Music Theory Trivia Quiz

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1. Listen to the mirlitons

Musical instruments, the tools of musical expression, have been around more or less as long as human culture. One venerable and widespread instrument type is the mirliton, although it is usually called by another name. Which?

A) Didgeridoo
B) Drum
C) Kazoo
D) Xylophone

Your answer — D) Xylophone — was incorrect.

Instruments like kazoos have been played in Africa for at least many centuries, and possibly much longer. Because the sound in a mirliton is produced by a membrane, musicologists usually classified it among the membranophones. However, all other membranophones are drums. Only in the mirliton is the vibration of the membrane induced by the player’s vocal mechanism — specifically, by humming. The word “kazoo” was originally a trade-name given by American inventor Warren Herbert Frost to his manufactured toy mirliton in 1883. The paper-and-comb, an instrument even less formal than the kazoo, is another variation on the mirliton pattern.

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