I'm interested in making a bass kazoo (for obvious reasons). This is about the most scholarly article I've found on the internet about how these instruments work.

Would a longer or wider resonating chamber have a lower pitch?

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    I deleted my answer re. the didgeridoo. They are not similar. But a bass kazoo sounds pretty rockin! – David Vogel Jul 29 '16 at 21:23
  • I didn't get to see it. Despite their dissimilarities, it still might have been useful. Larger didgeridoo/deeper notes? – saltface Jul 29 '16 at 21:30
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    Luckily, it's still visible to me: "I think the closest thing you will find to a kazoo is the didgeridoo. Here's an explanation of the acoustics: newt.phys.unsw.edu.au/jw/didjeridu.html." I had somehow forgotten that a kazoo's sound comes out of that top thingy which changes the nature of it. However, maybe you should consider switching to the didgeridoo :)) – David Vogel Jul 29 '16 at 21:37
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    Good point... kazoos are like kryptonite to women! :P – David Vogel Jul 29 '16 at 21:51
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    Can I just say how great the "for obvious reasons" is? :-) – Richard Jul 30 '16 at 13:22

Fun question!

A kazoo is a membranophone, meaning that its sound is produced by a vibrating membrane. In this sense, it's an evolutionary cousin to something like the timpani (another membranophone).

This means that the general characteristics you get with different timpani sizes apply to the kazoo: the larger the vibrating membrane, the deeper the tone (generally speaking).

There's one catch, of course, with comparing it to the timpani: a timpani player can control the tension on the drum head, thus altering the pitches. Obviously a kazoo player doesn't have this ability.

Otherwise, the kazoo player sings/hums into the kazoo, so I don't see how construction of the kazoo would really alter that aspect too much. (Unless it was big enough for the player to start buzzing into it like a brass player, but that's a different story!) The important aspect is the size of the vibrating membrane.

  • Is there nothing to be said for the size of the resonating chamber? – David Vogel Jul 30 '16 at 13:00
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    I'm honestly not certain. If such a size change would make any noticeable difference, I bet you'd quickly reach a point of diminishing returns. Sound is all about vibration. If you put a tuba mouthpiece on a trumpet, it'll sound in the tuba range, because those are the vibrations being produced in that mouthpiece. Though it won't sound as clear as it would on a tuba, of course; that is where the construction becomes important. In which case I'm not sure we have sufficient evidence of how to create the best kazoo sound, and thus the optimum kazoo construction :-) – Richard Jul 30 '16 at 13:07
  • Yeah, I got to thinking about it because I was an avid percussionist long ago. You can definitely change the pitch by altering the tension and size of the vibrating head. The resonating chamber makes a huge difference on the quality of the sound (timbre), but not the pitch. The question was would it make it a "deeper" tone. So yes, a larger chamber should do that, if you mean more "body" for the tone, but wouldn't put you in the range of a "bass kazoo" unless you have a bigger/looser vibrating surface. – David Vogel Jul 30 '16 at 13:20
  • Ah, I see; by "deeper tone" I assumed OP meant a lower pitch. – Richard Jul 30 '16 at 13:22
  • Yes, me too. Maybe the question should be clarified. – David Vogel Jul 30 '16 at 13:22

I've played kazoo before, and I don't think the dimensions of the kazoo will actually change the pitch of the emitted sound. Here's why:

If you have a kazoo in hand, try singing a note, then playing that same note on the kazoo. Then try saying "doo" and then putting your mouth up to the kazoo. The note pitch shouldn't change.

Why? I think it has to do with the fact that the kazoo produces sound via air vibrating the membrane, so the only thing that can make the pitch change is the frequency of the input sound. However, you could change the timbre of the kazoo by changing the dimensions, I bet.

The best way to make a bass kazoo is to get a kazoo, then find a bass voice to play it.

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    Yep. The pitch of a kazoo is the pitch of the voice singing into it, no more, no less. – Scott Wallace Oct 30 '18 at 19:32

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