Introduction: The TOOTOPHONE

About: I'm a refugee from Los Angeles, living in backwoods Puerto Rico for about 35 years now and loving it. I built my own home from discarded nylon fishnet and cement.

The tootophone is my baby.  It has been evolving for several years now.  My latest ones use bamboo and x-ray film for the mouthpieces, and a variety of body shapes made out of x-ray film and PVC fittings.  This video is of my first public tootophone performance in our local cultural center.

Unlike most reed instruments, the tootophone does not use different fingering positions to get different notes.  Once you get the basic principles down of how to find higher and lower notes, you can play just about any music by ear.  The mouth and breath control find the note and the one finger hole near the mouthpiece is used basically for fine tuning the notes and getting a wah-wah effect.  This is not like a kazoo, and you do not sing into it.  It is a lot like singing though, except you don't use your vocal cords to make sound; the reed makes the sound. 

For an instrument that only costs a couple of dollars to make, it does a lot.  It has a range of about 3 octaves, and can produce an infinite number of notes within that range, so you can play in any key. 

My early tootophones used hypodermic syringes, instead of bamboo for the mouthpieces.  (see:  also )   Being so small and light weight, they can even be played hands-free.  I play whenever I drive anywhere.  Any practice is good; it builds up the muscles used in playing and helps make hitting the high notes easier.  Eventually, it becomes almost effortless to play any music that runs through your head. 

I am not looking to make money for myself, except maybe as a performer someday.  My goal is to help others get independent manufacturing workshops going, perhaps organized as a group for collective marketing.  I would also like to produce performance and educational videos to help popularize the instrument.   If I won the grand prize of $25,000 it would probably go toward tooling up workshops for people and organizing collective marketing.   I would also get a video camera to produce training videos for players and manufacturers.

When there are players to organize, I would then like to get tootophone bands organized.  Just as individuals in a choir have unique voices, tootophones with body and mouthpiece variations have unique voices.   Since singing and tootophone playing are very similar, singers would probably make good tootophone players.  Someday, because of the unique abilities of the tootophone, I hope that a new style of music might evolve. 

Tootophones are a lot of fun to improvise with, and jamming with friends usually results in a good time had by all.  If we all just spent more time tooting together, the world would probably be a much happier place. 

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    3 Discussions


    7 years ago on Introduction

    Pretty cool idea! I love the idea of being able to just use yourself to make the tones.


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    I think the instrument is easy to play, once you get the general principles of how to get the full range of notes, and develop the muscles. It's a lot like singing.

    I think you need to develop a singer's ear for music, even though you are not singing. Since it's not just a matter of pushing the appropriate key to make a note, you have to judge your accuracy as you play, to keep in tune with other instruments. It's good playing-by-ear exercise.