Instrument Family and Variants Discussion

Hello Everyone! I have been editing and researching Instruments for a wile now and a few more difficult patterns have emerged: sometimes instruments are “closer related” than simply “is related to” they seem to be like a family, but there is no way of sorting this today, other than perhaps a “instrument family” relationship - making it possible to link specific instruments, like members of the oboe family or the violin family, or Variants of an instrument: Bass, Soprano, etc, or modificated ones, basically the same instrument but some strings have been added or it’s been pitched differently. compare how String instrument “guitar” - MusicBrainz looks, where Tenor and Baritone should (imho) be separate from things like “12 string” and “Hawaiian”.
However this is also complicated, because things right now are kinda in flux:

I think we need to do something more concise with instrument families and variants.
there is the “Alto, Contralto, Soprano, Tenor, Bass, etc” variants of an instruments, you can consider them siblings in a flock, one a year older(a deeper tone) than the previous.

Other times such is a much more derived instrument that is not just the same thing slightly bigger - compare violin and viola(bratsj)
this is complicated because “middle step” instrument variants between such things are created, and names and terms are vague and contradictionary.

Complicating things even further is variants from different geographic areas, eras or music-styles
f.ex. Mexican Guitar, Baroque Guitar or Flamenco Guitar, and they are not always named as such, instead they have local names or historical names.
Additionally, these “region” specific can develop their own “families”; see the Balkan “Tambouras” which developed from long necked lutes, but also alongside ideas of other set instruments in the violin family (eg, bass, cello, etc.) this also falls along “ensembles” instruments often used together in a setting, like aforementioned tambouras, the string quartet instruments, maori traditional ensemble, etc.

Then we have the “numeral” variant: 6-string Bass, 12 Guitar, 3 hole Ocarina, extra valve Trumpet, etc. Naturally this is combined with the aforementioned to create complications:
compare “Bass” and “Contrabass guitar” and “Six string Bass” and the Mexican “Bajo sexto”
the “17-String Koto” is also known as a “Bass Koto”

Finally we have the “X-note” variant: “Clarinet in D”, “F Bass Tuba”, “C-Bass Recorder”, “E-Flat Clarinet”
there is of course variants with other names: Fourth Flute which is a recorder in B-flat

Often an instrument will be described as “a [related instrument] tuned/pitched to [some note/spectrum]” or “with nylon/gut/metal strings” or “made of metal/plastic/glass/different wood type/by different company(brands)/etc”
This is especially controversive with string instruments where the strings are exchangeable and tuning alterable; if a Regular 6-string Acoustic Guitar with nylon strings has a string removed, is strung with gut-strings pitched in F-sharp and has a removable pickup installed, is it a different instrument? Especially if these modifications are revertible? (if all these mods were made maybe tho, it would be electric 5 string gut in F-sharp :P)

Lastly the “Electric/Acoustic version of” many instruments have derivations that are “the electric variant” this can be everything fro ma regular type with an added microphone/pickup, to a completely different instrument (see electric guitar and Hammond organ vs Acoustic Guitar and Pipe organ.)

I have some ideas/talkpoints:
to let there be a “Electric/Acoustic” ticket when creating instrument rels.
issues: people will use it with wrong instruments; (when they shouldn’t since an Acoustic Guitar with Pickups is different from Electric Guitar) or electric on instruments that are already Electric etc.
a different idea could be to make an instrument designated Electric/Acoustic in the instrument itself, like how Artists can be Group or Person, or gender, etc.
further an idea to create a rel link

The same idea with numeral and note variants: possibly the ability to simply say that "this is the (number goes here) string/hole/etc " on rels, the same issue as for the previous; people will probably use it wrong, and there are also legitimate variants that should be separate instruments?

I invite everyone to talk about ideas they might have around this

Re: attributes for non instrument-instrument relationships:

I don’t think we need to store electric vs. acoustic on each use of the instrument. I’d rather have them as separate instruments when they seem relevant enough, and otherwise just let people specify in the instrument “credit” field. People would definitely check an “electric” checkbox for the electric guitar, because people check “solo” half of the time when there’s only one artist playing even though that goes against the definition of the rel: looking at the form, it just seems like an obvious thing to click.

I’d say the same. We should decide whether something is different enough, and if it isn’t, people can and should use credits for 7 string guitar or whatnot. Actually, I’d suggest if something is deemed not different enough, we should actually add the variant as an alias (so, 7 string guitar as an alias of guitar) to push people in that direction.

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Re: instrument-instrument rels:

I’d agree that in the transverse flute page for example (ignoring the “children” issue because that’s just a placeholder) stuff like “soprano flute” (a specific version of western transverse flute) shouldn’t be equivalent to stuff like “sáo trúc” (a separate, although similar, Vietnamese instrument). I don’t really have any great ideas on how to name the possible separate relationships though, since a sáo trúc is definitely a type of transverse flute, but it’s not a type of the flute we usually think of when we use the word (what Wikipedia refers to as “Western classical flutes”).

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one idea would be to create a “placeholder” instrument (something a’la what the “violin family” or “guitars” is today, but disallow selecting)
upsides include ease of use, and flexibility (idea could be reused for “ensemble” types as well.)
downsides: it would require some coding to do the “not selectable instrument” part, as well as being a dirty, dirty hack which I don’t really like

Now at least I understand why it takes such long to fix the viol / viola da gamba family of instruments :slight_smile: Just luckily stumbled upon this discussion via the valuable Community Recap Q1 2017 post. The viol issue in fact is connected to most of the problem areas (without the cultural and electrical ones). Currently I’m digging deeper into this subject, trying to figure out the different areas of application:

  1. The instrument page:
    Do we need more/different fields, an other way of presentation? Maybe H-S number plus description, range (optional: soprano, alto, etc.) and common classification (like in would add more structure.
  2. The list of instruments
    could exist in different versions: alphabetical order, by H-S number, common classification in order to help editors to identify “their” instrument
  3. The instrument rel. pic list:
    I agree that some non selectable items are needed (which requires the according tic box on the instruments page)
  4. Picard export:
    Some users might prefer a simplified version of the instrument information, e.g. in most cases: flute = transverse flute = concert flute (requires another field on the instruments page and a configuration item in Picard).
  5. The instrument style guide subsequently deserves some elaboration

I just ran Picard on an album from Scott Henderson. (a rather famous guitar player)
In my tags he is now credited not as playing ‘guitar’, but as playing ‘guitar family’.
That looks very weird. And I don’t like it to be honest.

Is this a Picard thing, or a MusicBrainz thing?

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I think that means it was credited as “guitars” (all guitar-like instruments) rather than “guitar” (one or more guitars). The former was renamed to guitar family at some point (don’t really remember when), to make the difference more clear, but some old credits might need changing.


Ah, that makes (some) sense. :wink:
Thanks for the explanation and the fast reply.

Any chance of a bot cleaning that up?
(perhaps together with the membranophone mishap)
You will be running into quite a few musicians playing a family instead of an instrument these days.


I have often used Guitars in my edits (more than Guitar) as booklets often say Guitars.
A bot should now move all Guitar family to Guitar credited as Guitars, no?
I don’t know if anyone used Guitars for Guitar family in the past…