How to Add Instruments

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Instruments are entities in MusicBrainz (like artists or releases). However, they can only be added by relationship editors. If you want to request an instrument, see the How to request an instrument section below.

Before proposing an instrument for addition to MusicBrainz, make sure it fulfills the conditions to be considered as such. To ensure that the coverage of instruments in MusicBrainz remains reasonable and avoid a huge surge in the amount of instruments, the following guidelines are in place (but keep in mind exceptions can be made, so if you think your instrument still qualifies, do request it and explain why):

Not to be added as instruments

Generic items

One use generic household items like cans, bowls, pans etc.

Rationale: almost any generic thing can be used to make sound, whether as a percussion instrument (bashing one thing with another), a string instrument (a hollow body affixed with strings) or a wind instrument (any kind of tube or container with various holes, blown into)
Exceptions: if the musical use of a generic household item becomes popular enough that it starts to be produced (usually with slight modifications) specifically as a musical instrument, or it becomes something enough people see as an actual instrument, it can qualify for inclusion (such as musical saw and musical spoons)

Novelty instruments

Novelty/experimental instruments developed and used only by one person (or a small, related group of people), such as the Millennium Falcon guitar and most (if not all) instruments invented by Blue Man Group

Rationale: there's little benefit in adding a separate entry for every instrument conceived by any artist but not made available for more general use, since it risks filling the database with instruments that won't ever be selected again and will just confuse users.
Exceptions: should the novelty or custom creation start being produced and sold to others (even if in very limited numbers) as a legitimate instrument, it might qualify for addition. Wider adoption can definitely move an instrument from "novelty not to be added" to "perfectly acceptable addition" (such as gravikords and handpans)

Modified instruments

Modified instruments like "backwards guitar", "two flutes glued together" or "piano smasher"

Rationale: any single instrument can be modified in too many ways for MusicBrainz to keep track of all of them, and instrument credits can generally be used.
Exceptions: if a specific modification becomes common enough, it might qualify for inclusion.

N-string instruments

Rationale: as above, these are often just modified instruments, and can be specified with instrument credits.
Exceptions: if the instrument is actually altered in other ways specifically to adapt to the new number of strings, it might qualify for inclusion, but only if it's either widely produced and sold or the specific modification technique becomes widely adopted.

Brand names

Something that is simply a brand name of a generic instrument already in MusicBrainz (if the instrument is not in MusicBrainz, the generic version should be requested instead).

Rationale: It would cause a large growth in the number of instruments for little use. Generally, these should be requested as "brand name" type aliases for the appropriate instruments instead.
Exceptions: a brand name instrument might be added if the brand has become generic, or if the specific brand name instrument is quite different from any generic ones. This will be rare, and mostly applicable to modern instruments where other similar instruments can't be developed because of patents or other limitations. Even then, it is always preferable to have a generic name (such as "handpan" rather than "hang").

Non-instruments

Something that isn't an instrument and isn't used as an instrument but is credited next to other instrument credits, such as speakers, sampler(s), computers, microphones.

Rationale: these aren't instruments! They can be used to produce sound, but they are not *played* to make sound.
Exceptions: none currently. If a "gear" attribute is ever added, these will probably be allowed there.

Too little information

Instruments about which we have virtually no information, especially if they are very similar to other instruments, and even more if they also have very similar or the same names

Rationale: it's often impossible for us to know if these are really different instruments and, even when they are, we will have nothing that allows users to distinguish them well enough, so they will be used incorrectly by confused users.
Exceptions: if enough data is found to clearly differentiate the instrument, it can be added.

To be added as instruments

Rare/historical instruments

Rare, historical or unusual instruments not in use today (even more so if they were once quite popular, were invented by the same inventor as other more common instruments or eventually evolved into more common current instruments).

Exceptions: won't be added if not enough information is available to determine what the instrument is like and how it is different from others.

Traditional instruments

Native people's instruments (even more so if they are still in use or if they are thought to be very distant ancestors of current popular instruments).

Exceptions: won't be added if there is little or no information about them, especially if that makes them hard to differentiate from similar instruments from a different, but geographically close group of native peoples.

Instruments in Wikidata

Instruments with a Wikidata page, especially if there are also Wikipedia pages in several languages and/or Wikimedia Commons categories with images.

Exceptions: too generic instruments that exist as a blanket term in Wikipedia or pages for names that apply to more than one unrelated instrument.

Ensemble types

Established ensemble groupings consisting of a specific, mostly consistent set of instruments.

Exceptions: ensemble groupings that exist, but are quite rare in practice are unlikely to be added to avoid a huge growth in ensemble numbers.


Q & A

This is all too hard and complicated! I just want to know if I can add a ticket for this thing or not!
If you're still not sure if it's a valid instrument or not, then just come ask in our forums or IRC :)
What do I do if a release credits an instrument, but it doesn't qualify to be added as an instrument in MusicBrainz?
Find the closest nearest equivalent and use your instrument an instrument credit (in the "credited as" field). For example, for "pots and pans", choose "percussion" with the credit "pots and pans".
Alternatively: use "other" with an instrument credit (this is often the best option for complete "non instruments" and strange novelties that don't really match any of the existing options).


How to request an instrument

Go to the issue tracker, choose "Create" and select "INST".

In the Issue types section (from most to least likely):

  • For a new instrument, select "New Feature"
  • For something that needs improving, like adding an alias or updating a description, select "Improvement"
  • For something that's outright wrong with existing instruments, select "Bug"
  • For more extensive research that'll span several instruments, select "Task"

In the General section:

  • Explain what you're asking for in the Summary section.
  • Pick the type of instrument you're asking for (or say you want a modification) in the Components section.
  • Include as much useful information about the instrument as possible in the Description section: link to a description in Wikipedia, pictures, other sites, etc (a good example). Remember that the more information you provide, the easier it is for the people in charge of adding instruments to get it added.

Dos

  • Only add one instrument per ticket, and one ticket per instrument.
    • If several things on an existing instrument should be improved, you can (should) open only one new ticket for that, but still make sure to add separate tickets for each separate individual instrument that needs fixing.
  • Describe the instrument in as much detail as possible: what it looks like, where it comes from, historical usage info, its inventor(s) if known, etc.
  • Link the ticket to other relevant tickets and/or relevant instruments already in MusicBrainz.
  • When creating "modify existing instrument" tickets, make sure to add a link the instrument in MusicBrainz! That saves quite a bit of time. You can also add links to any related instruments (such as hybrids, parents, family, derivations, etc.) which haven't been linked to it with relationships yet. If you know of any other related instruments not in MusicBrainz yet, feel free to create tickets for them as well and then link to them from the "modify" ticket!
  • When creating an ensemble or family request, set it as a "Task" ticket and create subtasks for every instrument in the ensemble / family. If any of these instruments are already in the database, they're still likely to need updating, so you should still create subtask tickets for them and set them to have the component "modify existing instrument".

Don'ts

  • Don't add requests for instruments that already exist, nor requests that duplicate an existing ticket (please check!)
  • Don't add vague and unclear requests. If you don't know enough to be more specific, then there's little chance we do, so it will increase the chances that the request is rejected.
    • "This instrument is played on this track / album" is not useful enough. We can't hear it, and even if we could, we're unlikely to get enough info from that to enter the instrument. See if the booklet tells you more about the instrument, or if you can find some sources online that seem to match the description of what you're hearing.
  • Don't upload images to the ticket, since we cannot use them directly. If you own the rights to the images, you can upload them to Wikimedia Commons, where we will be able to access them in the future (and so will everyone else, so you're helping more people at once!). If you don't, you shouldn't upload them to our ticket tracker anyway. Keep in mind you can definitely link to an image hosted elsewhere to help describe an instrument though!
  • Don't write the ticket in any other language than English, unless you really can't manage to write it in English. In that case, you can use another language, but keep in mind we will need to try to find a volunteer who speaks it, so it might be much harder for us to deal with it. It is ok to link to non-English sources if that's all you can find, though, although it's much better if you can also at least summarise them in English in the ticket or comments.
  • Don't add yourself as the "assignee" for the ticket
  • Don't overwrite old ticket descriptions. You can always add more information in the comments, or after the existing description.

Other things you can do to help

  • Take pictures of instruments on the (needs image) list or the (needs better image) list and upload these to Wikimedia Commons! (make sure to follow Commons guidelines). This should allow us to display images of the instruments in the future.
  • If you see instruments with "family" in their name being used in releases or recordings, try to find and select a more specific instrument. It's very rare that the "-family" instrument is the best possible choice, even if the specific instrument played is not completely clear. Keep in mind this does not apply to all instruments of the type "Family", but just to those explicitly named as such.
  • Add links, info or comments to instrument tickets about an instrument you know something about.


How-To Pages
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Basic How-Tos
Specific How-Tos