Unusual Instruments – Sound Effects

Percussionists are often called upon to play instruments that are sometimes not even classified as percussion instruments. A huge category within this subset are sound effects. Sound effects used in movies began with Jack Foley in 1927. Foley Art is used throughout the film industry today and many of Jack’s techniques are still a mainstay in this world. Another leading figure in the world of sound effects was the late, great Tom Keith of A Prairie Home Companion fame. He used vocal sounds as well as props. Michael Winslow can be heard in the Police Academy movies doing amazing things with only his voice. There’s a wonderful scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail where two of the members pretend they are riding on horseback while one of them makes the sound of horses hooves with coconut shells. “Are you suggesting coconuts migrate?” Percussionists in the orchestra often play instruments that imitate whips, anvils, bird calls, Cathedral bells and animal sounds that are scored by composers such as Aaron Copland, Ferde Grofe, George Gershwin, Richard Wagner, Leroy Anderson and Franz Josef Haydn to name a few . Yet another great reason to be a percussionist!

One thought on “Unusual Instruments – Sound Effects

  1. Loved this segment. I always found using unconventional musical sounds with my students, whenever possible, led to greater connections to the love of music. The water phone reminded me of the “Zoob Tube” I once had. Also using a bow on a cymbal can add atmosphere around 10/31 along with the flexitone and fibra-slap, don’t you think?

    Spike Jones used many of the techniques you described when telling his humorous adventures. Thank you for sharing these – I thoroughly enjoyed.

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