On the 28th of January every year, the world celebrates Kazoo Day, giving this small yet charming little instrument all the attention it deserves. Imported from America where the kazoo has achieved the esteemed status of a kind of unofficial national instrument, this very special day is now celebrated by all. But with a sound that’s often compared to a mosquito trapped in a matchbox, what exactly is a kazoo and how do you play it?
Hum, Don’t Blow!
To get any sound out of a kazoo you have to stop yourself from doing what you would expect. Anyone who sticks a kazoo in their mouth and blows will be bitterly disappointed. It’s not a flute and it’s not a trumpet. All you have to do is very literally hum and a little internal membrane will vibrate in response and create that characteristic kazoo sound. If you hum louder, the tone of the kazoo will get both louder and richer and you can hum any tune you want and the kazoo will react perfectly. While kazoos are perhaps considered a …. comedy instrument – and for excellent reason, they have been known to get pretty serious and can sound great when accompanying a guitar or piano. A kazoo even managed to sneak onto the recording of ‘Crosstown Traffic’ by none other than Mr. Jimi Hendrix. It’s also a really cheap, pocket-sized instrument that can literally be picked up and played by anyone … they just need to be able to hold a tune.
Kazoos are usually made of metal, plastic, or wood and belong to the ‘membranophone’ family of instruments, since a vibrating membrane is what physically produces its unique sound. This generally unheard of family of instruments also includes the equally unfamiliar eunoch flute, hornmiriliton, and zobo. You can even make your own improvised kazoo by wrapping a bit of thin tracing paper around a comb, since the paper will react in the same way as the membrane!
The History of the Kazoo
Instruments that are very similar to the kazoo were found in large parts of North America up until the 18th century when the world was introduced to the delights of what we now know as the kazoo. In 1840, the American, Alabama Vest worked with German clock-maker Von Glegg to build the first ever modern incarnation of the humble kazoo. Years later, every travelling musician was heading to New York with a kazoo in their pocket. Yet, while the first was born in 1912, it wasn’t until 1923 that the kazoo was actually patented.
Well Known Kazoo Artists
Of course, there are countless YouTube kazoo covers you can lose hours upon hours watching, but as well as the aforementioned Jimi Hendrix, many well-known artists have harnessed the charm of the kazoo. Eric Clapton picked up and played a kazoo on the recording of San Francisco Bay Blues on his classic Unplugged album, and Queen used a kazoo to great effect on Seaside Rendezvous. A kazoo solo can even be heard on the song Cool, Calm & Collected by none other than the Rolling Stones, and, of course, Sir Paul McCartney toted a kazoo on Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey.
Happy Kazoo Day! Celebrate with Us!
Want to celebrate Kazoo Day with us? Share a photo or clip of you in action with your beloved kazoo on your preferred social media platform with the tag, #KAZOODAY!
Which song do you yearn to hear covered by a kazoo? Let us know in the comments!