Do you love music? Some people like to sing, while others prefer to play musical instruments, such as the guitar or the banjo. Can you play any instruments? Some people can play one instrument really well, and others can form their own one-man band!
There’s one simple instrument that many kids can play. You may have received one as a toy at a birthday party in the past. What is it? The kazoo!
Kazoos are small, tube-shaped instruments. One end has a small circular opening, and the other end is flattened. Kazoos also have a third opening that is covered by a thin membrane that is free to vibrate.
Kazoos are a type of mirliton — also called a membranophone — which is an instrument that changes the sound of a person’s voice via a vibrating membrane. If you’ve ever played a kazoo, you know how it adds a nasal “buzzing” quality to your voice.
Although kazoos are considered wind instruments, they’re not really played by blowing into them. Instead, kazoo players actually hum into the kazoo. Simply blowing into a kazoo will produce no sound. You need to vibrate air from your lungs by humming to make a kazoo come alive.
When you play a kazoo, you can make different sounds by humming different syllables, such as doo, who, rrrr and brrr. You can also make louder sounds by increasing air flow as you hum.
Primitive kazoo-like instruments have been around for hundreds of years. For example, people in Africa have used kazoo-like instruments to imitate animals or disguise their voices in special ceremonies.
The first true kazoo was invented in the 1840s by a man named Alabama Vest from Macon, Georgia. A German clockmaker named Thaddeus Von Clegg made the instrument based upon Vest’s instructions.
Several variations of the instrument were developed and patented over the next 50 years or so. Warren Herbert Frost is given credit for coming up with the name “kazoo” in an 1883 patent application. The familiar submarine-shaped kazoo was patented by George D. Smith in 1902.