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Just as you'd think, a large bell which is placed around the neck of a cow. The purpose of the bell is to allow the cow to be located if she tends to wander off.

The distinctive note of the cow bell is also used in some country music songs.

A nodeshell rescue.

Cow bells are also heavily used in various forms of dance music. It was a staple of disco songs, and pops up frequently in freestyle music.

It was popular enough at the time to be included in the TR-808. The synthesized 808 cowbell sounds nothing like a cowbell (it has too long of a decay and sounds too springy), but it has a distinctive sound that has become quite popular on its own. Most drum machines and synthesizers today include a cowbell, sometimes even multiple variants such as "low cowbell" and "high cowbell." My personal favorite, besides the 808 cowbell, is the Alesis D4 "heifer" cowbell. It's a high cowbell that has a similar tone as the 808, but actually sounds more realistic.

The cowbell is a percussion instrument which is made out of metal and shaped not entirely unlike a cow's bell, minus the rattling thing inside. It is struck with either a wooden stick or a rubber mallet and makes satisfying loud "pock" sound.

Cowbells come in various sizes and are used mostly in Latin and rock music. The most common rhythm seen played by a cowbell is steady quarter notes:
pock pock pock pock pock pock pock pock
This can get horrendously boring to play, but it sets up a very solid groove for other members of the rhythm section to follow.

Concert band music has seen quite its share of cowbell parts too; these parts are usually more complex but less visible than those in Latin and rock music. I've even seen veritable cowbell solos in some pieces:
This is from Ode to Lord Buckley. It is so fast as to require two mallets to play it.

The cowbell is also fun to play, though highly nonstandard and stupid looking, in a marching band.

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