Acoustic music

Acoustic music is music that solely or primarily uses instruments that produce sound through acoustic means, as opposed to electric or electronic means; typically the phrase refers to that made by acoustic string instruments. While all music was once acoustic, the retronym "acoustic music" appeared after the advent of electric instruments, such as the electric guitar, electric violin, electric organ and synthesizer.[1] Acoustic string instrumentations had long been a subset of popular music, particularly in folk. It stood in contrast to various other types of music in various eras, including big band music in the pre-rock era, and electric music in the rock era.

Music reviewer Craig Conley suggests, "When music is labeled acoustic, unplugged, or unwired, the assumption seems to be that other types of music are cluttered by technology and overproduction and therefore aren't as pure".[2]

Types of acoustic instruments

Acoustic instruments can be split into six groups: string instruments, wind instruments, percussion, other instruments, ensemble instruments, and unclassified instruments.[3] String instruments have a tightly stretched string, that, when set in motion creates energy at (almost) harmonically related frequencies. Wind instruments are in the shape of a pipe and energy is supplied as an air stream into the pipe. Percussion instruments make sound when they are struck, as with a hand or a stick.[4]


The term may designate a recording cut with a stylus activated directly (through a diaphragm) by sound waves rather than by electronic impulses.


It was first applied to recordings in the early 1930s (electric recordings were first made in 1925), and to instruments in the mid-1960s, in response to the widespread use in commercial folk and pop music of electric guitars and other electronically amplified instruments. Used of a room, it indicates that room's acoustical characteristics.[5]

The original acoustic instrument was the human voice, which produces sound by funneling air across the vocal cords. The first constructed acoustic instrument is believed to be the flute. The oldest surviving flute is as much as 43,000 years old. The flute is believed to have originated in Central Europe.[6] Moors brought the oud into Europe during the Moorish invasion of Spain in the 8th century AD. These two instruments enabled rapid development in the acoustic instrument realm throughout the Renaissance. By 1800, the most popular acoustic plucked-string instruments closely resembled the modern day guitar, but with a smaller body. As the century continued, luthier Antonio de Torres Jurado from Spain took these smaller instruments and expanded the bodies to create guitars. Guitar use and popularity grew throughout the 19th century and more acoustic instruments were crafted, such as the double bass. As electric instruments took hold during the 20th century, many stringed instruments were redefined as acoustic. Instruments that involve striking or vibrating the strings, such as the violin, viola and cello, fall under the acoustic category. The violin became popular during the 16th and 17th centuries, due to technological advancements in building them, brought on by luthiers such as Antonio Stradivari and Andrea Amati. The modern version of the instrument developed gradually from older European acoustic stringed instruments such as the lira.[7]


  1. Safire 2007.
  2. Conley, Craig (August 16, 1999). "Review: Unwired: Acoustic Music from around the World". Splendid. Archived from the original on December 25, 2008. Retrieved November 17, 2008.
  3. "Instrument List".
  4. "Acoustic Instruments".
  5. Carr, Bruce (January 20, 2001). "Acoustic (term)". Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  6. Iain Morley, "The Evolutionary Origins and Archaeology of Music", PhD diss. (Cambridge: Darwin College, Cambridge University, 2003): 47–48.
  7. Rosenberg, E. S. (September 1, 2006). "National Geographic: Remembering Pearl Harbor, Created by Nationalgeographic .com, Washington, D.C., and Second Story Interactive Studios, Portland, Ore. Maintained by Reviewed March 1-7, 2006". Journal of American History. 93 (2): 626–627. doi:10.2307/4486400. ISSN 0021-8723. External link in |title= (help)


  • Randel, Don Michael (2003). The Harvard Dictionary of Music. Harvard University Press. ISBN 978-0-674-01163-2.
  • Safire, William (2007). "On Language: Retronym". New York Times Magazine (January 7): 18.
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