to play with.

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    $\begingroup$ On why I think our intuitions about farming are short sighted, consider what happened when Europeans came to north America. They killed off a lot of the game because that was the quickest and easiest thing to do. They already had farming, but they plowed the rich soil long after it became less viable to get a large haul hunting for meat. Its a simple matter of lowest hanging fruit, so to speak. I.e. we ended up farming because we didn't have a better option. Necessity is the mother of invention and all that. I don't think it's more sophisticated than that. $\endgroup$
    – Nolo
    Oct 23, 2023 at 5:22
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    $\begingroup$ Well said and theorized! It seems to be simple designs for each instrument type. But as far as the easiest well defined pitched instrument type, it is probably strings. Either those or wooden aerophones. Surprisingly, drums seem to be the be the most difficult as far as pitched designs go as the really good ones require tons of metal and other materials (as covered above). Oh, along with brass instruments. Which again, require a lot of metal and intricate shaping. $\endgroup$
    – Lecifer
    Oct 23, 2023 at 8:32
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    $\begingroup$ To be fair, there are challenges for each. We have to learn braiding and knots to know about string, tanning to know about hides, carving and fire working to make wooden bowls. Metal comes much later, probably after farming is developed and the need arises to make more kinds of tools and defenses. I recommend the book Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean Auel if you haven't checked that one out. She covers a lot of ground theoretically and actually put a lot of research into her world which she uses to hypothesize the transition from matriarchal to patriarchal deity. $\endgroup$
    – Nolo
    Oct 23, 2023 at 16:14
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    $\begingroup$ Tangentially, this made me start to wonder about multi-millennia cycles of humanity, but the more I think about it, the more I have to consider that ideological evolution is as much a result of circumstances as is evolution over time. When the world is big, we have no choice but to cooperate. When the world becomes too small, we'll have no choice again but to cooperate. ;-) $\endgroup$
    – Nolo
    Oct 23, 2023 at 16:18
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    $\begingroup$ @Lecifer Excluding drums, do you know what orchestral instrument has remained unchanged since the Middle Ages? It's the trombone. No, I don't think Early man had trombones. My money would be on a plucked string. Early bone flutes survive, but you have to know where to drill the holes. You can tune a plucked string with tension. or with finger stopping. $\endgroup$ Oct 23, 2023 at 16:40
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Slit drums produce different pitches when struck at different points. Lots of hollow/semi-hollow logs occur naturally that work as slit drums; deliberate construction is just a tiny step from that.

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Clap Sticks

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clapstick#/media/File:Didgeridu_and_clap_sticks.jpg

Sure, pipes, flutes, ocarina, drums, etc. are going to be pretty easy to makes once you get past your basic survival needs, but they still require time and tools to make, and in those first few years when every hour spent crafting must be spent in the name of survival needs, setting aside the time to make even a simple flute will be a luxury not worth taking. However, there is one common tribal instrument that takes no effort at all to make: clap sticks.

All you need to do is pick up two sticks and knock them together. At most, you will need to spend 5 minutes scraping off any excess shoots and bark. When you clap them closer to your hands, they make a higher pitch sound, and when you clap them closer to the ends they make a lower pitch sound; so, they are not specific pitched instruments, but the pitch a good clap stick makes is definite.

Also, unlike most other instruments, you don't need to finish it to use it. Over time, you can refine your clap sticks in small incremental steps. You may at first start off just taking any sticks from your nightly firewood pile. Over time the sticks that make more definitely pitched sounds get kept and the less-definitely pitched sticks are returned to the your firewood pile. So before long, you will have some nice, straight, dry, knotless hardwood sticks pulled aside for your nightly jam sessions without having to invest any real work into making your instrument.

Clarifying Definite Pitch

Since this is not a common term outside of music theory, I believe there is some confusion about what this means. Definite pitch means that a sound follows a wave pattern that is all more or less one pitch like a key on a xylophone. An indefinite pitch is like the sound of a tambourine or rattle where the sound it makes is a wide range of simultaneous pitches.

Tuned/tunable instruments are called specific pitch instruments, but there are also a wide range of unspecific, definite pitched instruments which includes most slapsticks, hand drums, etc.

Instruments that are not both specific and definite pitch are often called unpitched instruments. But Google does not seem to know the difference; so, when you look up if certain instruments are indefinite pitch, you will often get answers for unpitched instruments instead; so, if you Google clap sticks, the results you get can be very misleading.

This said, slapsticks can be either pitched or unpitched based on thier design and use. If they are straight and made out of an aged homogenous wood like oak, they will be pitched. If they are bent, tapered, greenwood, or made out of a stick with distinct heartwood and sapwood like hickory, then it will make an less pitched sound. The technique you use can also make a difference between if you get a definite or indefinite pitched sound out of them much like how a drummer can get either a definite or indefinite pitched sound out of a djembe, though generally speaking, the term definite pitched instrument just means that it CAN make a pitched sound, not that it always will.

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  • $\begingroup$ These aren't definite pitch instruments. $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Oct 27, 2023 at 1:43
  • $\begingroup$ @elemtilas definite pitch is not the same as absolute pitch. I've revised my answer to better explain the difference and why slapsticks are (or atleast can be) definite pitch instruments. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Oct 27, 2023 at 14:51
  • $\begingroup$ If they're tuned, then they would be definite pitch instruments! I appreciate your edits. A definite pitch instrument is one that is tuned to a specific note or pitch --- like tympani, celeste, xylophone, etc. While that doesn't take any more skill than making a whistle, it is a little more than just rubbing off the bark! I'd agree with you: if you take a piece of wood, rub off the bark and then tune it to a specific pitch, and then take another piece of wood and do the same, you'd have a specific pitch set of clapsticks. $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Oct 28, 2023 at 2:22
  • $\begingroup$ @elemtilas A specific pitch instrument is one that is tuned to a specific note or pitch. A definite pitch instrument is one that makes a sound in a narrow set of audiowave lengths. Like I said, you have to be careful Googling this one because when you look up definite pitch, you get a lot of sources for pitched. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Oct 30, 2023 at 13:35

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