Membranophones, which have existed in some form for over 4000 years, are instruments that make sounds when a stretched skin vibrates. Usually a membranophone is a drum which makes a sound when the membrane is hit. Hands or drumsticks are typically used to strike the skin. Some drums can be set to different pitches by tightening or loosing the tension on the skin.
There are four basic types of drums:
- Friction drums--the membrane vibrates when a string is pulled through it, the membrane is not struck
- Frame drums---one or two membranes are stretched over a frame such as the tambourine or bass drum
- Vessel drums--a membrane is stretched across a vessel such as the kettledrum
- Tubular drums--a membrane is stretched over one or both ends of a tubular form. Tubular drums are often classified by the shape of their body
- Barrel--a drum with bulging sides such as the conga drum
- Conical--a drum whose head is larger than its base
- Cylindrical--a drum with a long, narrow body and straight, even sides, like the timbales
- Waisted--a drum that is narrower in the center than at both ends
- Goblet--a drum that stands on a narrow base
- Footed--a drum with feet carved from its body
- Long--a drum whose length significantly exceeds its diameter
Kazoos are also conisidered among the membranophones because they sounds they generate are the result of a vibrating membrane stretched. This class of instruments are called "mirlitons."