8 Strange and Different Musical Instruments

Middle school music classes will offer you a trumpet, flute, clarinet, drums, and a few other everyday musical instruments. Learn to play one of them and one day you may be asked to play a very different instrument that you might even fall in love with. Here are eight out of the ordinary musical instruments.

1. Lituus

The medieval lituus was a specified instrument in Bach's cantata O Jesu Christ, meins Lebens Licht. But no modern musician had ever played, or even seen a lituus! The Swiss conservatory Schola Cantorum Basiliensis (SCB) asked the University of Edinburgh to recreate the lituus (also known as Bach's horn) for them. They used computer modeling to design the instrument from information about what it should sound like, what it might have looked like, and the available materials and technology in Bach's time. Two identical instruments were produced, and were played in the Bach cantata in 2009. Listen to the lituus in a video here. Get a closer look at the construction of the lituus as well.

2. Gajda

A Macedonian gajda is a bagpipe made from a goat or a sheep. The animal skin is the wind bag, and occasionally you'll see one with hooves or even a head still attached. Variations of this instrument are found in Greece, Bulgaria, Romania and Turkey. Hear a strangely-constructed gajda in these videos.

3. Tromboon

The tromboon is an instrument that combines the reed and mouthpiece of a bassoon and the body of  trombone. The word has become a slang term meaning a mashup that combines the worst qualities of two disparate things. The term was coined by musician Peter Schickele, and is a required instrument in some works of the fictional P. D. Q. Bach. Hear the sound of a tromboon in this video. See other trombone variations as well.

4. Shakulute

A shakulute is a hybrid of a shakuhachi, or Japanese bamboo flute, and a western silver flute. The shakuhachi is blown into from the end. To make a shakulute, you attach a special head joint to your flute so it can also be blown from the end. This hybrid instrument was developed by shakuhachi maker Monty Levenson. Listen to the shakalute here.

5. Serpent

The serpent is also called a contrabass anaconda. It is an ancestor of the modern tuba and was introduced in the year 1590. The sound is made with the mouth like a trumpet or tuba, but the notes are made by covering finger holes like a flute. See more pictures of many people who play the serpent. Hear the serpent in this video.

6. Subcontrabass Flute

Flutes are usually thought of as high-pitched instruments, but there are many types of flute that are bigger and pitched lower. The subcontrabass flute plays a fourth below the contrabass flute. The pipe is 15 feet long, but doubled, so the instrument can fit into a eight-foot box. A rare variation is the The Kotato double contrabass flute, which has 18 feet of pipe. There are only four of these existing. Shown is the contraflutes of the Metropolitan Flute Orchestra in Kylemore Abbey, with the subcontrabass flutes in back. Hear what the subcontrabass flute sounds like in this video.

7. Igil

The igil is a two-stringed traditional instrument from the Tuva region of Siberia, just north of Mongolia. A very few old igils are made from a horse's skull, which reflects the legend that the igil was first created on instructions from a horse that appeared in a dream. The igil is sometimes referred to as a horse head fiddle. Hear the igil accompanying a performance of Tuvan throat singing in this video.

8. Otamatone

The otamatone is a new electronic instrument that resembles a musical note with a cartoon face. It was invented by Novmichi Tosa of Maywa Denki, an art collaboration of the Tosa family that specializes in nonsense machines. The otamatone is now available to the public. Hear this cute little instrument in this video.

Bonus: Hosaphone

The hosaphone is an instrument invented in order to parody fans and websites dedicated to other odd instruments. It appears to be a length of tubing with a funnel on the end. Hear the hosaphone here.

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April 8, 2010 - 6:12am
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