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Musical Diaphragms

These are a very recent development and were invented, I have been told in Spain, as replacements for the vuvuzela, as noise makers to enthuse fans at football matches and other similar occasions, but they have since become musical instruments.

They are not reed instruments but I have heard and seen them being used to replace reeds in instruments such as bagpipes, and it may well be that before long they will be used as substitutes for other reed instruments as well.

I was sent my first example as a query for classification, and it is so different from any other instrument that we have had to introduce a whole new section for it in the MIMO version of the Hornbostel-Sachs classification system. Since then I have acquired another in a toy shop in Israel, so they seem to spreading rapidly.

The diaphragm is a sheet of flexible plastic, capping the cup-shaped top of the instrument. There is a nozzle at the side into which one blows to make the diaphragm vibrate and thus produce a sound. On one of mine the bell is separate from the tube and therefore it can be slid up and down, so altering the sounding length and the pitch, and thus proving that the diaphragm will make the air column vibrate just as a reed will. I have so far resisted the temptation to bore fingerholes in the tube, but if I can obtain another specimen I shall do so. I emphasise that one simply blows through the nozzle – this is not a kazoo that responds to humming.

Modifications that I have seen have simply been tubes with cling film or polythene tied or stuck over the top of the tube; when blown on, either by mouth or through a bag, they work perfectly well. At least one that I saw had a bag, a chanter with fingerholes, and drones, and it sounded very much like a small-pipe such as a Northumbrian bagpipe.

So this is why, the diaphragmophone, appears within this series on Reed Instruments, because the diaphragm can be used as a substitute for a reed.

© Jeremy Montagu, 2018

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