Are you a novice in the world of music? Or do you pride yourself as a maestro? No matter where you stand, you might be surprised to come across some of the unusual musical instruments. There are so many unique musical instruments from around the world that come in various designs, shapes and sizes. As for the size, you can find musical instruments with a size of ranging from tiny palm-sized pieces to huge drums and ornate flutes.
Musical instruments are way more than just guitars, pianos, saxophones or drums. There so many other instruments that you might have never heard of before. In this article, we will take you to exploring some of the most unique instruments ever.
So, let’s take a peek into this amazing gallery of weird and unusual musical instruments below. Even better, the following items are also available for you to make them yours. Let’s get started and start scrolling to explore more!
Table of Contents
- What Are Unusual Musical Instruments?
- Why Would Someone Choose To Play An Unusual Musical Instrument?
- Unusual Musical Instruments & Where to Buy Them
- #14 Ranat Thum
- #15 Russian Vargan
- 16. Angklung
- Final Thoughts
- FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)
What Are Unusual Musical Instruments?
Unusual musical instruments refer to instruments that are not commonly seen or heard in traditional music performances. These instruments may have unique sounds, shapes, or playing techniques that set them apart from more commonly used instruments like the guitar or piano. Examples of unusual musical instruments include the theremin, didgeridoo, hang drum, and glass harmonica.
Why Would Someone Choose To Play An Unusual Musical Instrument?
People may desire to play strange musical instruments for a variety of reasons. Some people may find them intriguing and unique, and they may desire to experiment with new sounds and textures that more traditional instruments cannot provide.
Others may be captivated to the instruments’ history and cultural significance and desire to learn more about their cultural setting. Other people may just like the challenge of learning to play an instrument that is neither generally known or easy to obtain. Finally, the motives for picking up an odd musical instrument are as diverse as the instruments themselves.
Unusual Musical Instruments & Where to Buy Them
The dulcimer, a member of the zither family, is a type of stringed instrument. Largely considered an American instrument, it traces its origins back to ancient European instruments.
It dates back to the 1800’s and its name is derived from Latin (dulcis meaning “sweet”) and Greek (melos meaning “song). Immigrants are said to have brought its forefathers to the US where it underwent a remarkable evolution.
Various cultures around the globe have it in different forms, as different makers added their own flair. As a result, the dulcimer holds somewhat of a record when it comes to sheer variety. Moreover, it’s also one of the coolest sounding instruments of all time.
See this amazing viral video below of a man named Ted Yoder playing “tears of Fears” on his Dulcimer.
The sound is incredible, and in our opinion, it is a true testament to the meaning of its name.
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Belonging to the lute family, the Balalaika has Russian roots. Not only is it a national instrument in Russia, but it is also a symbol of the country’s music culture.
Among the features that qualify it for our list of unusual musical instruments, is definitely its characteristic shape. Its triangular body is hollow and it holds three strings and a fretted neck.
Its contemporary form features six varieties, each offering a different pitch. The highest pitch comes from the Piccolo while the lowest is the Contrabass. Others include the Bass, Alto, Secunda and Prima Balalaikas, the last one being the most popular.
#3 Tongue Drum
Also known as the hank drum or tank drum, the tongue drum is a fairly recent addition to the percussion family. Though it has a number of predecessors, the drum’s most noteworthy forefather made its appearance back in 2007.
You might not tell it’s a drum by looking at it. In our opinion, the tongue drum looks more like an ornament than a musical instrument. However, in addition to its visual excellence, this cool musical instrument actually has lots to offer in terms of acoustics.
Part of the reason why it makes the list of bizarre instruments has to do with its design, which informs the drum’s name. Its top typically features between seven and ten tongues, which cut right through the surface. However, these may vary in length for pitch variation and one can use mallets or fingers to play tunes.
Admittedly, the didgeridoo has one of the funniest names in the world of unusual musical instruments. In our opinion, the name of this instruments is very iconic, too!
It is among the oldest wind instruments of all time, tracing its roots back to the Aboriginal culture. The name however is not Aboriginal; but rather, has roots in Old Irish and it dates back 1,500 years.
Though its whimsical name might earn it a spot on the list of silly musical instruments, we have to tell you that its musical output is outstanding. The tone is almost hypnotic and reminiscent of nature’s echoes from the kookaburra and dingo.
To play the didgeridoo, one needs to master circular breathing – in through the nose and out through the mouth. As a bonus, people also know this instrument as a tool to strengthen airway muscles and reduce snoring. Pretty cool, right?
Also known as the Armenian oboe, the duduk is one of the most ancient double reed instruments. As you might have guessed, it has its origins in Armenia and is inseparable from the cultural identity of its creators.
Though the original material was bone, contemporary models use wood from Apricot trees. In fact, its name means apricot tree pipe.
Over the centuries, it has won the hearts of music lovers beyond Armenia. As a result, it has traveled the world and in the process, had some subtle changes in design.
Essentially, it is a long cane with holes along its length and a mouthpiece on one end. Additionally, it has a wooden body, giving it a unique ability to resonate, unlike most flutes.
When it comes to unusual small musical instruments, we have to say that the ocarina is in the top tier. The contemporary wind instrument dates back to 1853, a creation of Italian teenager Guiseppe Donati.
Though this was not the first-ever instrument of its kind, it was the first time someone elevated it from toy status.
The name means little goose and essentially, it is a globular flute consisting of a mouthpiece and four to twelve holes. Back then, Ocarina creators traditionally used ceramic or clay.
But today they use other materials such as glass, plastic, wood, bone and even metal. And the designs are as many and varied as there are creators.
#7 Hurdy Gurdy
Belonging to the family of acoustic stringed instruments, the hurdy-gurdy remotely resembles a guitar. But personally, we think the design is a tad more unique as it applies the keyboard concept.
It has the shape of a pear, and instead of sounding notes using a bow, it makes use of a wooden wheel rim. The rim sits at the end and the player uses their left hand to stop the strings with wooden keys.
Its original users were French aristocrats back in the 18th and 19th centuries. Though current models bear some semblance to the early forms, the contemporary one is a lot smaller.
To make things interesting, modern creators offer it in a wide array of ornate designs.
The djembe is a goblet-shaped percussion instrument that has its origins in Africa. Its inventors were the Mandinke tribe of Mali, West Africa and it dates back to the 12th century.
Not only is its design unusual and unique, but this drum holds the potential for a rich musical experience. Its ability to offer a wide range of sounds makes it one of the most versatile drums of all time. In our opinion, it is also remarkably loud.
The output varies according to the type of skin, density of wood, shape and proportions as well as drumming style. Originally the reserve of male drummers, the instrument is now accessible to all and sundry.
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#9 Shaman Drum
The shaman drum is not your everyday percussion instrument. In fact, in our collection of unusual musical instruments, this has to be among the most unique.
Many people associate it with shamanic practices such as healing, community building and expanding the consciousness.
The drum and its rich cultural heritage trace their roots to Tuva, Siberia. Shamans consider it one of their major tools for meditation. They use it to get into a trance and venture into the other world. It is typically a perfect circle, signifying unending natural cycles.
Thanks to their elegant patterns, each of these drums tell a story.
The kalimba is a widely renowned lamellophone from Africa but is also found in the Caribbean and in South America.
In different countries, many people associate it with different cultures. For instance, back in the 50s, it was a pillar of rhumba in Zaire. But in Zimbabwe, its main use is to contact the dead. It consists of metal keys (lamellas) and a soundbox. Players use their fingers to pluck the lamellas or to depress and release them to make music.
In case you are looking for small musical instrument gifts, we recommend you to go for kalimba as you can find a kalimba small enough to fit in the palm of your hand.
Belonging to the family of stringed instruments, the crwth is a bowed lyre with origins in Wales. In our opinion, the name is not the only interesting thing about the crwth; its looks are also quite fascinating.
It consists of a box-like construction, a flat finger box and six strings, which one plays all at the same time. Though it roughly resembles the violin, its tone is rougher and softer, with a droning quality. Originally, music players used to pluck the strings. But from the 11th century, they started using bows.
In modern times, there have been efforts to revive its traditional use abd you might want to join in the fun.
#12 Pan Flute
You are likely familiar with Peter Pan, in which case, we think that you might know something about the pan flute (which he played). It consists of a number of pipes of varying lengths joined one to another in a row.
At different points during a performance, the musician will blow across the tops of these pipes while blocking some of them. Each of the pipes offers a different note and the result is fascinating.
It is a product of ancient Greece, which with time spread across the face of Europe and beyond. In modern times, there are different variations of the flute in various cultures around the world.
Bearing some semblance to the modern-day violin, the Vielle is one of the most intriguing exotic musical instruments. This bowed-string instrument appeared on the scene in the 10th century.
It sports between three and five strings and a pegbox resembling a leaf and pegs that tune from the front. In the most unusual cases, its body takes the shape of figure eight. But typically, it has an oval shape.
The difference between this and the violin stems from the fact that the former is longer and deeper. This creates a clear distinction in the musical output between the two. Though it was most popular in medieval times, until today, we can see that it still holds remarkable acoustic appeal for the avid enthusiast.
#14 Ranat Thum
If you are looking for an exotic musical instrument to buy, you may want to consider this one. A Thai low-pitched xylophone known as Ranat Thum can be your best option to learn in-depth about traditional music instruments.
The instrument is made of bamboo, widely grown in that country. The design of this instrument resembles a wood boat commonly used in Southeast Asian countries.
It consists of 18 wooden keys, each of which has a different tone. The way to play it is to hit it with an oak grate, a long stick with a rounded tip.
Usually, this instrument is played together with oak shutters. There is a mini version of Ranat Thum with eight different tones that you can buy to learn more about this particular musical instrument.
#15 Russian Vargan
A fan of music will usually never tire of learning many things related to this field. If you are one of them, maybe you will be interested in this traditional Russian musical instrument.
Known with its rich culture and diversity, we have to say that this country also has a variety of unique musical instruments. One of them is the Russian Vargan, also popularly known as the Jews Harp.
However, there are unique facts about this musical instrument. Russian people themselves are less familiar with Vargan. It’s unknown why, but the more we come, the more people hear about this instrument.
When Russian Vargan is played, people dressed as shamans will usually dance around the fire pit to perform a seance or rain ritual. Very interesting, huh?
Talking about unusual musical instruments is not complete without angklung. Angklung is one of the thousands of unique musical instruments from Indonesia with many enthusiasts from all over the worls. More precisely, angklung comes from the Sundanese tribe, one of the tribes in Indonesia.
Like Ranat Thum, this musical instrument is made of bamboo tubes held together by a bamboo frame. The bamboo is carved in such a way that it has a different pitch resonance. It generally has eight different pitches, which are beautiful.
Angklung has designated as a non-object world cultural heritage by UNESCO in 2010 because it is a native Indonesian culture considered unique. Considering buying angklung?
#17 Morin Khuur
Here is a unique musical instrument from Mongolia! The Morin Khuur, the horsehead fiddle, looks a lot like a violin that only has two strings, yet it can produce some unusual melody.
The old glorious Mongol Empire under Genghis Khan was known for its nomad horse riders. The Morin Khuur is an instrument that was created based on the Mongolian horse-riding culture.
Traditionally, according to the legend, you build a Morin Khuur using a horse’s parts. Mongolians will utilize horse bone and leather as the Morin Khuur’s body and they will utilize horse’s hairs for the strings and the bow Usually, Morin Khuur is played to accompany traditional Mongolian throat singing.
Nowadays, metal bands such as The Hu incorporates the instrument with modern music! Some believe that this instrument can mimic the sound of a horse’s wailing.
#18 Japanese Koto
A harp is not something strange for westerners, but how about a Koto? This traditional string instrument from Japan may have several resemblances. But, once you listen to the sound Koto would be a lot different.
Typically, Koto would have 13 strings, but you can also find ones that offer 17 strings. You play it by plucking the string and it will produce some soothing melodies that are unique to Japan.
The Koto board is quite large compared to other instruments that we have featured in this list. If you would like to play Koto, you will have to wear some pluckers around your fingers. Nowadays, Koto is often associated with Zen music. We recommend you to experience it yourself. You can listen to Koto and it will induce a meditative-like state, which is very relaxing.
#19 Viking Violin – Talharpa
Now let’s explore this musical instrument that comes from Scandinavia! Just like the Morin Khuur, Talharpa’s strings are created from horsehair. It is also played in a similar way, with a bow.
Though it’ll produce a unique melody as Talbarpa is typically shorter, without a neck, and has three strings. The Norse or we usually call them the Vikings, might have brought the instrument to all over the place in Europe.
We know that they used to do raiding parties, pillaging riches in any place they could sail to. Thus, with them, the Talharpa went.
Imagine back in the day, among their spare times, the Viking fighters would gather around the fire and sing merrily, accompanied by this unusual instrument. Good news! Now you can take one home, and channel your inner Viking by playing the Talharpa!
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Not all unique and unusual musical instruments are traditional. Some modern instruments can be weird, too. And here is Theremin, the progenitor of techno music.
Invented ins the 1920s by Leon Theremin, this musical instrument looks like a radio at glance. A box with an antenna, or two. Yet it can produce some eerie haunting melodies. The way you play it is also highly unusual. You do not need to touch the Theremin.
In fact, all you have to do is hover your hand around the antenna. The distance between the hand and the antenna will affect the sound that it will produce. A skilled Theremin player knows how to move their hand and approximate the distance to create beautiful melodies!
Here is another super unique and unusual modern musical instrument, the Stylophone! It is a pocket-size box that can produce some of the most vibrant synth music.
The way you play a Stylophone is also distinctive. You will need a metal stylus and you touch it around the metal keyboard located on the device. As the metal touches each other, you will produce synth music. Moreover, you can also drag it around along the keyboard to create different kinds of pitches.
It was invented in the 60s, by Brian Jarvis, and nowadays people consider the Stylophone to be retro. This instrument may look simple, but it actually takes some time to master. If you love challenges and synth music, we recommend you to get one for yourself!
We have provided you with some of the weirdest, exotic, and unusual musical instruments from around the world that you can buy online. Suppose you are a newbie in the musical world. In that case, we recommend purchasing a Kalimba or Angklung as they are easy to learn. And if you want to challenge yourself, the rest of them are for you.
If you think that our above list is interesting, don’t forget to share this article so that others can know that these incredibly unique musical instruments exist, and even cooler, you can purchase them online!
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FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)
Can unusual musical instruments be used in modern music?
Yes, unusual musical instruments can be used in contemporary music. Indeed, many modern music genres, such as experimental and avant-garde music, actively incorporate unusual and unusual instruments. Furthermore, some contemporary composers and musicians seek out rare and unusual instruments to create a distinct sound and flavor to their music. The theremin, didgeridoo, hang drum, and glass harmonica are some popular examples of unconventional musical instruments used in modern music.
Are unusual musical instruments expensive?
The price of uncommon musical instruments varies greatly depending on the instrument and its rarity. Some unusual instruments may be relatively inexpensive, whereas others may be quite costly due to their uniqueness and difficulty in production. Before making a purchase, it is critical to conduct research and compare prices.