World’s quirkiest poster of musical instruments

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About this project *by Miguel Oliveira

The classification of musical instruments is such a tricky task that there is still none close to universal acceptance. Simplification comes at a price. Unless your parameters can become a bit elastic you will be left with dozens of little bubbles. That a few stray sheep. I have daydreamed this table heavily influenced by my practical experience as a film and TV composer.

It shows no personal preferences but simply my take on what could be achieved with the amalgamation of a couple of systems plus some corrections added by me. There were some real estate limitations since I wanted to keep within the original framework. This lead to inevitable casualties, for which I apologise in advance. If not for anything else, my hope was that this quirky Mendelevian concoction applied to musical instruments could help inspire you in a moment of writers’, producer or orchestrator’s block. 

I come to this task from a very pragmatic point of view. A composer writing for film and television. That main challenge was to select and arrange the instruments in a way that would make sense. While taking a lot of data from previous academic classifications I added a few that have never been included (magnetic tape, beat boxing, sampler, …) and this, obviously presented an added difficulty.
Also, coming from a background in science (graduated Medical school in 1996) I am terribly familiar as well with the original periodic table, so I tried to do (to a point) justice to Mendeleev’s logic.

I know it’s never getting universal acceptance.
For one, I couldn’t include every single instrument – it would be boring, it would burst the seams of the periodic table. And since no one has found atomic numbers on any instrument yet, the groupings in columns and rows are a truly impossible puzzle.
But there is a logic to my madness.
For example, bold omissions like viola and contrabass were intentional. Without giving them more merit than they deserve, I hope violin and violoncello can proudly represent the string family here (I play viola, so this wasn’t easy).
Like I said, I went for the bigger picture.
That said, I’m very happy to read any suggestions on this selection.
It came from the heart and from many, many hours fiddling with all those cells, cut as pieces of cardboard, to build this massive puzzle on my living room floor.
I hope I have succeed.