Musical Instruments Starting with M

October 19, 2023

Musical instruments that start with “M” encompass a diverse range of tools from various cultures and historical periods. 

Originating from different parts of the world, these instruments have rich histories that reflect the evolution of music and the innovation of instrument makers. 

Their construction and appearance vary widely, from the pear-shaped body of the Mandolin to the wooden bars of the Marimba. 

The sound and technique associated with each instrument are as unique as their designs, requiring specialized skills to master. 

Beyond their auditory appeal, these instruments hold cultural significance in the societies from which they originate, often playing important roles in ceremonies, folklore, and traditional music. 

This exploration delves into the fascinating world of “M” instruments, shedding light on their heritage, design, and impact on the global music scene. So, let’s begin.

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List of Musical Instruments Starting with M


A traditional Chinese bowed string instrument.

Origin and History

The Maguhu is a traditional Chinese bowed string instrument that belongs to the Huqin family of musical instruments. Its name, “Maguhu,” is derived from the Chinese words “mǎ gǔ,” which means “horse bone,” and “hú,” which is short for huqin.

Construction and Appearance

The Maguhu has two strings, and its unique sound box is crafted from the femur bone of a horse, though sometimes bones from cows or mules are used as alternatives. 

The front end of this sound box is covered with snake skin, but in some cases, shark or frog skin might be used. A distinctive feature of the Maguhu is the end of its neck, which is intricately carved to resemble a horse’s head.

Sound and Technique

While the specific sound qualities of the Maguhu can vary based on its construction, it generally produces a resonant and traditional tone characteristic of the Huqin family. The instrument is played with a bow, and the technique involves drawing the bow across its two strings.

Cultural Significance

The Maguhu holds cultural importance, especially among the Zhuang and Buyei peoples of the Guangxi province in southern China. It is prominently featured in the ensemble that accompanies the “guiju” (Guangxi opera). 

Additionally, the Maguhu is a key component of the “bayin” ensemble of the Zhuang people, where it is played alongside other instruments like the tuhu, huluhu, sanxian, drums, cymbals, and more.

Majestic Bellowphone

A unique and visually striking wind instrument.

Origin and History

The Majestic Bellowphone is a unique musical invention associated with Leonard Solomon, an inventive musician known for his creativity. The exact origins and history of the Majestic Bellowphone are not widely documented, but it appears to be a modern creation by Solomon, who has showcased it in various performances.

Construction and Appearance

The Majestic Bellowphone, as its name suggests, has a majestic appearance. While specific details about its construction are not readily available, it can be inferred from its performances that it consists of a series of pipes and bellows. The instrument has a whimsical design, reminiscent of homemade or DIY musical contraptions.

Sound and Technique

The sound of the Majestic Bellowphone is distinctive, with tones produced by air being pushed through its various pipes. Leonard Solomon has demonstrated its versatility by performing parts of classical pieces, such as Sergei Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf,” showcasing its capability to produce a range of notes and melodies.

Cultural Significance

While the Majestic Bellowphone might not have deep historical roots or widespread cultural significance, it represents the spirit of innovation and creativity in the world of music. Instruments like the Majestic Bellowphone challenge traditional notions of what a musical instrument can be and inspire others to think outside the box.


A bass version of the mandolin, primarily used in mandolin orchestras.

Origin and History

The Mando-bass is the largest member of the mandolin family and was primarily used as the bass instrument in mandolin orchestras. 

Its introduction to the United States was relatively recent, gaining popularity around the early 20th century. Before 1911, the U.S. was mostly unfamiliar with the few Mando-basses made in Europe. 

However, by 1912, several companies, including Gibson and Vega, showcased their versions of the Mando-bass. Gibson, in particular, played a significant role in popularizing the Mando-bass, producing them from 1912 to around 1930.

Construction and Appearance

The Mando-bass is quite large, often requiring players to hold it upright, similar to a double bass. It rests on an endpin that touches the floor. The neck-scale length of a full-size Mando-bass is similar to a standard orchestral double bass. 

The instrument generally resembles the smaller members of the mandolin family, having a fretted neck, a headstock with tuning machines, and a large resonating body. Some models, like Gibson’s, were designed to be played either upright or on their side.

Sound and Technique

The Mando-bass produces deep bass notes, with its sound determined by its tuning. The full-sized 4-string variant is commonly tuned to E1 A1 D2 G2, similar to an orchestral double bass. 

However, smaller versions might be tuned in fifths, two octaves below the mandolin or mandola. Players can use a traditional mandolin technique with a pick or play the instrument with bare fingers, similar to the pizzicato technique on the double bass.

Cultural Significance

The Mando-bass was an essential component of mandolin orchestras during their peak of popularity in the early 20th century. However, as the popularity of these orchestras waned by the late 1920s, the demand for the 

Mando-bass also declined. By the mid-1930s, most companies ceased production, making the Mando-bass a unique and relatively rare instrument in modern times.


A larger version of the traditional mandolin, often used in classical and folk music.

Origin and History

The Mandocello is a member of the mandolin family and is the baritone instrument within that group. Its roots trace back to Europe, where mandolins evolved from the lute family in Italy during the 17th and 18th centuries. The bowl-back mandolin, particularly popular in Naples, became widespread in the 19th century. 

The Mandocello came into the picture as the mandolin family expanded during the Baroque period (1600-1750). The first evidence of modern metal-string mandolins is from the 17th and 18th centuries, with the Vinaccia family of luthiers in Naples playing a pivotal role in its development. 

The Mandocello itself was a product of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, with the Gibson company in the U.S. playing a significant role in its popularization.

Construction and Appearance

The Mandocello’s construction is akin to the mandolin. It can either have a bowl-shaped back, reminiscent of 18th-century designs, or a flat (arched) back, which became popular in the U.S. in the early 20th century. 

The Mandocello has a longer scale than the mandolin. Its body may feature a single oval soundhole or a pair of “F” soundholes. Typically, it has between 18 and 22 frets, and its strings are arranged in four paired courses.

Sound and Technique

The Mandocello produces a deeper, baritone sound compared to the higher-pitched mandolin. It’s tuned in fifths, starting on bass C (C2). The instrument generally has four courses of two strings each, producing a rich and resonant tone. It can be played with a pick or fingers, and its sound is versatile enough for both solo and ensemble performances.

Cultural Significance

The Mandocello played a crucial role in mandolin orchestras during their peak in the early 20th century. These orchestras incorporated various instruments from the mandolin family, including mandolins, mandolas, mandocellos, and even mandobasses. 

The Mandocello’s popularity, however, began to decline after the 1930s, but it never completely faded away. Today, it remains a unique and cherished instrument, especially among enthusiasts of the mandolin family.


A stringed instrument that is larger than a mandolin but smaller than a mandocello.

Origin and History

The Mandola, known as the tenor mandola in Ireland and the UK, is a fretted, stringed musical instrument. It’s related to the mandolin, similar to how the viola relates to the violin. 

The Mandola can trace its ancestry back to the mandolin family that evolved in Italy during the 17th and 18th centuries. Interestingly, the word “mandolin” means “little mandola,” indicating the Mandola’s significance in the history of stringed instruments.

Construction and Appearance

The Mandola resembles the mandolin but is larger. It has four double courses of metal strings, tuned in fifths to the same pitches as the viola (C3-G3-D4-A4). The instrument can either have a single oval soundhole or a pair of “F” soundholes. 

The scale length is typically around 42 cm (16.5 inches). It’s played with a plectrum (pick), and the double strings can produce a technique called tremolando, which is a rapid alternation of the plectrum on a single course of strings.

Sound and Technique

The Mandola offers a deeper sound compared to the mandolin, thanks to its tuning. Its sound is versatile, suitable for both solo and ensemble performances. The Mandola can be played using a pick, and its rich tones can be sustained using the tremolando technique, which involves rapidly alternating the pick on the strings.

Cultural Significance

The Mandola holds a special place in folk music, especially Italian folk traditions. In Irish traditional music, while the Mandola is sometimes used, instruments like the octave mandolin, Irish bouzouki, and modern cittern are more prevalent. The Mandola has also found its way into mandolin orchestras, playing alongside mandolins, mandocellos, and mandobasses.


A small stringed instrument with a pear-shaped body, it is widely used in folk and bluegrass music.

Origin and History

The mandolin traces its roots back to the lute family in Europe, particularly in Italy during the 17th and 18th centuries. The most widespread variants from this era were the Neapolitan and Lombard mandolins. 

The Neapolitan style, which has become globally recognized, evolved from instruments like the gittern and mandore. By the 18th century, the mandolin had secured its place in European classical and traditional music.

Construction and Appearance

The mandolin is a stringed instrument, typically with eight strings arranged in four courses (pairs). These strings are usually made of steel. The body shape can vary, but the three most common types are:

  • Neapolitan or Round-Backed Mandolin: This has a deep, bowl-like back made of strips of wood glued together.
  • Archtop Mandolin: Recognized by its arched top and shallower back, both carved out of wood.
  • Flat-Backed Mandolin: Uses thin sheets of wood for the body, similar to a guitar.

The soundboard, which is the top part of the body, can be round, teardrop-shaped, or have other designs. It usually has one or more sound holes, which can be round, oval, or f-shaped (like on a violin).

Sound and Technique

The mandolin produces sound when its strings are plucked, usually with a pick. Its sound can vary based on its construction, but in general:

  • Neapolitan mandolins have a prominent role in European classical and traditional music.
  • Archtop mandolins are common in American folk and bluegrass.
  • Flat-backed mandolins are popular in Irish, British, and Brazilian folk music.

The mandolin’s sound is bright and resonant, and its notes decay quickly. This characteristic has given rise to a playing technique called “tremolo” – a rapid picking of strings to produce a sustained sound. The paired strings of the mandolin make this technique especially effective.

Cultural Significance

The mandolin has been a symbol of various cultural expressions across the world. In Europe, it’s deeply embedded in classical and traditional music. In the U.S., it found its voice in folk and bluegrass genres. Different regions have developed their own styles and techniques, making the mandolin a versatile and globally cherished instrument.


Percussion instruments consist of a pair of hollow gourds filled with seeds or beans, shaken to produce sound.

Origin and History

Maracas are percussion instruments that have been shaking things up for centuries. They originated in Latin America, with indigenous tribes using them for rituals and ceremonies. 

These early maracas were often made from dried gourds or turtle shells filled with seeds or pebbles. As time went on, they spread to other parts of the world and became a staple in various musical genres.

Construction and Appearance

At its core, a maraca is a simple instrument. It consists of a handle and a hollow head. The head is traditionally made from dried gourds, but modern maracas might use leather, plastic, or wood. Inside this hollow head, you’ll find small objects like seeds, beads, or pebbles. 

These are what make the noise when you shake them. The handle is typically made of wood or plastic. Maracas often come in pairs, allowing you to shake up a storm with both hands!

Sound and Technique

When you shake a maraca, the small objects inside bounce around, creating a rhythmic, rustling sound. The sound can vary based on what’s inside and the material of the maraca. 

For a softer sound, you might find maracas filled with fine sand, while those filled with larger beads or seeds produce a louder, more distinct sound.

Playing maracas is all about rhythm. You can shake them up and down, side to side, or even swirl them around. The key is to move to the beat of the music. With practice, you can create intricate rhythms and patterns.

Cultural Significance

Maracas hold a special place in Latin American music, especially in styles like salsa, merengue, and samba. But their influence doesn’t stop there. They’ve made their way into pop, rock, and other global music genres. Beyond music, maracas have cultural and spiritual significance in various indigenous ceremonies.


An African musical instrument consisting of a wooden board with attached staggered metal tines, is played by holding the instrument in the hands and plucking the tines with the thumbs.

Origin and History

The Mbira, often called the “thumb piano,” comes from Africa, especially the Shona people of Zimbabwe. It’s ancient! People have been playing the Mbira for over a thousand years.

Construction and Appearance

The Mbira is crafted from a wooden board with metal tines attached to it. Picture a small wooden box or platform. On top, there are metal strips (tines) of varying lengths. You play it by plucking these tines with your thumbs.

Sound and Technique

The Mbira produces a melodic, almost mystical sound. Each metal tine gives a different note, creating a unique tune. Use your thumbs to play this instrument. Pluck the metal tines with your thumbs to produce sounds. The length and thickness of the tines change the pitch.

Cultural Significance

For the Shona people, the Mbira is not just an instrument. It’s a spiritual tool used in ceremonies to connect with ancestors. The Mbira’s popularity has grown, and now you can find it in various music genres worldwide.


A percussion instrument consisting of a set of wooden bars struck with mallets to produce musical tones.

Origin and History

The marimba! It’s like the grandparent of the xylophone. Its roots go way back to Africa, but it also has a rich history in Central America, especially Guatemala. Over time, it traveled, evolved, and got its modern shape and sound.

Construction and Appearance

Picture this: a bunch of wooden bars, lined up from big to small (or low to high notes). Underneath these bars, there are tubes or gourds that act like speakers, amplifying the sound. The whole thing is held up by a frame, kind of like a table. And to play it? You get these sticks with soft, round ends called mallets.

Sound and Technique

When you hit the bars with the mallets, you get this warm, rich, and resonant sound. It’s like a piano but more… woody? The trick is in how you strike. A gentle tap? Soft and mellow. A strong hit? Bold and vibrant. It’s all about feeling the rhythm and making those bars sing.

Cultural Significance

The marimba is a big deal, especially in Central America. In places like Guatemala, it’s the national instrument! It’s played in festivals, celebrations, and even formal events. In Africa, it’s got deep cultural roots too. It’s not just about music; it’s about community, history, and identity.


A stringed musical instrument designed for experimental music and noise rock.

Origin and History

The Moodswinger is a relatively new kid on the block. It was created in 2006 by a Dutch luthier named Yuri Landman for the band Liars. Unlike ancient instruments with centuries of history, the Moodswinger is a modern invention, blending innovation with musical exploration.

Construction and Appearance

Imagine a long, sleek electric guitar, but with a twist. It has 12 strings and a unique, angular shape. The strings are divided into two sections: one side has the regular strings you’d play, and the other side has what’s called “sympathetic strings.” These extra strings aren’t played directly but resonate when the main strings are strummed, creating a cool echo effect.

Sound and Technique

The Moodswinger produces a sound that’s a mix between a guitar and a sitar. When you strum it, you get this rich, harmonic resonance, thanks to those sympathetic strings. It’s both familiar and exotic at the same time. Playing it is similar to a guitar, but with the added depth of those echoing strings, giving it a unique sonic landscape.

Cultural Significance

While the Moodswinger doesn’t have deep cultural roots like some ancient instruments, it represents modern innovation and the spirit of experimentation in music. It’s a testament to how musicians and creators are always pushing boundaries, looking for fresh sounds and new ways to express themselves.


Denis Loncaric
Denis Loncaric

My name is Denis. I am a drummer, percussionist, music enthusiast, and blogger. Drums have been my passion for 15 years now. My idea is to write about the things I like and I am interested in. I want to share my drum passion with fellow musicians who walk, talk, and breathe drums.

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