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Membranophone vs. Idiophone — What's the Difference?

By Tayyaba Rehman & Urooj Arif — Updated on March 8, 2024
Membranophones produce sound through vibrating membranes, while idiophones generate sound from the material itself without membranes.
Membranophone vs. Idiophone — What's the Difference?

Difference Between Membranophone and Idiophone


Key Differences

Membranophones are musical instruments that generate sound primarily through the vibration of a stretched membrane. This category includes drums, where striking the membrane produces sound. Whereas idiophones produce sound through the vibration of the instrument's body itself, without the use of strings, membranes, or external air flow. Examples include bells, cymbals, and xylophones.
The way sound is produced in membranophones involves striking, rubbing, or otherwise exciting a membrane, resulting in audible vibrations. On the other hand, idiophones can be struck, shaken, or scraped to create sound directly from their solid materials, such as metal, wood, or stone.
Membranophones often require tuning to achieve a desired pitch, which can be accomplished by adjusting the tension of the membrane. Idiophones, however, typically produce a fixed pitch based on their size, shape, and material, with limited tuning options.
In terms of usage, membranophones are frequently found in rhythmic and percussive roles within musical ensembles, providing beats and tempo. Idiophones, while also used percussively, offer a wider range of sounds and are often utilized for melody and harmony as well as rhythm.
Membranophones have significant roles in ceremonies, communication, and entertainment across various societies. Idiophones also hold cultural significance, with specific instruments unique to certain regions and traditions, reflecting the diversity of their sounds and applications.

Comparison Chart

Sound Production

Via vibrating stretched membranes
Through the material itself without membranes


Drums, bongos, tambourines
Bells, xylophones, maracas

Pitch Tuning

Adjustable by membrane tension
Generally fixed, based on material and shape

Role in Music

Primarily rhythmic/percussive
Rhythmic, melodic, and harmonic roles

Cultural Significance

Widely used in ceremonies and communication
Unique instruments reflecting local traditions

Compare with Definitions


Instruments producing sound via stretched membranes.
Drumming on a bongo excites the membrane to produce sound.


Sound arises from striking, shaking, or scraping.
The crisp sound of a cymbal crash comes from striking metal.


Drums, including bongos and timpani.
The timpani's pitch can be adjusted by tightening its membrane.


Bells, xylophones, and cymbals.
Striking a xylophone bar generates a clear pitch.


Predominantly in rhythm sections of bands and orchestras.
The snare drum provides backbeat in rock bands.


Instruments generating sound from their own material.
Shaking a maraca produces sound through internal beads hitting the shell.


Created by striking, rubbing, or blowing into membranes.
The tabla produces sound when its membrane is skillfully struck.


Versatile roles in music, including melody and rhythm.
Glockenspiels add bright tones to orchestral pieces.


Pitch altered by changing membrane tension.
Adjusting a drum's tension rods tunes its pitch.


Pitch generally fixed by design.
Metallophones are tuned during manufacturing.


A membranophone is any musical instrument which produces sound primarily by way of a vibrating stretched membrane. It is one of the four main divisions of instruments in the original Hornbostel-Sachs scheme of musical instrument classification.


An idiophone is any musical instrument that creates sound primarily by the vibration of the instrument itself, without the use of air flow (as is the case with aerophones), strings (chordophones), membranes (membranophones) or electricity (electrophones). It is the first of the four main divisions in the original Hornbostel–Sachs scheme of musical instrument classification (see List of idiophones by Hornbostel–Sachs number).


(music) Any musical instrument that produces sound via the vibration of a stretched membrane.


Any musical instrument that produces its sound by its own vibration (without any strings or membranes).


A musical percussion instrument; usually consists of a hollow cylinder with a membrane stretch across each end

Common Curiosities

Are idiophones capable of producing different pitches?

While idiophones typically have a fixed pitch, determined by their material and shape, some can produce varying pitches based on design.

What is a membranophone?

A membranophone is a musical instrument that produces sound primarily through the vibration of a stretched membrane.

What is an idiophone?

An idiophone is a type of musical instrument that generates sound from the material of the instrument itself, without the need for strings, membranes, or external air flow.

What roles do membranophones play in music?

Membranophones primarily serve rhythmic and percussive roles within musical ensembles.

What are some examples of idiophones?

Examples of idiophones include bells, xylophones, and maracas.

Can membranophones be tuned?

Yes, membranophones can be tuned by adjusting the tension of the membrane to achieve desired pitches.

How do membranophones produce sound?

Membranophones produce sound through the vibration of a stretched membrane when it is struck, rubbed, or blown into.

What roles do idiophones play in music?

Idiophones can play rhythmic, melodic, and harmonic roles, offering a wide range of sounds.

Do membranophones have cultural significance?

Yes, membranophones hold significant roles in various cultures for ceremonies, communication, and entertainment.

What are some examples of membranophones?

Examples of membranophones include drums, bongos, and tambourines.

Do idiophones have cultural significance?

Idiophones also carry cultural significance, with unique instruments found in specific regions reflecting local traditions.

Which is older, membranophones or idiophones?

Both types of instruments have ancient origins, making it difficult to determine which is older as they evolved in different cultures worldwide.

How do idiophones produce sound?

Idiophones produce sound through the vibration of their body, typically by being struck, shaken, or scraped.

Is it easier to learn to play a membranophone or an idiophone?

The ease of learning depends on the specific instrument and the individual, as both categories encompass a range of instruments with different complexities.

Can both membranophones and idiophones be used in orchestras?

Yes, both membranophones and idiophones are used in orchestras, each adding unique sounds to the ensemble.

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Author Spotlight

Written by
Tayyaba Rehman
Tayyaba Rehman is a distinguished writer, currently serving as a primary contributor to As a researcher in semantics and etymology, Tayyaba's passion for the complexity of languages and their distinctions has found a perfect home on the platform. Tayyaba delves into the intricacies of language, distinguishing between commonly confused words and phrases, thereby providing clarity for readers worldwide.
Co-written by
Urooj Arif
Urooj is a skilled content writer at Ask Difference, known for her exceptional ability to simplify complex topics into engaging and informative content. With a passion for research and a flair for clear, concise writing, she consistently delivers articles that resonate with our diverse audience.

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