Did you know July 31st is Uncommon Musical Instrument Awareness Day?! For thousands of years humans have pushed the limits, constantly innovating new and unusual ways to make music. Now it’s your turn! Each year, this day is an opportunity to encourage musicians to play these instruments and push themselves to make musical contributions of their own. From ancient bone flutes to today’s modern-day instruments and everything in between, here are some of our favorite less-common musical instruments.
The largest member of the clarinet family, a contrabass clarinet is pitched in the key of Bb, only one octave lower than the bass clarinet. Often used for special effects,, its deep, dark tone adds incredible richness to the bass section of any ensemble. Every manufacturer of the contra bass has its own unique design, but they all loop (some even with double loops) with a little over 9 feet of tube length.
A keyed brass instrument invented in 1817, the intention of the Ophicleide was to provide the lowest notes for the brass section. However, by the end of the 19th century, the instrument was soon replaced by the Tuba. Today, modern versions of the instrument are still used to perform music such as Berlioz, Mendelssohn, and others as was originally intended.
The 12ft swiss-german Alphorn or “Alpine Horn” became popularized in the 19th century. The oldest known documentation of the instrument’s existence dates back to the 1500s. Traditionally played by herdsmen, the instrument’s notes are similar to those of a natural (unvalved) French Horn in F. Accomplished alphornists often command a range of nearly three octaves, consisting of the 2nd through the 16th notes of the harmonic series
The exact date of origin unknown, the Claviorganum is a rare keyboard instrument that perfectly marries the historical sounds of the harpsichord with the more familiar sounds of the organ. Records of its existence can be traced back as early as the 1500s, but a surge in popularity in the 1700-1800s resulted in several surviving original examples still in existence today!
Known for its low, heroic sound, the Bass Trumpet dates back to the 1820s. Sporting a uniquely different mouthpiece similar to the trombone, it’s tubing length is double that of a traditional Trumpet. This instrument is often used for both Wagner operas, solo work, jazz ensembles, brass quartets, and marching bands.
Invented by Benjamin Franklin in 1761, the modern glass armonica takes your water and wine glass party trick to the extreme. Custom blown glasses remove the need for water-tuning while moistened fingers play the rotating bowls. Seeing wide popularity in the 18th century, the instrument was all but forgotten by the 1820s.
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