Also known as "Mirliton", it was a usual tribal instrument in Africa. The most common model is a hollow tube with a hole in the middle covered with animal membrane and open at both ends. A variety of materials were used, like bone, reed, gourds, corn stalks, animal horns and even human skulls. The instrument was used to impersonate the voices of the dead, to make terrifying sounds and to bring messages from the spirit world. To reveal the secret of the Mirliton to an outsider, a woman or an uninitiated male tribe member was an offense punishable by death.

The Kazoo as we know it today was designed and built by Alabama Vest and Thaddeus Von Clegg in Macon, Georgia In the early 1840's. In 1852 it was exhibited at the Georgia State Fair and was later manufactured under the name, because of its shape, "DOWN SOUTH SUBMARINE".

Make your own kazoo

Raw Materials:

  • 1x Cardboard Tube; a nice sturdy one, such as the type found in the centre of a roll of kitchen foil or cling film/plastic wrap (toilet roll and kitchen towel tubes tend to be a little flimsy, and too wide), optimum diameter 1"
  • Approx. 4" square of Baking Sheet or Tracing Paper; can be any rough shape and size really
  • 1x Rubber Band, medium sized


  • Scissors, one pair
  • Sharp pencil or other pointy skewer-type object

Cut the cardboard tube to a length of approximately 6" as neatly as possible.
Take the small piece of baking sheet or tracing paper and hold it over one end of the tube, so as to form a tight membrane across the open end. Fold down the excess around the tube and tightly fix the paper in place with the rubber band.
Use the sharp pointy thing to poke a small hole in the tube about halfway along its length.

How to play:
Hold the device without covering the small hole, and put the one open end up to your mouth, preferably with your lips inside the tube but slightly apart. Now hum into the kazoo, or make a sort of 'doo-doo-doo' noise (DO NOT BLOW - this is vital).
You should hear a zippy, buzzy sound as the paper membrane vibrates. Hum a song, and enjoy the slightly comedic tones as they resonate cheerfully around the room. Proceed to annoy your friends.

Please note:
If the kazoo player is unable to hum in tune, both their enjoyment and that of any people nearby will be limited. For this reason it is recommended that the instrument be used only for humourous performances rather than serious recitals.

Ka*zoo" (?), n. [Etymol. uncertain.]

A kind of toy or rude musical instrument, as a tube inside of which is a stretched string made to vibrate by singing or humming into the tube.


© Webster 1913.

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