If you’re a geezer like me — or even if you’re not — you might remember how kids would sometimes wrap cellophane around a pocket comb and hum through it. Although we didn’t give a lot of thought to it, we were actually demonstrating the principles of a membranophone.
Here at the Geezer Music Club we take pride in informing our members about every nook and cranny of nostalgia and music. Or at least what we can cover in a few paragraphs. Today I thought we’d talk about a variety of membranophone — the humble kazoo.
Yes, I’m serious. Sort of. The lowly kazoo might not be a regular part of most musical ensembles, but it’s interesting to see how it’s sometimes used. You just might come away with a new-found respect for the little gizmo. Or maybe not.
A kazoo consists of an outer case that’s usually thin metal or plastic, and a membrane inside that can be made of any thin flexible material. (It’s sometimes called a reed, but that’s a misnomer.) It’s played by humming — not blowing — into the opening. The membrane vibrates, amplifying the sound, and you do the rest.
The idea has been around for a long time although it’s a little hard to pin down where and when it started. One theory is that an African slave living in America came up with the idea, but nobody knows for sure. The first documented mention is a patent granted in 1879 to Simon Seller, who called his gadget a “toy trumpet”. The kazoo eventually became a ubiquitous novelty item, mostly enjoyed by kids, and is now primarily produced by one company.
But what about serious musicians, you ask? Although it’s a little tough to find professionals taking up the instrument, there are plenty of enthusiastic amateur players.
Which brings us to one final video, which is side-splitting funny but very risque, so consider yourself warned. (Note: keep watching all the way through and it gets funnier as she adds a second kazoo and does a duet with herself.)