Founded 1901

Royal Purple

Founded 1901

Royal Purple

Founded 1901

Royal Purple

Professors describe foreign instruments


Instruments like the guitar, piano, violin and clarinet are popular for students to start playing in elementary school and beyond.


The berimbau, khaen and bodhrán are less common among American children and are unknown to many.

Yet these instruments, native to Brazil, Laos and Ireland, are quite familiar among a few UW-Whitewater professors.

“The berimbau is a Brazilian bow, like a ‘Robin Hood’ bow,” Associate Professor Jeff Herriott said.

It has its roots in Africa and is used in Capoeira, which is a Brazilian martial art.

Unlike other stringed instruments, where a bow glides across the strings, the berimbau’s single string is struck by the player’s fingers.

Toward the base of the instrument, there is a “gourd,” which allows the sound to carry from it.

“The gourd is a resonant chamber,” Herriott said. “When you strike the string, it’s pretty quiet, but with the gourd, it resonates; it amplifies the sound.

Herriott has composed pieces for the berimbau and the khaen.


The Laotian khaen is a free- reed instrument.

It has basic mechanics similar to a harmonica and resembles a large pan flute.  Instead of blowing into the end, the player blows into the center tube.

Sound is produced by covering up one or more of the eight holes on either side.

“Each tube has its own reed, like a harmonica, you can play one or many at a time,” Professor George Ferencz said.

The bodhrán has a strong presence in Ireland’s musical tradition.

“The bodhrán is similar to a Native American drum,” Associate Professor Susan Wildermuth said.

It is made of animal skin and stretched over a small frame.

“They have a real light touch to them,” Wildermuth said. “You can pull off different beautiful sounds from them.”

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Founded 1901
Professors describe foreign instruments