Music is as old as civilization. Cave paintings depict the first musical instruments in existence. Many of these crude instruments were the precursors to today’s instruments. In our day, one can find traditional instruments such as the piano and violin as well as unusual instruments which may be ancient or a brand new invention. We have instruments that originate from all over the world.
• One of the oldest instruments still in use today is the Didgeridoo. This instrument, developed by the Aboriginal tribes of Australia, is constructed of wood and is considered a wind instrument. Strangely enough, it only plays one note, but the musician can bring variations of this note to life. Traditionally made from Eucalyptus, the length of the wood, its thickness and shape determines the key of an individual didgeridoo. They range from generally range from a high “G” to a low “A”.
• Japan is home to another unusual instrument, the Bonang. This drum is designed with two rows of bronze kettle gongs and is played by hitting it with two padded sticks, called tabuh. There are two types of bonangs; the bonang panerus and the bonang barung. The bonang panerus plays an octave higher than the bonang barung.
• Benjamin Franklin invented the Glass Armonica in 1761. Basically, this instrument is a series of individually tuned glass bowls mounted inside each other and played with wet fingers. Think about running your finger over the top of a wine glass then magnify it. You have the music of the glass armonica.
• The Greek civilization brought us the Tsabouna. This instrument is over 2000 years old and is a cross between a bagpipe and a flute. Each tsabouna is made by the musician who determines the basic pitch of the instrument during its construction. Materials vary, but goat skin is popular for the bag portion of this instrument.
• Another ancient wind instrument is the Ocarina. Resembling a flute, the ocarina is more than 12,000 years old. This instrument has gained fame in recent decades as ocarinas are featured in the Legend of Zelda game series. To learn more about ocarinas, check out www.songbirdocarina.com.
• One of the most unusual instruments, if you could call it that, is the Bikelophone. Picture a bicycle with various attachments such as metal bowls, strings, and bells. Add magnetic pickups to amplify the sound and you have a Bikelophone. The first Bikelophone was constructed in 1995 and is still evolving.
• Other more modern and definitely unusual instruments include the Pikasso guitar. This guitar has four necks, two sound holes and 42 strings and looks like it was designed by Picasso during his cubist period.
• The Sharpsichord may be the first solar-powered instrument. The musician places pins into this cylinder that rotates. The pins pluck strings creating the music.
• The Ondes Martenot is an electronic instrument that would feel right at home in a horror movie. It plays eerie wavering notes which would make the hair on the back of your neck stand up.
• Some instruments are designed to be played by nature instead of man. Australia is home to the Weather Harp. This instrument is played by the wind and looks more like a sculpture than a musical instrument. The sound it produces is a mixture of design, chance and the prevailing wind.
• The Aeolian Wind Harp is played by the wind as well. It originated in Ancient Greece around 6 BC and is named after Aeolus, the ancient Greek god of the wind. Directions for building your own wind harp can be found on the Internet.
• Croatia is home to the first pipe organ played by the ocean. This Sea Organ is comprised of thirty five tubes under the walkway with openings in the sidewalk. The moment of the ocean pushes air up these tubes creating music.
Each of these instruments has a unique importance in our modern society and each is a tribute to the inventor. Music is a part of who we are. We define special events in our life with music. Any child of the sixties knows exactly where they were the first time the Beatles appeared on the “Ed Sullivan Show.”
Likewise, we have a favorite instrument, one whose sound reminds us of something or someone special. The interest in music and especially in experimenting with unusual instruments has led to the use of original music in video games, videos, TV shows and movies. Composers of this original music grant licenses to the makers of this visual media allowing them to use their compositions. This music synchronization license is known as “sync” for short and is very popular. Often this type of exposure brings an ancient instrument back into the public eye.