Musical Instruments in the Bible

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How many musical instruments are in the Bible? Who made the first one recorded in God's word? Which one is the most frequently mentioned? Which one is known as King David's harp?

The below list of nineteen musical instruments is first sorted by type and then by Hebrew name. Those that are of the wind type require moving air in order to make their sounds. Those that are classified as percussion require they be beat or struck. String instruments have strings that require they be plucked or otherwise vibrated.

Please note that for a variety of reasons it is difficult, if not almost impossible, to determine certain details regarding Old Testament musical instruments.


Hebrew: Menana
KJV Name: Cornets (Sistrum)
Strong's: #H4517
References: 2Samuel 6:5

The Hebrew menana is erroneously translated as "cornets" in the King James Version of 2Samuel 6:5. The word means, "to rattle" and likely designates an instrument known as a sistrum.

Sistrums had rings or disks loosely attached to one or more bars fixed across a frame. The frame was constructed out of carved bronze or copper. The Sistrum was played by holding it upright and shaking it, allowing its rings to move back and forth on its bars. The menana was played when King David attempted to escort the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem.

Hebrew: Meziltayim
KJV Name: Cymbals
Strong's: #H4700
References: 1Chronicles 13:8, 15:16, 19, 28, 16:5, 42, 25:1, 6, 2Chronicles 5:12 - 13, 29:25, Ezra 3:10, Nehemiah 12:27

The Hebrew word meziltayim means "double tinklers." This instrument, made of brass, was utilized by the leaders of the Levitical singers and played a prominent role in religious ceremonies.

Hebrew: Paamon
KJV Name: Bell
Strong's: #H6472
References: Exodus 28:33, 34, 39:25 and 36

Tiny bells and pomegranates were attached to the lower hem of the High Priest's ephod. Although not loud, the bells signaled his location in the temple's sanctuary.

Hebrew: Toph
KJV Name: Timbrel / Tabret
Strong's: #H8596
References: Genesis 31:27, Exodus 15:20, Judges 11:34, 1Samuel 10:5, 18:6, 2Samuel 6:5, 1Chronicles 13:8, Job 21:12, etc.

The Hebrew word toph is translated 10 times as "timbrel" and 8 times as "tabret." The toph, the oldest and most popular means of percussion, was a musical instrument of the drum kind. The 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia, in its section on the timbrel and tabret, states the following.

"It is very simple, consisting of a broad or narrow hoop of wood or metal over which the skin of an animal is stretched. Sometimes small, thin pieces of metal are hung upon the rim, which jingle when the timbrel is shaken, as in the modern tambourine.

"The instrument is held high in one hand, while the performer beats on the drumhead with the fingers and the back of the other hand."

Hebrew: Tselatsal (possibly Zelzelim)
KJV Name: Cymbals
Strong's: #H6767
References: 2Samuel 6:5, Psalm 150:5

Tselatsals produced a loud clanging sound. This musical instrument was played when King David attempted to escort the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem.


Hebrew: Asor
KJV Name: Instrument of Ten Strings
Strong's: #H6218
References: Psalm 33:2, 92:3, 144:9

The only thing known about the Asor was that it was a ten-stringed instrument. It was likely a type of harp such as a zither or lute.

Hebrew: Gittith
KJV Name: Gittith
Strong's: #H1665
References: Psalm 8:1, 81:1 and 84:1

The name gittith suggests this musical instrument was retrieved by King David in the Philistine city of Gath.

Hebrew: Kathros
KJV Name: Harp
Strong's: #H7030
References: Daniel 3:5, 7, 10, 15

Found only in the book of Daniel, the kathros (an Aramaic word) was a stringed instrument played at Nebuchadnezzar's court. It was possibly a type of lyre.

King David's harp at city of David in Jerusalem
King David's harp (kinnor)
at city of David in Jerusalem

Hebrew: Kinnor
KJV Name: Harp
Strong's: #H3658
References: Genesis 4:21, 31:27, 1Samuel 10:5, 16:16, 23, 2Samuel 6:5, 1Kings 10:12, 1Chronicles 13:8, 15:16, 21, 28, 16:5, etc.

The kinnor has the distinction of being the first musical instrument recorded in Scripture. Its creation is credited to a man named Jubal who was of Cain's lineage (Genesis 4:16 - 21). The kinnor is sometimes referred to as David's harp.

This instrument is small enough to be played while walking (1Samuel 10:5) and made of wood. Its strings were crafted from sheep tripe. David, when an evil spirit bothered King Saul, would play his kinnor and chase the demon away (1Samuel 16:23)! The kinnor was used to worship and praise God (2Samuel 6:5, Psalm 43:4), utter prophecies (1Chronicles 25:3), and bid farewell to love ones (Genesis 31:27).

Hebrew: Nebel
KJV Name: Psaltery, Viol
Strong's: #H5035
References: 1Samuel 10:5, 2Samuel 6:5, 1Kings 10:12, 1Chronicles 13:8, 15:16, 20, 28, 16:5, 25:1, 6, 2Chronicles 5:12, 9:11, etc.

Nebel, in 23 Old Testament places, is translated "psaltery." It is translated, in Isaiah 5:12, 14:11, Amos 5:23 and 6:5 as "viol." Jewish tradition states that the Nebel stood upright as opposed to the handheld kinnor.

The psaltery, a type of harp, may have had as many as ten strings (Psalm 33:2, 144:9). It was used when the Ark of the Covenant was moved (1Chronicles 15:28) as well as in worshipping God (25:6).

Hebrew: Psanterin
KJV Name: Psaltery
Strong's: #H6460
References: Daniel 3:5, 7, 10, 15

This instrument was used in the court of Babylon's King Nebuchadnezzar. It may have resembled a dulcimer that had its strings struck with small hammers.

Hebrew: Sabbka
KJV Name: Sackbut
Strong's: #H5443
References: Daniel 3:5, 7, 10, 15

This instrument was used in the court of Babylon's King Nebuchadnezzar. It may have been a type of lyre or harp with four strings.


Hebrew: Halil
KJV Name: Pipe
Strong's: #H2485
References: 1Samuel 10:5, 1Kings 1:40, Isaiah 5:12, 30:29, Jeremiah 48:36

The halil was one or two pieces of wood that were hollowed out with two or more holes. It first Scriptural mention involved it being played by a group of prophets. This pipe was commonly played at festive occasions and during pilgrimages to Jerusalem. It could also be used during mourning (Jeremiah 48:36) and at funerals.

Hebrew: Hatsotserah
KJV Name: Trumpet
Strong's: #H2689
References: Numbers 10:2 - 10, 31:6, 2Kings 11:14, 12:13, 1Chronicles 13:8, 15:24, 28, 16:6, 42, 2Chronicles 5:12 - 13, 13:12, etc.

The hatsotserah, a different musical instrument than the shofar, is mentioned 29 times in the Hebrew Old Testament. Hatsotserahs were trumpets that were straight, narrow and quite long (possibly .9 meters or 2.9 feet). They were constructed out of silver (Numbers 10:1 - 2) or gold, had a flared end and produced a high shrill tone.

This type of trumpet was used to signal the Israelites, when they wandered the wilderness for forty years, to assemble and break camp (Numbers 10:5). It was an important part of temple worship (1Chronicles 15:28, 2Chronicles 15:14) and considered one of the sacred utensils (2Kings 12:13, Numbers 31:6). The hatsotserah was blown on New Moons and other festive occasions as well as at the temple's daily offerings (2Kings 11:14, Hosea 5:8, Psalm 98:6).

Hebrew: Kehren
KJV Name: Cornet
Strong's: #H7162
References: Daniel 3:5, 7, 10, 15

This musical instrument, found only in the book of Daniel, was commonly used in the court of Babylon's King Nebuchadnezzar. According to Clarke's Commentary, it was a horn that could make a deep and hollow sound as well as one that was piercing.

The cornet, along with other instruments, was used by Nebuchadnezzar at the dedication of a huge golden statue in his likeness. The statue was 60 cubits (at least 87.5 feet or 26.7 meters) tall by six cubits (8.75 feet or 2.67 meters) wide.

Babylon's officials, as well as the people, were commanded to bow down and worship the image when they heard the instruments play (Daniel 3:3 - 5). All those refusing to do so would be put to death in a fiery furnace. Daniel's three friends, who rejected this idolatry, were thrown into this fiery trial of their faith but were miraculously saved by God (Daniel 3).

Hebrew: Mashroqiy
KJV Name: Flute
Strong's: #H4953
References: Daniel 3:5, 7, 10, 15

This instrument is found only in Daniel in the KJV. It, along with others, were used by Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar to signal when those he ruled over were to worship a huge golden statue made in his likeness. The mashroqiy may have been the Chaldean name for a flute with two reeds. Tyndale's Dictionary and the ISBE believe it was similar to Pan's pipe.

Hebrew: Shofar
KJV Name: Cornet / Trumpet
Strong's: #H7782
References: Exodus 19:16, 19, 20:18, Leviticus 25:9, Joshua 6:4 - 20, Judges 3:27, etc.

The Hebrew word shofar is recorded 72 times in the Hebrew Old Testament, all of which are mistranslated in the KJV. It is erroneously called a trumpet 68 times and a cornet 4 times (Psalm 98:6, 1Chronicles 15:28, 2Chronicles 15:14, Hosea 5:8). The shofar and trumpet, according to the 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia, are two distinct instruments as delineated in Psalm 98:6 and 1Chronicles 15:28.

The shofar is mentioned more than any other musical instrument in the Bible. It is the only instrument that survives in its original form that is still used in modern Jewish liturgy. It was usually made from the curved horn of a ram or goat. Shofars announced the New Moons and Sabbaths (Psalm 81:3), warned of approaching danger, and signaled the death of nobility.

Hebrew: Ugab
KJV Name: Organ
Strong's: #H5748
References: Genesis 4:21, Job 21:12, 30:31, Psalm 150:4

The ugab is the second musical instrument mentioned in Scripture. It was created by Jubal who also made the first harp (Genesis 4:16 - 21). The KJV translation of ugab is a bit misleading as it was not some kind of keyboard-based instrument. It was a flute-like wind instrument, possibly a double or manifold pipe, made of wood or ivory. It could be used to praise and rejoice before God (Psalm 150:4) or while mourning (Job 30:31).

Unknown Type

Hebrew: Sumponia
KJV Name: Dulcimer
Strong's: #H5481
References: Daniel 3:5, 10, 15

The KJV word "dulcimer," found only in Daniel, is a mistranslation. Modern dulcimers are percussion based musical instruments that possess metal strings that are hit with lightweight hammers. Smith's Bible Dictionary, the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (ISBE) and Wilmington's Guide, however, all state the sumponia was possibly a type of bagpipe.

Tyndale's Dictionary, however, argues the sumponia couldn't have been a bagpipe, as musicologists believe no such instrument existed at the time of King Nebuchadnezzar. The uncertainty of the Hebrew makes it difficult to know what is being referenced.

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1906 Jewish Encyclopedia
Adam Clarke's Commentary
Complete Book of Bible Lists
Dictionary of Holy Bible
Holman Bible Dictionary
Illustrated Bible Dictionary
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
Smith's Bible Dictionary
Tyndale Bible Dictionary
Wilmington's Guide to the Bible