AskDefine | Define kazoo

Dictionary Definition

kazoo n : a toy wind instrument that has a membrane that makes a sound when you hum into the mouthpiece

User Contributed Dictionary





  • IPA: /kə.ˈzuː/


  1. a simple musical instrument consisting of a pipe with a hole in it, producing a buzzing sound when the player hums into it.


a simple musical instrument consisting of a pipe with a hole in it

See also

Extensive Definition

The kazoo is a simple musical instrument (membranophone) that adds a "buzzing" timbral quality to a player's voice when one vocalizes into it. The kazoo is a type of mirliton - a device which modifies the sound of a person's voice by way of a vibrating membrane.


While humming is the term typically used to describe the technique required to play a kazoo, a more accurate term would be singing into the kazoo. Humming with your lips closed around the mouthpiece of the kazoo will not change the sound - you must vocalize or "sing" in order for the kazoo to make any sound. Many people will struggle with getting any sound from a kazoo when instructed to hum. But when instructed to speak "do, do, do..." into the kazoo mouthpiece, the 'hard' vocalization makes a more effective sound.


Such instruments have been used in Africa for hundreds of years, to disguise the sound of somebody's voice or to imitate animals, often for various ceremonial purposes. It was on such an instrument that the kazoo, invented by an African American named Alabama Vest in the 19th century in Macon, Georgia, is based. The first kazoo was manufactured to Vest's specifications by Thaddeus von Clegg, a German clockmaker in Macon. The kazoo was first publicized at the Georgia State Fair in 1852. The first metal kazoos were manufactured and patented in Eden, New York, where they are still made in the original factory.

Professional usage

The kazoo is played professionally in jug bands and comedy music, and by amateurs everywhere. It is one of the few acoustic instruments to be developed in the United States and one of the easiest melodic instruments to play well, requiring only the ability to vocalize in tune. In North East England and South Wales, kazoos play an important role in so-called jazz bands (really children's marching bands).
In the Original Dixieland Jass Band 1921 recording of "Crazy Blues", what the casual listener might mistake for a trombone solo is actually a kazoo solo by drummer Tony Sbarbaro. The Mound City Blue Blowers had a number of hit kazoo records in the early 1920s. The Mound City Blue Blowers featured Dick Slevin on metal kazoo and Red McKenzie on comb-and-tissue-paper kazoo. The vocaphone, a kind of kazoo with a trombone-like tone, was occasionally featured in Paul Whiteman's Orchestra. Trombonist-vocalist Jack Fulton played it on Whiteman's recording of "Vilia" (1931) and Frankie Trumbauer's "Medley of Isham Jones Dance Hits" (1932).
The kazoo is not often found in European classical music, a rare exception being David Bedford's With 100 Kazoos, a piece which emphasizes the simplicity of the instrument - rather than being played by trained musicians, kazoos are handed out to members of the audience, who accompany a professional instrumental ensemble.
The kazoo was used in the 1990 Koch International and 2007 Naxos Records recordings of American classical composer Charles Ives' "Yale-Princeton Football Game", where the kazoo chorus represents the football crowd's cheering. The brief passages have the kazoo chorus sliding up and down the scale as the cheering rises and falls.
One of the best known kazooists in recent times might be Barbara Stewart. She was a classically trained singer who has written a book on the kazoo, formed the "quartet" Kazoophony, and performed at Carnegie Hall. She recently appeared on Late Night with Conan O'Brien.
Short performances of kazoo music is included on many modern recordings, usually for comic effect.


  • Lombardi, Fabio, 2000, Canti e strumenti popolari della Romagna Bidentina, Società Editrice "Il Ponte Vecchio", Cesena
  • Guizzi, Febo, 2002, Gli strumenti della musica popolare in Italia. Invaluable survey of popular instruments in use in Italy, ranging from percussion,wind and plucked instruments to various noise makers. Numerous drawings and plates. Wrappers. - Lucca : Alia Musica, 8. - 502 p. ISBN 88-7096-325-x
  • Lombardi, Fabio, 1989, ''Mostra di strumenti musicali popolari romagnoli : Meldola Teatro Comunale G. A. Dragoni, 26-29 agosto 1989; raccolti da Fabio Lombardi nella vallata del bidente, Comuni di: Bagno di Romagna, S. Sofia, Meldola, Galeata, Forli, Civitella diR. e Forlimpopoli ; presentazione Roberto Leydi''. - Forli : Provincia di Forli, 1989. - 56 p. : ill. ; 21 cm. In testa al front.: Provincia di Forli, Comune di Meldola.

External links

kazoo in Bulgarian: Казу
kazoo in German: Kazoo
kazoo in Spanish: Mirlitón
kazoo in French: Kazoo
kazoo in Indonesian: Kazoo
kazoo in Icelandic: Kazoo
kazoo in Italian: Kazoo
kazoo in Hebrew: קאזו
kazoo in Luxembourgish: Mirliton
kazoo in Dutch: Kazoo
kazoo in Japanese: カズー
kazoo in Polish: Mirliton
kazoo in Finnish: Kazoo
kazoo in Swedish: Kazoo
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