Musical instruments for musicians and non-musicians: exotic examples

Other post in this series:

  1. Part One: Controls: Analysing how continuous or discrete controls on the sound affect playability to great extent
  2. Part Two: Constraints: How embedding musical theory as constraints makes the instrument easier and more rewarding
  3. Part Three: Exotic examples: Examples of exotic instruments and how they achieve good or not so good results
  4. Part Four: Put into practice: Let’s put theory into practice to build an easy and musically-sounding Theremin

Now some fun! Here are some exotic examples of musical instruments, some easy to play, some ridiculously easy, and some ridiculously difficult to play.

Some also look like a good idea but there is a little something I personally dislike, at least compared to my personal favourite exotic (or not so exotic indeed) instruments.

This list is obviously not exhaustive and will be updated in the future (last update March 2009)

Excessively easy instruments

The beamz, lots of negative feedbacks on the web (plays automatically…)

Excessively difficult instrument

From “The theremin zeitgeist of making music by simply waving your arms in front of a box is so compelling that most people underestimate the difficulty of actually playing them. The most appealing idea of not touching anything is precisely what makes it so hard; there’s no tactile feedback to assist in the process of locating pitches. The importance of touching a fret board or keyboard or even a ribbon can’t be overstressed. With only proprioceptors, which are the sensors on joints and muscles that give you a subconscious feel for where your limbs are, exactly locating a precise point in space and holding that position with no wandering is very tricky. Using only audio feedback takes excellent pitch perception and considerable practice to learn.”

See by yourselves in the video lesson…

Strange instruments that look good

Circuit bending people love weird instruments, and most do not ask them to be musical in any “academic” way: if they produce at least one interesting sound it is fine.

Tim Kaiser is the king of poetic, beautiful and crazy instruments. Here is a documentary from Make tv about him and his work:

Michael Una also creates lovely instruments, though they are not meant to play actual melodies, instead they generate noises that he knows how to blend into a live performance very well. But he is talented!

Beep-it from Michael Una on Vimeo.

My favourite exotic instruments

The Drum Buddy (

The Persephone: (

The beatbaring (

The terrific Fretless Fader by John Beez:

Added April 2nd 2009:

Another nice instrument in itself, but the really interesting idea is the approach (how to make the player feel being a rock star through intuitive gestures), and the “one-man-band” idea (remote control of 4 tracks you can record, play and loop to build your arrangement live):
Ruxwerx Tüist Is Rui Pereira’s Musical Thneed (And You Need A Thneed)

Other unsorted

The Samchillian – a musical instrument based on relativity (?)


Software development, Domain-Driven Design, patterns and agile principles enthusiast

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