Classification, ancient musical instruments, and data analysis

Clas­si­fi­ca­tion is a key tech­nique to ana­lyz­ing data that yields very dif­fer­ent results based on the clas­si­fi­ca­tion scheme. One tech­nique is to use two dif­fer­ent clas­si­fi­ca­tion schemes on the same dataset, do the same analy­sis and com­pare the results to find hid­den insights in data.

As an exam­ple, in the 17th cen­tury book De Tribus Gener­ibus Instru­men­to­rum (On the three types of musi­cal instru­ments), the author Fran­cisco Bian­chini describes two schemes: the first class­fi­ca­tion scheme dis­tin­guished instru­ments by how the sound is made:

  • Ten­sile (String — by plucking)
  • Inflatile (Wind — by blow­ing air in)
  • Pul­satile (Per­cus­sion — by striking)

He also describes a sec­ond clas­si­fi­ca­tion scheme which was pro­posed by Augus­tine (and later by Isidore of Seville) based on the to three divi­sions of music: har­monic, sym­phonic, rhythmic:

  • vox (har­mony — by human voice)
  • fla­tus (sym­phonic — blow­ing in)
  • pul­sus (rhyth­mic — strik­ing something)

The two clas­si­fi­ca­tion schemes over­lap some­what (wind instru­ments are same cat­e­gory in both), but the “pul­sus” cat­e­gory includes string instru­ments and per­cus­sion in the sec­ond cat­e­gory, but only per­cus­sion in the first.

An inter­est­ing appli­ca­tion would be to use both tax­onomies to aggre­gate data and see what insights can be gained from each grouping.

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