Charlie's Blog: Kazoo: The Musical Secret Weapon


Kazoo: The Musical Secret Weapon

You give me a @#$%& kazoo and I'll write you a good song.

The kazoo is an instrument that gets zero respect. When you play the kazoo, it is hard not to laugh. It's also hard for people to not laugh at you when you are playing it. I used to think it was the sound the kazoo made, but it has a certain saxophone vibe to it. You can also make it sound like some exotic Middle Eastern instrument if you know what you're doing. But the comedy of the instrument comes from the fact that it is ridiculously easy to play. If you can hum a tune, you can play the kazoo. That fact is what negates the kazoo as a serious instrument. But that fact is also what makes the kazoo a musical secret weapon.

It is easy to dismiss the kazoo until you realize that Jimi Hendrix played kazoo on "Crosstown Traffic." I have listened to that song for years and wondered how he played the kazoo part because I never realized it was a kazoo. In fact, it was a homemade kazoo made from a comb and a piece of cellophane. I thought it was something weird he did with a guitar or something. Finding out the truth blew me away. Kazoo can be a serious instrument.

Now, there is a wide world of serious instruments. There is the guitar, the bass guitar, and the drums that make up the elements of a rock band. There is the piano, the flute, the cello, the oboe, and other various instruments. The problems with these serious instruments are that they cost a great deal of money and require many hours of study and practice to be any good at playing them. This would be fine until you realize that most musicians can't make a living playing the instrument they spent considerable time and money learning to play. Even Jimi Hendrix would be forced to pawn his guitar just to eat and pay rent before he got famous.

People with day jobs and families don't have time to be really good at learning to play musical instruments. For most people, music becomes a hobby that they never get very good at because the bulk of their time is spent on making a living and tending their children. Their instruments are usually cheap, and their skills are amateur. Improving these things requires spending time and money that is probably better spent on more valuable things like vacuum cleaners, microwave ovens, and paying off credit cards. A dad who blows $4K on a Gibson Les Paul he can't play is an idiot.

Now, there is one great advantage to playing musical instruments. Once you part with the cash and spend time learning how to play them to a level of decency, they are fun. It's like how a fellow will lay out thousands of dollars on golf clubs and country club fees to have fun playing bad golf. Yet, he could probably have fun playing frisbee golf or mini-golf at a fraction of the price. The problem with those cheap and fun options are that they are not "serious." So, what?

People take themselves too seriously. They can't buy a beach cruiser from Walmart. They have to buy an expensive and very uncomfortable name brand road bike costing more than a good used car. They can't drink grape juice. They have to buy expensive wines and build a cellar to store them. They can't make a day trip to see a roadside attraction up the road from where they live. They have to spend thousands of dollars on airfare and accommodations to cross the Eiffel Tower off their bucket lists. Where is the fun in all of this?

You should be serious about your faith, your politics, your education, your family, and your job. Beyond this, you shouldn't be serious at all. You should have fun. And this is where the kazoo comes in.

If you are a musician in the symphony, you should be serious about your music and instrument. The same applies if you are a church organist or a music teacher or playing in a rock band that performs paying gigs for people. But if you aren't paid for it and have no great talent at it, you should not be serious about it at all. This means not spending serious time and money on your hobby. This means having fun. This means getting a kazoo.

A kazoo is cheap. My kazoo cost me less than five bucks. You can get 10 plastic ones for less than 10 bucks on Amazon. And you don't have to learn anything harder than how to hum. There are no notes, scales, or fingerings with the kazoo. You just need a decent ear. A kazoo is a low time and money investment.

Whenever I feel a bit musical, I whip out the kazoo and play things. Sometimes, I play a cover tune that people recognize. Or, I will improvise a melody. I play until I get winded, or my wife stops laughing and gets annoyed. When I stop playing, I congratulate myself on not blowing $4K on a Gibson Les Paul and wasting countless hours trying to learn "Purple Haze." And I can play the kazoo part from "Crosstown Traffic" as good as Jimi did. My musical itch has been scratched, and I can move on with the serious things in my life.

The supreme value in playing the kazoo is that it allows you to have fun and stop taking yourself so seriously. It is cheap, portable, and easy to play. You could learn to play harmonica or an English flute, but these require learning notes and practicing. You still won't be as good as you would be on the kazoo. I can't play the theme from Hawaii Five-O on a harmonica, a guitar, an accordion, or a saxophone. But I can do it on my kazoo. I am the master of my instrument. Few people can say that about their instruments. And that is what makes the kazoo a musical secret weapon. Anyone can play it and become a musician.