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Part 2 of Our Unique Instruments Feature

Enjoy our continuation of our unique instruments feature. It’s been fun to learn about these rarely seen and heard instruments.


6. Serpent
The Serpent is an ancient wind instrument related to the modern Baritone, Tuba, and Euphonium. The mouthpiece is very similar to that of a trombone or Euphonium/Baritone. When played softly, it has a firm yet serene timbre. At medium volume, the Serpent produces a robust sound that sounds like a mixture of a tuba, bassoon, and French horn. When played loudly, it can produce unpleasant sounds that are similar to animals in distress. The Serpent has a range from C below the bass clef to at least a half octave above middle C. While the Serpent is historically made from wood, modern Serpents often are made from materials such as synthetic foam resins, fiberglass, plastic, and paper maché.


7. Shakuhachi Flute
The Shakuhachi is an end-blown flute tuned to a pentatonic (5-note) scale. The design of the mouthpiece consists of a slanted edge that enables the player to control the pitch produced by altering the angle at which the flute is being blown. This produces a slight change of intonation—a swelling or bending of notes distinctive in the traditional music.
By various fingerings—covering the holes partially—and by controlling the angle of mouthpiece, all twelve tones of the western chromatic scale can be achieved.


8. Surbahar (half size)
A traditional Surbahar is, in essence, a bass sitar. It is tuned anywhere from four steps to an octave lower than a regular sitar. The half size Surbahar plays like a sitar, and because of the shorter neck, it’s tuned like a sitar as well, but it’s about 3/4 the size of a regular sitar. The tiger profile carving on the bottom gourd is a knee-rest, so the Surbahar can be played while sitting in a chair rather than the traditional crossed-legged style.


9. Waterphone
A type of atonal acoustic instrument, the waterphone produces an ethereal, haunting sound that serves to create a mystical or mysterious tone. Richard Waters invented and created the waterphone out of a stainless steel resonator bowl with bronze rods of varying lengths and widths along the rim of the resonator bowl, and a cylindrical neck with a handgrip. The resonator contains a small amount of water to produce the ethereal sound. Many movies have utilized the waterphone because of its strange and beautiful quality of sound. Some of these movies include Star Trek: The Motion Picture, The Matrix, and The First Emperor.
The waterphone can be submerged in water, and has successfully been used on different occasions to call whales. It can be played either with a bow or superball mallets.


10. Windform
The Windform is a playable leather horn that is six meters long. Tasmania’s Garry Greenwood mastered the art of sculpting leather. He uses a wet moulding technique, creating organic forms such as the human form and Tasmanian plants. His love of music has given rise to wind, stringed, and percussion instruments reminiscent of Tasmanian life, medieval music, and theatrical masks and costumes.

Some of these are such beautiful pieces. It is interesting that we have probably all heard the waterphone in a movie and probably didn’t know. The most common of these would be the sitar, a sound that many of us can easily recognize. Have you heard of any of these instruments? Played them?

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