Musical Instruments for Animal Sounds, Whistles and Raven Sound Effects

By Brian Avey
A slide whistle has no set pitch, but it produces an interesting glissando effect.

Humans have sought to imitate animals since ancient times. Reasons for doing so include attempts to communicate with and influence the animal world, magical use of animal calls in hunting and aesthetic appreciation of the melodious attributes of bird songs. A variety of modern music instruments can produce sounds that resemble the calls of wild animals, and through the ages composers have combined these in humorous and imaginative ways.

Imitating Hens

Many musicians use the oboe humorously to imitate the cackling of hens.

Musicians often use woodwinds, especially oboes, to create humorous depictions of hens. A section of violins can create a similar effect. The sound essentially consists of a combination of rapid high-pitched staccato notes, often with dissonant grace notes. Examples from classical music include the first movement of Haydn's Symphony No. 83, "The Hen" and "Hens and Roosters" from Saint-Saens Carnival of the Animals.

Imitating Other Birds

Flutes are the most natural imitators of birds.

The cuckoo and nightingale are perhaps the birds most commonly imitated by humans playing musical instruments. Musicians often use flute, piccolo and clarinet to create the effect of singing birds. In classical music, the use of bird song imitation was stylized, as in Beethoven's Symphony No. 6, "Pastoral." In later musical eras, the trend has shifted to achieving more realistic sounds. Modern-day composer John Luther Adams uses a combination of percussion and flutes in his composition entitled "Songbirdsongs" to create a work that is both realistic and musically interesting.

Horses

A trumpet can produce a realistic horse's neighing sound.

A combination of trumpet and percussion can sound like a horse. When playing Leroy Anderson's humorous holiday piece "Sleigh Ride," musicians often make the sound of the horse's hooves by playing two different temple blocks. At the end of the piece, a trumpet player finishes with the horse's whinnying or neighing sound by buzzing into the mouthpiece while holding it tight against the lips.

Doves, Owls and Ocarinas

Low-pitched tones on panpipes sound like doves.

Many world cultures have used ocarinas, sometimes called "globular flutes," both in rituals and in music making. The soft flute-like tones of an ocarina sound like a variety of birds, including doves and owls. You can make the best bird sounds by blowing softly into the ocarina through its mouthpiece,while opening and closing one or more sound holes. Panpipes too produce a soft dove-like sound.

Whistles

Jazz and modern classical music occasionally use a simple slide whistle.

Whistles come in many varieties. Some whistles are made of clay, metal or a small hollowed-out wooden branch with one or more holes bored into the side and a beveled mouthpiece fashioned on one end. Another example, the slide whistle, is a common instrument used in jazz, and in modern classical music, mainly to achieve bird-like sound effects.

Ducks, Ravens and a Clarinet Mouthpiece

You can achieve a raspy sound by using the mouthpiece alone.

Most young people who learn a single-reed instrument, such as clarinet or saxophone, have had fun blowing into the mouthpiece alone and creating a variety of raspy sounds that resemble a duck quacking or a raven's cawing noise. You can achieve variants of sound by using your hand as a cup over the end of the mouthpiece.

About the Author

Brian Avey began writing in 1978 and has published articles on Japanese music and culture in the "Hokubei Mainichi," and coauthored technical articles for professional journals such as the "Handbook for Terminology Management." Avey graduated college with a bachelor's degree in music.