What does the average person think of first when asked to name an instrument? Guitar? Trumpet? Piano? Well, what about a theremin? Like this instrument, there are hundreds more around the world that aren’t well known. So, we’ve collected a list of unique instruments that we think more people should know about! Maybe you’ll find a new one that you’ll want to learn.
This wind instrument originated in Australia and brings a sound I feel is fitting for its origins as it sounds like you’re roaming the Australian Outback. The didgeridoo is often made from the branches of eucalyptus trees hollowed out by termites. Once stripped of its bark and a mouth part is a whittle, it creates a drone sound perfected by the use of circular breathing and vibrating lips. It is still used in indigenous Australian ceremonies, but it has also been put into the mainstream in some other genres. One that utilizes the didgeridoo to add an extra spice to their sound is the New Zealand rock band Like A Storm.
You can hear the singer of the band explain how to play the didgeridoo below:
You can also hear the instrument used within a song here:
Another band known to use the didgeridoo in some of their music is Incubus.
Image Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vibraslap
This is a percussion instrument that has origins that go way back. The vibraslap was developed to replicate an approximate sound to the donkey’s jawbone. Yes, you read that right. Centuries ago, people would run sticks along the teeth of a once-alive donkey to create music. The vibraslap maintains a similar sound but has “stiff wire connecting a wood ball to a hollow box of wood with metal “teeth” inside,” (Source). In my research, I learned that rock band Green Day utilized this instrument in one of their albums, Warning. To be more specific, the instrument is featured in their song, “Blood, Sex, and Booze.” You can listen to that song here.
To learn more about the vibraslap and to get a better idea of what it sounds like, check this video out:
Image Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hydraulophone
I had to include this instrument because it is so interesting! The company Splashtones turned the sound vibrations of running water into a musical instrument. The hydraulophone is an acoustic instrument that is played by physical contact with water found in the instrument. The hydraulophone player “blocks sound holes of jets of water to produce a full, calming sound in a unique fashion,” (Source). There is a music group called the H2Orchestra that performs worldwide using the hydraulophone. It has also been used as a sensory exploration device for people with vision problems.
To get an idea of what it sounds like, check out this video of a man covering a song from the Interstellar soundtrack:
And if you want to learn more about the different model types, check out this clip:
A stringed instrument that sounds similar to a violin, the hurdy gurdy sets itself apart by how it’s played. The hurdy gurdy produces its sound by a hand crank wheel that turns to rub against the strings to produce music. Think of the wheel like a violin bow, and instead of running along strings, you also control the notes/vibration by the keys underneath. Fun fact: the one often used today is considered a mini version because the original created in the 11th century was about six feet long and played by two people, usually in church services. Today, it’s typically used in folk music. However, the band Arcade Fire also has a hurdy gurdy player.
You can learn more about its history and how it sounds here:
Another fun fact: The hurdy gurdy made a brief cameo in The Polar Express! You can skip to about 20 seconds and see the hobo on top of the train playing the hurdy gurdy.
This one has often been called one of the strangest sounding instruments. Instead of strings or keys to create its sound, it comes from metal rods. You don’t have to touch it to play it. The history of this instrument is an interesting one. It was accidentally created by a physicist who was trying to measure the dielectric constant of gases and added an audio circuit that made a spooky tone while giving a reading. What they soon discovered was that the machine not only responded to gases, but people near the machine as well. Liking its haunting noise, people began to use it as an instrument by running their hands between the two vertical rods. Now you may be thinking you’ve never heard this instrument before. Well, if you know the popular Beach Boys song “Good Vibrations” then you have in fact heard the theremin. The (pardon this weird description) ooo-eee sound in the background of the chorus is a theremin.
You can watch a clip of thereminist, Ed Sussman explains some history behind the instruments use in the song and the difficulty of playing it.
And for fun, here’s another clip of a thereminist playing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”
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It’s incredible to see how many instruments there truly are. This is only the tip of the iceberg. There are hundreds more out there that are loved and played by lovers of music. I personally would love to learn how to play the hydraulophone. Which instrument would you want to learn how to play, or just learn more about? Let us know in the comments!
Written by Kristen Petronio