Here’s a list of weird and wonderful instruments that might make you look, and listen, twice. We’ve also included some tuition information for all you wannabe instrumentalists.
Popular in film soundtracks – the Theremin has been used in Batman Forever (1995), Alfred Hitchcock’s Spellbound (1945) and The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) amongst others – this electronic instrument produces a unique eerie sound. Invented by Leon Theremin in 1919, the instrument has gained remarkable popularity ever since. Players must wave their hands in front of the protruding antennae to produce a sound – it is this movement that interferes with an electromagnetic field surrounding the two antennae. Volume and pitch is controlled by distance and hand movement, and because the instrument requires no touching, it’s notorious for being difficult to master.
LEARN HOW: Highly skilled tutor Christian Mason offers charges £30 on a session by session basis. He primarily teaches from his Hammersmith home, but if travel expenses are covered, is willing to travel. Visit http://www.christianmason.net/ for more details, or contact him personally via firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Nyckelharpa, otherwise known as a keyed fiddle, is a traditional Swedish folk instrument that has been played for over 600 years. Thanks to its numerous strings and keys, it looks like a guitar-keyboard-violin hybrid. It has 16 strings in total – three melody strings, one drone string and 12 resonance strings. Players use a short bow in the right hand, and press on the keys with their left to produce a fiddle-like sound.
LEARN HOW: There are very few known Nyckelharpa players in the UK, but Nyckelharpa UK run workshops, designed to introduce new players to the instrument, across the country. Visit http://www.nyckelharpa.me.uk/ for the latest information or get in touch via email@example.com.
First developed by Indigenous Australians over 1,500 years ago, the didgeridoo is surprisingly popular today. Its unique drone can be heard across a wide variety of musical genres, from jazz to techno. Traditionally, instruments are made from a eucalyptus branch that has been hollowed out by termites; a layer of beeswax is then added to the mouthpiece to form a better seal. To achieve its distinctive sound, players use a special technique called ‘circular breathing’. This requires breathing in through the nose and expelling through the mouth – sound is then created by vibrating lips, or ‘raspberry-blowing’. Experienced players have been known to play didgeridoos continuously for over 40 minutes.
LEARN HOW: Aboriginal Arts Ltd. offers tuition in groups or on a one-to-one basis with one of their experienced tutors. Based in Stratford, East London, one-to-one sessions cost £20 per hour. See http://www.aboriginalarts.co.uk/tuition.htm for more information.
Fancy being known as a hurdy gurdyist? A sister instrument to the Nyckelharpa, the Hurdy Gurdy has been around as a single-player instrument since the thirteenth century. Instead of using a bow against the strings however, the Hurdy Gurdy produces sound by a crank-turned rosined wheel. When the wheel turns, it rubs against the strings, causing them to vibrate. As with the Nyckelharpa, the keyboard keys press tangents onto the strings to change their pitch. The Hurdy Gurdy is used in folk music festivals throughout Europe.
LEARN HOW: Based in Cambridgeshire, Mike Gilpin builds hurdy gurdys and offers lessons for beginners for £20 an hour. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. His website is http://www.hurdygurdy.biz/index.html.
The glass harp (also known as a collection of water-filled wine glasses) was first created in 1742 by Irishman Richard Pockrich. Since then, it has gained widespread popularity – even Pink Floyd used one on their 1975 album Wish You Were Here. Players create sounds by running wet or chalked fingers around the rim of the glasses. Different levels of water are used to produce different notes.
LEARN HOW: Most glass harp players are self-taught, so fill up some wine glasses (with water) and have a go!
This is one we probably wouldn’t recommend trying, but thought we should include anyway. Violinist Jon Rose thought it would be a great idea to play the world’s fences – here he is in the Australian outback taking the F-sharp a bit too literally!
Image via Getty/ Video via Youtube