Straw Kazoos: a folk instrument for the 21rst century

At an AAAS meeting in Seattle a couple of years ago, I attended a session in which a couple of college prof types demonstrated all sorts of elaborate setups showing the effects of musical pitches and tones: an array of metal tubes, up to 15 feet long; a series of flaming gas jets which produced a sine wave in response to a particular pitch; etc. Finally, a middle school teacher from the back of the room spoke up, saying, "These are all all extremely interesting, but we can't do any of these in our classrooms. We don't have that kind of money."

The profs were somewhat taken aback, so I volunteered a brief demo on straw kazoos, among the quickest, cheapest, easiest, and potentially most annoying devices for demonstrating music-oriented physics. To my surprise, many of the people attending this session were not familiar with them. So, two plus years later, I am still trying to fill that void of unfamiliarity by putting this info on the NET.

Materials:

  • straws (nice, big milk-shake drinking straws, not your little sissy coffee stirring straws)
  • scissors

    Use the scissors to clip one end of the straw into a pair of roughly triangular shaped flaps about a half inch long. Chew on the flaps for 10-15 seconds, then blow through that end of the straw. Some people can get a "duck-like" tone immediately; others require some practice in order to produce a sound.

    This basic activity can be expanded into a nearly infinite number of others. For example:

  • --make long and short kazoos to show the relationship between length and pitch
  • --look at the effect on pitch of straw diameter
  • --use straw kazoos as mouth pieces for a wide range of other instruments (funnels, PVC pipes, etc.
  • --form an "all straw" band with straws cut at different lengths for different pitches and perform at school assemblies
  • --invent new instruments

    For sites that give details about various "modern" folk instruments, including some physics and mathematics, visit

  • Musicmaker's Kits, Inc.
  • Folk Stuff

    "Learning is the greatest game in life and the most fun. All children are born believing this and will continue to believe this until we convince them that learning is hard work and unpleasant. Some kids never really learn this lesson and go through life believing that learning is fun and the only game worth playing. We have a name for such people. We call them geniuses." ăGlenn Doman, Teach Your Baby Math


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