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Do You Kazoo?

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Happy Kazoo Day, Everybody!

Anyone can play the kazoo. About as easy to play as the tambourine, the kazoo is the one wind instrument that doesn’t require much musical skill. But where did it come from? Strap in for a buzzing good time; we’re about to dive deep into the history of the kazoo. Before we get into the history, however, let’s take a good look at the anatomy of a kazoo so we can better understand this instrument’s origin.

Typically made of plastic, kazoos can be fashioned from metal as well. These instruments are small tubes, open on both ends (one end flatter and smaller than the other). Not quite halfway down the body of a kazoo, there is yet another hole which creates a small chamber where a waxy film is kept in place, but with enough free space to vibrate and shake when a kazoo player produces an air current.

Kazoos of the Current Day
I wrote about the history of kazoos a number of years back, but that post focused chiefly on American kazoos from the 1800s forward. On today’s post, however, we’re going to peel back the layers of time to see how trunks were used hundreds and hundreds of years ago. I’m talking ancient!

While it is a wind instrument, the waxy, vibrating film of a kazoo sets it apart from the conventional brass and woodwind instruments and places it in the ‘mirliton’ club. Mirlitons are any instruments that involve that vibrating film for their voice. The first European mirlitons came around the 1700s, called the eunuk-flute. These were made of wood and, also referred to as an Onion Flute because onion skin would be used in place of the waxy film of a kazoo.

Ancient African Kazoos
The 1700s may seem like a long time ago (and it is), but the history goes back even further than that. Historians believe that the closest relative to the kazoo is the ancient African horn-mirliton. Of course it was built using very primitive resources. The tube was made from a cow horn and instead of waxy film, they used egg-shells from spiders. Yet, it produced a similar sound to the eunuk-flute and kazoo.

You can make your own mirliton by simply holding a piece of paper tight alongside the teeth of the comb. Then just put your puckered lips to the comb and hum or “doo-doo” or whatever you like. You may have to play around with your positioning before you get it to really resonate like a kazoo, but trust me—it works! Check these guys out! Happy Kazoo Day and, as always, thanks for reading!


- John

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