I suppose this isn't exactly a reed, but it seems like a method of producing a sound that I've never seen on any instrument, at least on any commonly known instrument.

This "reed" consists of two rubber membranes tightly stretched across the bore of the instrument. Essentially, they'd act as "lips" being buzzed, if we're to compare them to lip buzzing on brass instruments. However, I like to think of them visually more like human vocal chords rather than lips.

I'm wondering if such a thing is acoustically possible. I that assume it is, but I want to make sure, and I also would like to understand the acoustic consequences of such a reed (whether it's considered open or closed, which harmonics it could play, etc.).

I'm also wondering if such a reed exists on some instrument that I've never heard of. I'd love to see an example of this reed being used to play music.

  • the tightness of the membranes would be what changes the pitch of the vibrations, so it would have to have some sort of tightness control to change notes. Possibly could be used in a pipe or chanter like bagpipes also. I have a vague recollection of a toy that used a stretched membrane to make noise, don't remember much about it though. Feb 23 '17 at 2:11
  • @AlphonsoBalvenie, well what of the instrument had tone holes? Wouldn't that change pitch as well?
    – Sam
    Feb 23 '17 at 2:19
  • yeah, that's what I meant by a pipe or chanter. Could also use a slide like a trombone or slide whistle. I may have to experiment with this in my shop... Feb 23 '17 at 3:17
  • @AlphonsoBalvenie Oh, ok. This is actually a question pertaining to an instrument I'm trying to invent, which has keys like your average woodwind. physics.stackexchange.com/questions/314121/… I actually asked about this instrument in the Physics Stack excahnge.
    – Sam
    Feb 23 '17 at 3:28
  • @AlphonsoBalvenie Honestly, if you could experiment and tell me the results, I would be forever thankful.
    – Sam
    Feb 23 '17 at 3:29

I did the experiment, and the answer is yes, it can be done! It ain't really pretty, but you didn't ask for pretty! ;)))

I happened to use material from thin surgical type gloves (non-latex but stretchy):

You'll need some kind of tube (I used the body of a low D penny whistle, sans the usual whistle head --- just a tube with six finger holes in it), gloves or other suitable material, scissors and elastic bands.

Cut two strips from the glove and lay them over the business end of the whistle body. Secure the elastic bands to hold the membranes in place.

Experiment shows that the membranes will not work if they are placed side by side like vocal cords. Here you can see what vibrating vocal cords look like. Space between these elastic membranes won't make a sound, however.

I found that overlapping the two membranes slightly gives a nice wounded duck sound. Almost musical in nature! Slightly overblowing gives a crude goose call sound. Blowing very hard makes the instrument really bark.

The holes in the whistle allowed for perhaps two or three good notes, and a whole lot more crappy notes.

This basic technique also works on brass instruments. Interesting sounds all around, but probably not stable enough or easily enough controlled to be of much musical use. Perhaps...

You'll have to do your own experimenting and hear what possibilities present themselves!

Another possibility:

Stretch squares of rubber over different lengths of mailing tubes. You can tap the membranes like a tubulum, or you can blow on and across the membranes. This gives a slightly windy, rushing tone. Giving a good strong puff of air creates a slightly percussive attack. Different volume tubes yield different pitches.

A third possibility:

Using a single piece of vibrating diaphragm, make a diaphone! I'd hazard the guess this could be made into a useable instrument. And this example actually sounds pretty good!


It sounds like you're looking for the instrument Jimi Tenor called Vera, that was made of trombone, rubber glove and vacuum cleaner set to blow. Unfortunately, or perhaps good for everyone, I couldn't find any recordings available on the internet.

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