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CLASSIFICATION: free aerophone
HISTORY: Ever since prehistoric times, the bull-roarer has been a symbol of fertility with evidence of them found in paleololithic sites. The sound of the bull-roarer is said to be the voice of an ancestor, a spirit, or a deity. This is very important as this plays a role in certain rites of passage in some areas of the world. It is still found in some areas of each continent and the Pacific. The bull-roarer is almost exclusively used in rituals with virtually no evidence that it has ever been used as part of a purely musical activity. The bull-roarer has been studied by ethnomusicologists and anthropologists, because of its ties to rituals and magic ceremonies. This instrument is also known by the names thunder stick or whizzer.
PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION: Made from slabs of wood, rhomboid in shape, and some times carved, the bull-roarer pierced with a small hole at one of the ends where a length of cord is attached. The performer holds this piece of chord in his/her hand and the wood is twirls the bull-roarer in the air. 
SOUND PROPERTIES: The sound is produced by vibrations of the bull-roarer as it spins in the air. In some cultures the composition of the instrument can result in a sound similar to that of a bull, the howling of an animal or spirit, or thunder. Changes in the speed and angle to the ground can change the sonority so that the performer can produce the sounds of a whimper, scream, moan, or roar. 
RANGE: There is no standard pitch range for the bull-roarer, as they are typically one of a kind instruments. However, changing the velocity of the spin of the bull-roarer and the size of the instrument effects the realative pitch. A smaller bull-roarer can be spun faster resulting in a higher pitch. A larger instrument, spinning at a slower speed, results in a lower pitch.


Photo courtesy of Lark In The Morning.

See Also

[English] thunder stick
[English] whizzer
[French] planchette ronflante (f)
[German] Schwirrholz (n)
[Italian] legno frullante (m)
[Italian] tavoletta sibilante (f)


Last Updated: 2016-05-19 15:34:30