A historical study and mechanical classification of ancient music-playing automata

Yu Hsun Chen, Marco Ceccarelli, Hong Sen Yan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


The mechanical music automata have been developed since thousands years ago for mimicking sound of animals or playing a melody. They are documented and/or preserved in many countries, with solutions that reflect the evolution of mechanical manufacture and technology in these areas. In this article, a timeline of the ancient literature in both western and eastern countries is arranged to clarify the historical development of music-playing automata. The functional mechanical design parameters are arranged based on the four fundamental music characteristics as pitch, duration, intensity and timbre. Moreover, the mechanical music generators are also classified into wind, percussion, strings instruments and the steel music comb according to their composition. These music-playing automata are analyzed in four main units, namely power system, music generator, transmission and mechanical puppets. Finally, seven ancient automata are analyzed as illustrative examples from the viewpoint of mechanism design for these analysis and classification.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)273-285
Number of pages13
JournalMechanism and Machine Theory
Publication statusPublished - 2018 Mar

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Bioengineering
  • Mechanics of Materials
  • Mechanical Engineering
  • Computer Science Applications


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