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Sorry if this is a silly question, but I happened to notice that while there are instruments made out of wood and/or metal and even plastic or glass, there are no rock-based instruments. It seems that since rock is so abundant, at least a few instruments over time would have been based off of it.

Possible reasons for the lack of rock-based instruments:

  • It would be too heavy (but then again I don't see people holding grand pianos)
  • It is too hard to shape (but then think of ancient temples made of stone; plus we have power tools which would make the task significantly easier)
  • Rock-based instruments simply don't sound good. I don't know much about acoustics, but I doubt this, especially since rock could lend itself to an echoing unique-sounding instrument, if in the correct shape.
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    There are: Lithophones – Todd Wilcox Sep 26 '15 at 13:50
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    Also, prayer stones are typically used as percussion instruments. – jjmusicnotes Sep 26 '15 at 15:47
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    JJ and Todd, I'd really like to know more about this. Just wondered if you might like to post answers here. I realise that the question as phrased at the moment doesn't really ask for information about rock-based instruments, but I don't think I should edit it in such a way as to ask the opposite to the present question. Would you be more likely to answer a question such as "Are any musical instruments made out of rock?" – Bob Broadley Sep 26 '15 at 19:10
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    You need a material that will vibrate. – aparente001 Sep 27 '15 at 1:56
  • @BobBroadley Not a whole lot to say about prayer stones - usually they're Tibetan because they're a good size, but if available, percussionists can also substitute with some good-sized, smooth, flat river stones. They're typically played by being struck together, not unlike playing claves. I've never heard / seen anyone use beaters on them, but it would be interesting to explore. The stones need to have a good, handheld size to project the sound - too small / large and they won't sound right. – jjmusicnotes Sep 27 '15 at 18:23
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"Rock" is a very unspecific description. But pretty much all minerals are alike in that they don't really shine in the department of elastic deformation and consequently are not useful for transmitting sound in a reliable and non-dispersive manner. So they suck at resonating. Marble is somewhat being used for high-end loudspeaker boxes exactly because of that. And concrete can be used for doing large organ pipes where the resonator itself is the air column.

But because of the resulting weight, these uses are comparatively rare. Plywood just offers a better ratio of weight to stability.

2

Such instruments exist. One big group is lithophones, but also string instruments like violins have been made (see Blackbird and it is not the only such instrument).

Stone string instruments are not so common, as they are relatively difficult to make. Also, unless high-end technology is used they are quite heavy (marble violins weigh up to 6.5 kg).

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In a flute and other woodwinds, the shape of the instrument is more important to the sound than the material.

Chinese Dizi flutes are normally made from bamboo, but can also be made from jade. A jade instrument will be heavier, and will be much more difficult to make.

Ocarinas are traditionally made of ceramic, which is very fine sand particles stuck together (clay). Not rock under any usual definitions, but since clay is made from lots of very tiny rocks, it could qualify.

The Colossi of Memnon wasn't a playable instrument, but it was a large stone statue that would reportedly produce music-like noises for about 200 years, from around 20BCE to around 169 BCE. The dates are from what are considered reliable historical sources, but it is likely that sounds were produced both before and after the records for at least a few years.

There can also be natural or manmade landscape size wind flutes, where the wind blowing over holes produces recognizable, different notes. You've probably heard this in its simplest form, when the wind blowing across a building makes a breathy whistling sound that may change pitch or intensity the stronger the wind is. I vaguely remembering hearing about areas with lots of eroded sandstone arches and holes, where this is a tourist attraction. But I can't remember any specific detail. If someone knows the name of such an attraction, I'll add it to the answer.

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