It’s time for music appreciation, only of the less common variety, on Uncommon Instrument Awareness Day, held on July 31 each year! This day is a reminder to music lovers that there are many special and uncommon instruments just waiting to be discovered. This unusual holiday encourages everyone to learn about and try a new and unusual musical instrument.
History of Uncommon Instrument Awareness Day
Since as far back as we can tell, societies have always considered music to be integral to their culture. The history of uncommon instruments is, in fact, the history of musical instruments in general. For more about their history, read Buy A Musical Instrument Day. Today, we focus on the history of various (now uncommon) musical instruments.
Statues in ancient Cyprus show people playing the lyre. The British Museum exhibits one such statue of a woman playing the lyre. Her dress and style indicate she was a member of the upper class. The ancient Cyprians also used animal-shaped rattles that might have been used to keep a beat, scare off evil spirits, or as a toy for young children.
The ancient Romans invented an instrument they called ‘hydraulis,’ which worked when water pressure from a tank forced air up into the keys and pipes. While playing this instrument, they needed multiple assistants to work the pumps that kept the water pressure high. Ancient Greeks were also famous for their musical celebrations. Each event — birth, death, work, and even illness — would be accompanied by music. They used an instrument called ‘auloi,’ which was a pipe made of wood, bone, or metal. Blowing into the reed inserted at the end of this instrument would produce sound.
On the other side of the continent, in Asia, Buddhists used trumpets made of different items — like conch shells — to call monks to services. The ancient Egyptians, too, had their own special musical instruments, like the harp. Examples of this are shown in scenes covering the walls of tombs. These scenes show people plucking two strings at a time, and they are accompanied by instruments that resemble lutes and oboes.
By the 12th century, many more musical instruments were invented, including a medieval instrument that resembled a guitar, called the citole. This instrument is actually the precursor to the violin, having been converted at some point during the 16th century.
Over the years, new, amazing, and uncommon inventions have increased the expansive variety of musical instruments. By the 19th century, electric instruments came around, and along with this, another unique invention. The Soviet government had sponsored research into proximity sensors. A researcher on the team accidentally invented an electric instrument that can be played without being touched. While not a commercial success initially, it has since been used in film scores, on television, and occasionally in pop and rock music.
We can trace the history of uncommon instruments around the world, but we are still unsure about who created this special day. All we know is they wished to spotlight the unusual and unique musical instruments.
Uncommon Instrument Awareness Day timeline
Harps are played at Ancient Egyptian banquets and this is represented in scenes on the walls of Egyptian tombs.
In ancient Cyprus, a limestone statue of a woman playing the lyre is found in a shrine for the gods.
Explorers find a little rattle dating back to 300 B.C. to 100 B.C. that is used to make music, ward off evil spirits, or as a child's toy.
Considered the most elaborate musical instrument of that time, this organ only plays because water pressure forces air up into the keys and pipes.
An instrument called the citole is invented — it looks like a guitar, has four strings, and is later converted to the instrument we know as the violin, during the 16th century.
Russian physicist Leon Theremin invents an electric instrument that can be played without anyone touching it — it is called the theremin and it is one of the oldest electric instruments in the world.
Uncommon Instrument Awareness Day FAQs
What is the rarest instrument?
One of the rarest musical instruments in the world, the hydraulophone, produces sounds using vibrations from flowing water.
What is the least common instrument played?
While not uncommon as instruments, the tuba, French horn, and bassoon are the least common musical instruments played by people.
What is the most played instrument?
The most commonly played musical instrument is the piano — almost 21 million Americans play it. This is followed by the guitar, then the violin, and then, the drums.
How To Celebrate Uncommon Instrument Awareness Day
Try out an uncommon instrument
Learn about them: There are so many rare and experimental musical instruments in the world; learn about as many as you can. Play them: Then, pick your favorite and see if you can find one for sale/rent. See if musical or art centers around you stock some uncommon instruments, and ask if you can learn to play them. Listen to them: If you cannot get your hands on the instrument of your choice, the next best thing would be to check out videos of these instruments being played online. If you want to hear what some uncommon instruments sound like, check out songs like ‘South Country’ by Maykel Elizade, ‘Age Of Indulgence’ by Les Délices, or ‘Living Breathing Earth’ by composer Meira Warshauer.
Create your own musical instrument
These certainly fall under the banner of 'uncommon'. Explore your creative side by making your own musical instrument. Build a guitar from a cigar box, or create an instrument using vegetables. Yes, vegetables! Carrots, celery, peppers, squash, zucchini, or other raw veggies are all used to make music. Use the crunchy peel, the thick skin, or combine more than one vegetable for fun sounds. If it doesn't work out, you can always turn this into dinner. Hint: You can check out fun DIY tutorials online for ideas, or talk to some musicians for their input. Get the family involved and turn this into a musical day!
Watch a series that praises music
Embrace your inner couch potato for a day and settle in to watch shows and movies that celebrate music. Search hard and long enough, and you might find an uncommon musical instrument. Like the Amazon Prime series “Mozart in the Jungle,” which centers around the lives of musicians in the New York Symphony Orchestra, and boasts an oboe player as one of the main leads.
5 Most Uncommon Instruments
The American Fotoplayer
This is a special piano that was specially designed to play out sound effects during silent movies in the 19th Century.
Used mainly in Jewish celebrations of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, this instrument is made from a ram's horn.
A wind instrument called a 'didgeridoo'
Developed sometime in the past 100 years by the Aboriginal peoples of Northern Australia, this instrument is easy to learn and, as studies show, it strengthens health too.
This West African hand drum is rare, fun, and is again, easy to learn.
The hurdy-gurdy or wheel fiddle
The only instrument in the world that uses a crank to turn a wheel, which in turn rubs strings together to make music — it made a brief appearance in “Polar Express” (2014).
Why We Love Uncommon Instrument Awareness Day
Uncommon instruments need love, too
Everyone needs their day in the sun. We think this same principle applies to musical instruments, too. Popular instruments get a lot of love and a lot of mentions. It's time for the spotlight to shine on lesser-used and unique instruments.
This day motivates music lovers
Music lovers can rejoice. This day shows them that music of all forms, and from different instruments, is recognized and celebrated. Plus, people are motivated to make their contribution to the world of music and maybe invent their own unique instrument.
This day also celebrates creativity
It takes an immense amount of imagination, and a little bit of luck, to create a musical instrument — whether common or uncommon. On a day like this, we get a chance to celebrate every single uncommon instrument and honor its creators.
Uncommon Instrument Awareness Day dates