This blog is dedicated to the sublime instruments called nose flutes and which produce the most divine sound ever. We have chosen to discard all the native models from S. Pacific and Asia, for they need fingering to be played. We'll concentrate on "buccal cavity driven" nose flutes : the well patented and trademarked metal or plastic ones, plus, by a condemnable indulgence, some wooden craft or home-made productions.

Aug 31, 2014

Ngram: Nose Flute

A new tool is currently beta-tested at Google: Ngram Viewer. Drawing from the huge book database Google has scanned, the Ngram service is able to chart the occurrences of a word or expression between the two dates you have specified. More, it is able to compare several words, and offers many parameters to be set. Of course, I tried with "nose flute".

By default, the tool proposes a "smoothing" (of the curve) of 3, which helps to profile the trends. On the nose flute Ngram, we can see a global increase of the occurences, with some peaks. Of course, the graphic includes the many native nose flutes that we can't substract easily from the results. However, the peaks stay significant.

On the left chart (1900-1950), the ±1915 peak corresponds to some revival in the interest in native flutes, as for the ±1940 one. But the central one, around the years 1925 is well fed by the numerous advertisements for the Humanatone and the Magic Nose Flute.

On the right chart (1950-2000), there is a remarkable peak around 1977. I checked the books of this period, to understand what happened. The explanation wears a name : Roland Kirk, who died in 1977 at the top of his art and glory. As you can see, the peak took off from earlier.

Now, another interesting feature is the comparison with other expressions. I tried with nose flute, kazoo and slide whistle. They were invented in a 60 years timeframe: kazoo (1852), Nose flute (1892), Slide whistle (1910). Until 1940, the kazoo occurences graphic stays under the nose flute line, but then after, it blasts and reaches the sky! Why didn't nose flutes get such a success?


  1. I reckon the kazoo initially is far easier to "play" than the nose flute. It is also easily handsfree. I think the kazoo blends really well with Bluegrass and Dixieland, for instance. Do check:

    Great names in music such as Paolo Conte certainly also helped the popularity of the instrument, I guess. Do check:

    Despite these great performances, the kazoo is regarded as a toy instrument by music critics and 'serious' jazz musicians. I can imagine the kazoo being used as a gimmick in modern music, but sadly no more.

    1. Yes, Maikel, you're right. It's the sad destiny of any not-scaled (100% chromatic) instruments : nose flute, kazoo, slide whistle, theremin, musical saw... All of them are looked as circus props.

      Do you know this one?

    2. Thanks! To have the picture complete, the ukelele player should have played a handsfree nose flute...

      I agree. The fun thing is that a standard jazz instrument such as a double bass is fretless and therefore non-scaled as well, I would say (obviously with tuned strings). To me, the trumpet is a semi-natural instrument, as it requires a lot of adjustment by means of using tension on the lips in order to reach the whole range, for it only has 3 valves. A trombone needs even more 'natural positioning'... And yet, they have become standard, official and 'serious' instruments.