What’s That Sound? Instruments 101

Whether you’re an instrumentalist or a vocalist, the ability to recognize instruments by their distinctive sounds is a skill that can set you apart in the musical realm. Understanding how a sonic landscape is crafted not only makes you feel more at ease but also boosts your confidence during performances and recording sessions. Additionally, it enables effective communication with producers and fellow musicians when articulating the specific sounds you’re aiming for. Let’s delve into the world of musical instruments!


Guitars are prominent in almost every genre of popular music, making it essential to familiarize ourselves with their varied sounds. While there are numerous types of guitars, let’s explore the most common ones:


Acoustic guitars, devoid of electrical components, are recorded using microphones, resulting in a natural sound.

The classic sound of the acoustic guitar!


Distinguished by its “jangly” tone, the 12-string guitar doubles the usual six strings.

The more traditional sound of the nylon string guitar!

Electric Clean

Clean electric guitars produce a mellower sound, ideal for certain musical atmospheres.

The crips sound of a clean electric guitar.

Electric Distorted

For a more intense sonic experience, distorted electric guitars are employed.

Different types of pushed electric guitar sounds.

Bass Guitar

Bass guitars handle the low notes, providing a crucial foundation for many musical compositions.

Bass guitar builds the foundation for the songs we love.


Acoustic Kit

Played by a real person, acoustic drums, though diverse in kit components, share a similar sound.

Acoustic drum kits are usually what we think of when we think of drums.


The Roland 808, a renowned drum machine, boasts a signature sound that’s worth recognizing.

The Roland 808 stands out from other drum machines since it is popular in almost every genre.

Sampled Drums

Frequently found in hip-hop, sampled drums contribute a distinctive dusty sound to the genre.

Sampled drums use drum breaks from old records for a dusty, classic sound.

Drum Machines

With thousands of variations, recognizing the general drum machine sound can guide you even if the exact model is unknown.

A ton of drum machines for you to compare!


Upright Piano

Smaller than its grand counterpart, the upright piano often graces rock recordings with its presence.

Try to notice the difference in sound from the upright to the grand.

Grand Piano

For a more luxurious tone, grand pianos are frequently heard in pop music.

The insides of a grand piano.


Used across various music styles, the organ acts as a unifying element in many compositions.

A woman playing a Hammond organ.


Electric pianos, with their bell-like resonance, find a niche in mellower genres like neosoul and R&B.

The smooth and chill sounds of a Fender Rhodes.


The percussive clavinet, famously employed by Stevie Wonder, adds a unique touch to compositions.

The percussive sounds of the clavinet.


While there’s a myriad of synthesizer types, identifying a sound as synthesizer-produced is a significant step.

A walkthrough of famous synthesizers.



Violin, Viola, Cello, and Bass, despite playing in different ranges, share a similar string instrument sound.

A string quartet.


Trumpet, Trombone, Tuba, and Saxophone, each playing in distinct ranges, are often combined for a richer musical experience.

A full horn section.

Closing Notes

And there you have it! This serves as a primer; there are countless more instruments in the vast world of music to explore. To enhance your skills, try identifying the instruments in songs as you listen—a valuable practice that accelerates your learning. If you’re eager to fast track this process with guidance from one of Toronto’s finest music teachers, reach out to us today!