How to Use a Kazoo to its Full Potential

June 2, 2008
By McKenzie Ashpole, Medford, OR

When you hear the word kazoo, you probably think of a small plastic toy that is used to make annoying sounds and create a lot of noise. If you don't get this mental picture you might ask yourself what the meaning of this strange word is. The kazoo is, in fact a very respectable instrument that has a lot more influence and power than people give it credit for.

The kazoo has lost some of its zeal over the years. It peaked in the 1920's when it was a commonly used instrument but over the years it has been covered. It hides behind the curtains while the serious musicians take the stage, but it belongs out on that stage as well. It's time to bring it back to life and you can help do this by showing it the respect it deserves.

Obviously in order to play the kazoo you need to own one, so the first step is going out there and choosing the right tool for you. They are most commonly found in novelty shops and toy stores. You might have to do some searching and check a few of the more quirky stores in your area. I've found them in Terra Firma in Jacksonville and Rare Earth in Ashland. The most common kazoos are plastic but there are also metal ones. I recommend trying both to figure out which feel and sound you prefer. I personally prefer the plastic over the metal and they have proven to be more durable.

Alright, it's time to break that baby out and give it a try. The most common mistake that people make when first playing the kazoo is to just blow into it. I always burst out in laughter when I see a newbie do this, but the kazoo is from the family of instruments called mirlitrons. This means that it makes its sound by sympathetic vibration with the human voice. There is a small membrane in the top of the kazoo with a thin piece of wax paper in it. The sound of your humming voice causes the wax paper resonator to vibrate in the kazoo, and the shape of the kazoo helps amplify and project the sound. This is why it takes more than just air to play the kazoo. All you have to do is hum or talk or make any type of noise into the kazoo and you are a player! This is why the kazoo is so great, anybody can play it. Make sure you hum into the larger hole rather than the small round one.

Now that you know how to play, it's time to discover the magic behind your musical tool. I encourage you to mess around a little bit. Covering the resonator wholly or partially can alter the sound. Try playing some simple songs such as Mary Had a Little Lamb. You'll also find that you can make sound effects with your instrument like, a police siren, a sports car, a dinosaur, a mosquito, the possibilities are endless!

As all great musicians will tell you, the more you play and get to know your instrument the better you will be. To truly become a master of the art you should play as much as possible. The kazoo's small size makes it very convenient to drag along with you. When you're in your car, play along to the song on the radio. Play it around the house while you're washing dishes or getting ready for the day.

You'll be surprised at the attention and joy this will bring you. I've kept myself entertained for days by playing the kazoo. My friend Anna and I even stayed up all night calling people and playing them Christmas carols on their voice mails. I've also found that it is much more fun to play for long periods of time than it is to listen to. Play it during your brother's favorite tv show to get back at him for all the mean things he's done to you, and parent's love it on long road trips! Speaking of annoyances, if you pull it out during class you're sure to get a rise out of the teacher and almost always some giggles from the students, who will probably want to talk to you later because of how cool you look while playing. I know one of my best friends Kim would still be acquaintance status if Anna and I hadn't serenaded her with beautiful music one day.

Whatever you do just keep at it. Kazoo playing is one of those skills that will never leave you and will bring you life enjoyment way into your golden years. It's an instrument for the little people like me who can't construct symphonies. You don't need to be a musical prodigy to hang with the big dogs. All you need is what may appear as a humble, children's novelty toy but, in reality is much, much more. So get out there and start making beautiful music.

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