The Top 50 Most Popular Instruments in the World (Ranked by 13 Factors)
Deciding on the most popular instruments in the world may seem like an impossible task. Everyone appears to have their favorite instrument. In this master ranking we evaluated more than 13 factors including number of players, number of each instrument manufactured per year, number of concerts that use these instruments, and more.
Starting of course, with the piano.
The most popular instrument is without doubt the piano. About one quarter of the world is able to play the piano. Many people who can play a stringed instrument are also able to play the piano. It is one of the most versatile instruments as it can accompany many other instruments and can be played as a solo or duet. Chopin and Beethoven are just two of the most well-known piano composers ever. Their beautiful compositions are stilled being mastered by musicians all over the world.
Age: The piano was first invented in Italy in 1709 by a man named Bartolomeo di Francesco Christofori. It was initially developed from an instrument called a harpsichord. Christofori was able to give the harpsichord its loud and soft notes, which set it apart from other more rudimentary instruments of the time.
Cost: A piano can cost anywhere between $200 and $100 000 with a piano lesson averaging between $15 and $40 for a half an hour lesson. The most expensive piano in the world is the Heintzman Crystal Piano which is valued at $3.2 million.
#2 Electric Guitar
The electric guitar has graced many stages and rock concerts. Similar to piano, it is incredibly versatile. The electric guitar is played during a heavy metal guitar solo or reggae, jazz and blues. Jimi Hendrix is considered the greatest guitar player of all time. He was left-handed and played the guitar upside-down. He couldn’t read music and was completely self-taught.
Age: The electric guitar is a relatively young instrument with its earliest version invented in 1930.
Cost: Electric guitars will cost around $300. However, an amp is also need and these cost roughly $200.
#3 Classic Guitar
The classic guitar, or acoustic guitar, can be strummed in a ballad or can lead from the front of a concert. It has graced many bonfires and sing-a-longs. The acoustic guitar can be used in a variety of ways. It is estimated that one in five people know how to play the guitar with relative success. However, three in five people know how to play basic chords and songs. There is an estimated 84 million players in the world.
Age: An early version of the guitar has been in existence for about 3500 years.
Cost: An average guitar lesson is between $20 to $40 for half an hour. Guitars can cost you anywhere between $200 to $700. The most expensive guitar in the world was a Fender Strat and was signed by big names Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, and Mick Jagger, to name a few. It was auctioned to help victims of the 2004 tsunami. It was sold for a whopping $ 2.7 million!
Who can forget the beauty of a violinist completely absorbed in their playing? But who will ever forget the scratchy tones of a violin played by an individual who have no idea what they are doing? Violins make it to number 3 on the list because of the high prevalence of children who play the instrument. It is the most popular instrument for children to play. It is made of 70 different wood pieces. The smallest violin in the world is 37 millimetres long! Although violins were first considered as an instrument for the lower class, it is now considered one of the most difficult instruments to learn.
Age: The violin as we know it has been around for 500 years.
Cost: Violins can cost between $400- $2000. An average lesson is similar to guitar and piano, with $15-$40 spent on average per half hour lesson.
Drums have been the lifeblood of many cultures. They were once used to relay messages and warnings across many miles to surrounding villages in Africa. Every continent has developed their own form of drum. Drums, with their rhythmic patterns, have been the heartbeat of every civilisation. There is a huge variety of drums to choose from, ranging from a crude children’s toy to a sophisticated electric drum set. Drums, contrary to popular belief, are very difficult instruments to play. If the drumbeat is off in the song, it sets the entire band off. The drums, in effect, set the rhythm and tone of a piece of music and drum players need to have an excellent sense of rhythm and pace.
Age: The first drums date back to 4000 BC.
Cost: Professional drum sets can cost as much as $10 000! A complete junior drum set is usually around $300.
The flute is another very simple instrument and was most popular in the 19th century. Flutes vary in size which also, in turn, alter the quality of the noise it produces. Flutes have been made from a variety of material including bone, wood, glass, ivory, plastic, resin, brass, nickel, silver, gold and platinum. The flute is a intricate and challenging to play. It requires the player to expel more air than any other woodwind instrument and many beginner players become dizzy with the effort. One incorrect finger movement can cause a note to be completely wrong and the mouth has to be held in the correct position.
Age: The earliest flutes were made from bone. Crude versions of the flute have been found in archeological digs and are estimated to be 40 000 years old!
Cost: Beginner flutes rang from $150 to $700. However, many flutes have a solid silver head and these are roughly $800 to $2500.
The saxophone is most closely associated with jazz music. The player controls the instrument with their mouth tightness. There are four types of saxophones commonly used today: the Soprano, Alto, Tenor and Brass. The most popular types are the Alto and Tenor. Despite its brass body, the saxophone is, in fact, a woodwind instrument. A saxophone has a reed which produces the sound, which is why it is classified as a woodwind instrument.
Age: The saxophone was developed in 1840 by a man named Adolphe Sax. Sax learned to make instruments from his father and by the age of 16 he was already an accomplished instrument maker. He patented his new instrument, the saxophone, in May 1846.
Cost: The cost of a basic saxophone is upwards of $700! Saxophone lessons are between $15-$40 per half hour.
The cello has been the inspiration and leading instrument for many absolutely beautiful compositions. The well-known cello suites from Bach have been listened to again and again for their beauty and emotion. The full name for a cello is a violoncello. The strings of the instrument were originally made from sheep-gut, but are now more commonly made from metal wiring. Famous cellos are not actually owned by the performer but by an organisation. The organisation then “loans” the instrument to the performer.
Artists such as Yo-Yo Ma and Jacqueline du Pre have both played on Davidoz Stradivarius’ cello.
Age: The cello has been around since the early 16th century. As time has gone on, cellos have evolved from being part of concertos to forming solo pieces.
Cost: Cellos are probably very expensive instruments, with beginner’s instruments costing about $1000! This does not include the bow, which can be several hundred dollars.
The keyboard is very similar to the piano because it is played by pressing keys. However, it is an part of the electrical instrument family. It can produce a variety of sounds that would need many instruments to produce. They are designed to take the place of the piano. They do not require tuning and are not affected by the weather as pianos are.
Age: Surprisingly, keyboard instruments can be dated back to 3000 B.C. This crude instrument eventually developed into the pipe organ. The first electric keyboard was invented in 1753. It had 700 strings which were electrified to enhance their sound. This keyboard then evolved into the keyboard we now have today.
Cost: The average cost of a keyboard is between $200-$500.
The clarinet has also been known as the “little stick” or the “liquorice”. It was the last instrument to be included in the symphony orchestra but they are most commonly used in chamber orchestras. Mozart was the first major composer to write for the clarinet and did, in fact, liken the clarinet’s tone to the human voice. Jimmy Kimmel, Julia Roberts and Steven Spielberg are all able to play the clarinet. The clarinets were also popular in jazz music until 1940.
Age: The clarinet is one of the few instruments that does not find its roots in an earlier instrument. It was a new creation in the 1700s, built from a chalumeau. It was invented by Johan Denner, a German instrument maker.
Cost: The average clarinet is around $400. However, the most expensive clarinet was Benny Goodman’s, who was a genius with the clarinet. His clarinet sold for $25 000!
#11 Bass Guitar
The bass guitar is often referred to the “poor musician’s double bass”. It has essentially replaced the double bass during shows. However, when this instrument is missing from a stage, it is easy to notice something is lacking. Although it is used mainly as an accompaniment, it also features in solos in many different genres of music.
Age: The bass guitar, like the electric guitar, traces its roots back to 1930.
Cost: A bass guitar can set you back $200 to $5000.
The trumpet is the first real brass instrument on our list. It is a small and easily portable instrument; however, despite its compact size, it has 6 ½ feet of tubing-taller than the average person! They have also been associated with battle. The trumpet, because of their loud, strong sound, was used to signal across great distances. Benny Mamot has invented a trumpet than is 32m long with a bell of 5.2m in diameter. It can only be played by using an air compressor! Richard Gere, Steven Tyler, Samuel L Jackson, Justin Bieber and Clint Eastwood are a few famous people who are able to play the trumpet.
Age: Some of the earliest versions of trumpets include conch shells. The trumpet was used by Ancient Egypt, Greece and the Near East. Two trumpets were found in King Tutankhamun’s tomb. These trumpets were last played in 2011 before the Egyptian Revolution.
Cost: Trumpets cost between $300 and $400. The “Martin Committee” trumpet was sold for $55000 at auction and was owned by Dizzy Gillespie. It has a distinctive “bent bell” shape.
Surprisingly, the harp ranks as #13 on our list. In Ireland it is the national symbol and even features on the Guinness logo. There are two different types of harp-the open and the frame harp. Harps range in size from a pedal harp, which is the size of an adult, to celtic harps, which is able to be carried with ease. Harpists are known for being able to evoke three different emotions: laughter, sadness and sleep and they only use the first four fingers of each hand.
Age: The harp dates back to 3000 B.C. Over 150 different African tribes have instruments similar to the harp. The first recorded harpist was David, who used to play the harp for King Saul. However, Marie Antoinette is credited with making the harp a woman’s instrument.
Cost: Harps are more pricey than the other instruments listed thus far, with the average starting price at $1000 for a folk harp. However, pedal harps start at $10000!
The recorder is commonly used to teach children about music. It is a simple instrument and is mostly made from plastic. It is part of the woodwind family and produces sound when air is blown into the instrument and there are seven finger holes.
Age: The recorder has evolved from the whistle and dates back to 1200 B.C. The name “recorder” has been used since the 1300s. Henry the VIII had a collection of at least 76 recorders. The recorder is mentioned in both Hamlet and Paradise Lost.
Cost: Recorders are very cheap instruments with a starting price of $3.
This instrument may seem a very obvious one. Everyone has a voice of different ranges and abilities. Some of us have no ability to sing whatsoever. However, the voice is considered a musical instrument with different types. The first type is known as tenor. It is the highest male vocal range. The highest female range is soprano. Bass is known as the lowest male vocal while the baritone is between bass and tenor. Alto is higher than a tenor but lower than soprano.
Brilliant singers: Julie Andrews, beloved for her roles in Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music, was a soprano voice and was rumoured to be able to sing over 4 octaves! She tragically lost her singing voice when she underwent surgery to remove nodules from her throat.
A capella: A capella is a term which refers to the use of the singing voice without any other musical instruments. It has become popular in recent years due to artists such as The Pentatonics or movies like Pitch Perfect. Glee, a television series, has also supported the development of a capella. The vocalists not only sing, but also use sound effects to create stunning music without any other instruments.
Cost: The cost of the human voice is free! However, many people choose to go to voice training lessons. These can cost $10 to $35 for a half hour lesson.
The synthesizer may look like an electrical keyboard, but it is so much more than that! The synthesizer is able to make or copy any type of sound. Not only can it mimic any musical instrument, but it is also used to create new sounds such as the noise footsteps will possibly make on Mars.
Age: Synthesizers date back to the 1890s! The first synthesizer was know as the Telharmonium. It weighed 200 tons and was powered by 12 steam-powered electromagnetic generator. It was able to make many different sounds at the same time!. The synthesizer then evolved from this point into the instrument we know today.
Cost: The price of the average synthesizer is just over $1,500.
The ukulele is a guitar-like instrument most closely associated with Hawaiian music. The word “ukulele” means “jumping flea” but it is normally shortened to the uke. There are only 4 strings to the ukulele and the sound is produced when the strings are plucked. Beatles member George Harrison was a huge ukulele fan and collected hundreds. Jason Mraz’s song, “I’m Yours” is the most popular ukulele song of all time. The ukulele has gained popularity at an enormous rate, with the industry growing 500-600% last year! Neil Armstrong loved the ukulele and while in quarantine after his visit to the moon, he often passed the time strumming his uke.
Age: The ukulele is an adaptation of the Portuguese instrument called the machete, and is traced back to the 19th century.
Cost: Ukuleles really range in cost. A budget ukulele can be around $25. However, a high end ukulele can cost up to $900. However, they are generally more affordable instruments.
The xylophone is a popular instrument because of its popularity as a children’s toy. The xylophone is a percussion instrument that uses a wooden stick to hit bars of different lengths. The shorter bars produce sounds of higher pitch while the longer bars produce lower sounds. Although the xylophone was an irreplaceable part of the musical, it was not an original part of the orchestra until the 20th century. It is now considered an integral part of the classical orchestra.
Age: The xylophone is thought to have originated in 2000 B.C. in Southeast Asia. In 1511 it was called the “wooden clatter”. In Eastern Europe it was laid out on straw while in Africa it was often laid out on banana stems.
Cost: Xylophones range in value. A child’s xylophone could cost between $5 and $10. However, proper concert xylophones can cost between $800 and $1500. The average cost for an hour long lesson is about $60.
The harmonica is the most purchased instrument in the world. In the US alone, more than 40 million harmonicas have been sold. This means that there is probably a harmonica in every single home in America. Harmonicas were originally made from wood. The harmonica is played by blowing into different holes which produce different notes. It is also the first instrument to be played in space. An American astronaut, Walter Schirra, played the harmonica for his colleagues aboard the Gemini 5. The smallest harmonica is the Hohner Little Horner which consists of 4 holes which are capable of producing 8 different notes. The largest harmonica ensemble was performed in Hong Kong is 2009. There were 6 131 players and the song lasted 7 minutes. The harmonica also has many health benefits and can be considered good aerobic exercise. Some famous harmonica players include Johnny Cash, John Mayer, Sheryl Crow, Shakira, Stevie Wonder and Mick Jagger.
Age: Christian Buschmann, a 16 year old boy at the time, first patented the harmonica in 1821. He first called it the “Mundaeoline”.
Cost: There are many inexpensive plastic harmonicas which are about $2-$3. However, good quality beginner harmonicas are $30-$40. Wooden harmonicas are much more expensive at $300-$400.
#20 Bongo Drums
The bongo drums belong to both Cuban and African history. They are considered to be a Cuban invention but African in their design. They consist of two drums strapped and played together. The bottom of the drum is open which has led to the belief that they are influenced by African design. Each drum is a different size which then, in turn, produces a different sound. Bongo drum players are referred to as bongoseros. Bongo drums need to be oiled frequently to protect the head of the drum.
Age: Bongo drums are still relatively young instruments and are thought to have originated in the 1800s.
Famous Players: James Dean and Marlon Brando were two famous bongoseros. The bongo drums also feature in Sheryl Crow’s hit “Everyday is a Winding Road”.
Cost: Bongo drums are more affordable instruments ranging from $20 to $40.
Tubas form part of the brass family and produce the lowest pitch of the brass instruments. It is played by a musician who blows into a mouthpiece and presses valves to produce different notes.
Age: Johann Gottfried Moritz and Wilhelm Friedrich invented the tuba in 1835. It was added into the symphony orchestra in the mid-1800s as a replacement of the ophicleide.
Cost: Tubas are pricier instruments with a beginning price of $2000.
Tambourines are percussion instruments and are one of the most versatile instruments. They are known to be used in rock, classical, marching bands and pop music. Many children have toy tambourines and are commonly used to introduce children to music. Tchaikovsky and Mozart both used the tambourine in some of their compositions.
Age: Tambourines have been used in Ancient Rome, Greece, India, Middle East and Mesopotamia. It has not changed much in their original design over the years.
Cost: Tambourines range in value from $5 to $20.
The trombone belongs to the brass family. It was first called the shakbusse or the sackbut. As the first musical instrument to have a moving slide, the sackbut evolved into the trombone as we know it today. The trombone does not have valves to control the sound but the musician controls the pitch using the slide. Left-handed trombone players have to learn to play with their right-hand as there are no left-handed trombones. The trombone is hardly ever heard as a solo instrument.
Age: The first time the trombone made an appearance was in 1439. However, the oldest trombone in the world today has been preserved since 1551.
Cost: An inexpensive trombone costs about $500. However, most trombones cost about $2000.
Maracas are often seen as simplistic instruments similar to a baby’s rattle, yet it has the ability to create many interesting rhythmic expressions. Latin American dance bands rely heavily on the maraca and are also used to introduce children to music in primary schools. Maracas consist of hollow, oval tops which contain seeds which produce a noise when shaken. There is also a handle which is made of plastic or wood. Maracas can also be decorated with beads and string. These not only have aesthetic appeal but will also produce noise when the instrument is used.
Age: The date of the maraca invention is unknown, but most percussion instruments date back to the Stone Age. They are also believed to have originated in several different ancient civilisations around the same time.
Cost: Maracas cost between $5 and $20.
# 25 Banjo
The banjo is closely associated with folk and country music. An English doctor visiting Jamaica first called the banjo the “strum strump”. Joel Walker Sweeney was the first professional banjo player, learning the instrument from African slaves.
Age: The early banjo originated in Africa but was taken over to America in the 1600s by the African slaves. A crude form of the banjo probably existed 6000 years ago.
Cost: The price of a banjo is anywhere from $50 to $3000.However, a good, solid banjo will cost around $300 to $400.
# 26 Oud
The oud is an Arabian instrument similar to the banjo. It has been added to this list due to its popularity in the Middle East. Ouds commonly have eleven strings. There are many different types of oud which include Egyptian, Syrian, Turkish and electric.
Age: The oud originates as early as 3000 BC.
Cost: An oud typically costs around $400.
The oboe is part of the woodwind family and is a double-reed instrument. Before the clarinet it was the military’s main instrument.
Age: The oboe was reported to have been invented in the 1600s; however, it appears to have evolved from the shawm. The shawm is believed to have been around since 2800 BC.
Cost: Good quality oboes are priced at $3000-$5000.
The organ, until the telephone, was considered the world’s most remarkable invention. Organs are most commonly associated with church music. The volume and quality of sound is controlled by the flow of air through the pipes.
Age: In 3000 BC, Ancient Greece had a water organ. The pipe organ is believed to have been constructed from this idea around A.D. 600.
Cost: Organs have a huge range in value depending on how many pipes and whether it is used or not. A used organ that is being moved can be $30 000. However, a brand new instrument to be constructed can cost millions. An average price for a small church is $200 000 to $850 000.
The accordion is part of the wind family. It has keys much like a piano and while the musician is pressing the keys, they press air through the bellows with their other hand.
Age: Accordions have been around since the 1800s and was invented by Friedrich Buschmann.
Cost: A good quality accordion is roughly $300 to $500.
The triangle is not just the instrument used to call people for dinner. The triangle is described best by its shape and name. It is made of metal bars and is in the shape of a triangle. The player hits the triangle with a metal stick in order to produce sound. Many people think the triangle is the easiest instrument to play but it takes more skill than many imagine.
Age: The triangle has been in existence since the Middle Ages, which is roughly the 1400s.
Cost: Triangles can cost anywhere between $5 to $7.
A viola is similar to a violin but it is larger and has a deeper sound. It can be plucked or played using a bow.
Age: The viola originated in Italy between 1530 and 1550.
Cost: Depending on the type of viola,the instrument will cost between $7000 and $10000, while the bow costs around $1000.
The castanet consists of two pieces of wood that look like shells. They are played by simply clicking the two pieces of wood together. They are mostly associated with Spanish dancers.
Age: The exact age of the instrument is unknown but the art of hitting objects together to produce sound has been around since Ancient Greece and Egypt.
Cost: Professional castanets cost between $100-$200. Beginner castanet start at around $30.
The bagpipe is one of the symbols of Scotland. However, they are also known to have been played in Turkey, Asia, Africa and the Persian Gulf.
Age: Bagpipes have been around for thousands of years. However, a sculpture depicting a crude bagpipe was discovered and is dated as 1000 B.C.
Cost: Bagpipes range from $500 to $1300.
The bassoon, a member from the woodwind family, is a reed instrument and is used in jazz, classical and modern music. It is commonly confused with the oboe.
Age: The bassoon is thought to have been invented in 1650 by a man by the name of Martin Hotteterre.
Cost: New instruments are pretty pricing with a starting price of upwards of $5000. Used instruments can cost $2000.
The digeridoo is a wind instrument that originated with the Aboriginals in Australia. It consists of a hollow tube made of bamboo or eucalyptus.
Age: Researchers have suggested the digeridoo could date back 40,000 years.
Cost: Didgeridoos cost around $250 depending on the decorative finishes applied.
The piccolo looks like a small flute. It is a very high pitched instrument and is considered more difficult to play than the flute.
Age: It is uncertain when the piccolo originated but Beethoven first used the piccolo in 1808 in his 5th symphony.
Cost: A good quality piccolo should cost around $800.
The harmonium is an instrument similar to the organ but sounds a bit like the accordion. It is also known as a pump organ.
Age: The harmonium was first developed in 1840.
Cost: Harmoniums have many different versions and types, so it is difficult to ascertain a price. However, harmoniums cost about $700.
#38 Double Bass
The double bass is, in fact, the largest and lowest instrument in the string section of the orchestra. It is used in many different genres of music from the obvious classical to modern music.
Age: The double bass has been in existence since the 1500s.
Cost: The average bass instrument will cost upwards of about $1600.
# 39 Mandolin
The mandolin, a stringed instrument, is similar to a banjo is both look and size. It is, however, not classified as a guitar but forms part of the lyre family.
Age: The mandolin as we know is native to Italy and came about in the 1500s. However, its predecessor is the lyre which can be dated as far back as 15000 B.C.
Cost: Mandolins average $3500 in price.
# 40 Glockenspiel
The glockenspiel is similar to the xylophone in that it is a percussion instrument that produces sound when struck with a tool. However, a glockenspiel has metal plates instead of wood.
Age: The glockenspiel has been around since medieval times when it was constructed with bells. It was redesigned in the 1700s and became the instrument it is today.
Cost: A glockenspiel will cost between $30-$60.
# 41 Gong
A gong is a simple metal instrument resembling a plate. It is struck and produces a resonant sound.
Age: The gong was first invented by the Romans around 100 A.D.
Cost: The cost of a gong can vary between $40 to $1000 depending on design.
# 42 Tap shoes
Although tap shoes are technically strictly for dancing, they add a beautiful and interesting dynamic when the dancer performs either on their own or with accompanying music.
Age: In 1878 the first tap performer, at six years of age, came onto the scene. His name was Bill Robinson and was considered the pioneer of tap dancing.
Cost: Tap shoes are between $40 and $100.
# 43 Wind Chime
Wind chimes are not played by a musician but produce sound when the wind moves the parts of the wind chime. Wind chimes were used to ward off evil spirits.
Age: It is thought that the ancient Romans first invented the wind chime.
Cost: The price of a wind chime really depends on you. An individual can make their own wind chime using any sound producing material and some string. Alternatively, they can be bought at varying prices of $5-$20.
# 44 Wood Block
A wood block is best described by its name. It is a hollowed out block of wood that produces sound when it is struck.
Age: This instrument has a Chinese origin and seems to date back to the early 1900s.
Cost: Wood blocks can cost from $2 to $15.
The turntable, an apparatus used to play back music, is not technically an instrument. However, due to its increase in use by DJs, it has made it onto our list. DJs employ many different techniques to manipulate the turntable and produce different sounds.
Age: The turntable is a modification of the early phonograph of 1877. However, it was first used to recreate music in the 1930s.
Cost: A turntable on average, with all attachments, should cost around $250-$500.
# 46 Omnichord
The omnichord was designed for people who wish to play a musical instrument but never learned. The musician chooses a chord and strums the strings and the instrument produces the correct chord.
Age: The omnichord is the youngest instrument on this list and was invented in 1980.
Cost: The average price of this instrument is $100.
# 47 Mbira
The mbira is made of metal tongues that are pressed down and let go to produce sound. They are very popular in African cultures and have been referred to as a thumb piano.
Age: The mbira is considered to have been in existence since 1000 B.C.
Cost: Mbiras cost about $10-$20.
# 48 Steelpan
The steelpan was adapted from oil drums after World War 2. It is played much like a drum.
Age: The steelpan was first used in the 1940s.
Cost: Steelpans have a starting price of $1000.
# 49 Vuvuzela
The vuvuzela sneaks onto this list due to its popularity among South African soccer fans. It is a plastic trumpet instrument capable of producing a very unvarying sound. It is also estimated that within 15 minutes of listening to a vuvuzela hearing damage can occur.
Age: The vuvuzela first became notorious during the 2010 Fifa World Cup held in South Africa.
Cost: The cost of a vuvuzela is about $25.
# 50 Musical Bow
The musical bow has been discovered in most ancient cultures and is a relatively crude instrument. It much resembles a bow and arrow without the arrow. It is played when the tight string is plucked.
Age: This instrument has been dated at 13000 B.C.
Cost: The music bow is an outdated instrument that is very difficult to find.