Australia's Favourite Musical Instrument Revealed

13 June 2023 | 11:42 am | Emma Whines

"This question became one of identity, history and cultural connection; an exploration of the tapestry of musical experiences that make up your life."

Which instrument is Australia's favourite?

Which instrument is Australia's favourite? (Source: Supplied)

Australia has spoken, and in the 2023 Classic 100 held by ABC Classic and ABC Jazz, audiences have voted that the cello is the most beloved instrument in our nation. 

In the second-most popular countdown in 22 years, audiences were asked to vote for their favourite instrument across all cultures and musical traditions. While 27 instruments from the symphony orchestra placed in the top 100, it seems that the cello unanimously came out on top.

As per the ABC, many of the audience members who tuned in to vote noted that the cello is the most "moving" of the instruments listed, communicating, at times, an intangible beauty. One voter put it simply: "Why do I like listening to the cello? You may as well ask me why I like to breathe."

According to cellist, author and ABC Classic presenter Ed Le Brocq, the cello is "at its essence, a wooden box played with a horse's tail, yet also at its essence is an ability to render our emotion into music".

"The cello lifts us all. No matter whether we are playing or listening, watching, or wanting, the cello lies at the heart of our music and the cello shows us just what beauty is," he said.

The cello has become more popular over the years, with artists like Yo-Yo Ma, Tina Guo and Sol Gabetta bringing the old instrument into a contemporary landscape. Yo-Yo Ma's compositions have featured in popular TV shows like Sesame Street and The Simpsons, and the soundtracks of blockbusters including Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. 

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The piano, a mainstay across many musical genres from classical music and pop to jazz, rock, and folk, came in second place, with the violin being named Australia's third-most-popular instrument.

Many other instruments from all continents (except Antarctica) are featured on this list. Japan's national instrument, the koto, placed #87, the Chinese erhu came in at #68, and the Indonesian gamelan came in at #58. We heard the Native American Flute (courting flute) at #96, panpipes at #37, and instruments from the African continent like the djembe (#95) and the kora (#76). The "king of all instruments", the oud, came in at #16.

Australian First Nations instrument, the yidaki (didgeridoo), placed at #15 in the countdown. Virtuoso William Barton opened the weekend with an Acknowledgement of Country. He thanked audiences for voting for the yidaki. "It's an instrument that resonates with the songlines of our mother country through the sound of this landscape," he said.

As ABC reports, the question – "What's your favourite instrument?" – was incredibly popular with audiences, and Classic Breakfast presenter Dr Megan Burslem believes it invokes reasoning beyond the idea that it sounds pleasant. 

"This question became one of identity, history and cultural connection; an exploration of the tapestry of musical experiences that make up your life," Burslem said.

ABC Classic and ABC Jazz Content Manager Kat McGuffie added: "This year, we went on a journey that expanded our musical horizons and connected with audiences far and wide. We listened differently, and we drew upon the stories of our team and our listeners to create a shared experience of connecting and celebrating the best music of all time."

You can find out more about the ABC Classic 100 here.