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Barrel Organ

The name of the instrument comes from the wooden barrel with protruding pins that rotates as the crank is turned; each pin activates a note to be played. As the barrel rotates, the positioning of the pins determines the sequence of notes played and hence the melody produced by the 35 organ pipes. While portable barrel organs were popularly used on the streets of America in the 1800s, the idea of a pinned barrel system came from European clock mechanisms of the 1300s and large church organs of the 1700s.

 


Cylinder Music Box

A cousin of the barrel organ is the cylinder music box which incorporates a metal rather than wooden cylinder. These instruments had to overcome particular limitations of the technology: the length of each tune is determined by one revolution of the barrel, and each barrel could only contain eight to twelve tunes. It was impractical to have barrels with a really large diameter to play long pieces, and it was expensive to own numerous barrels to play a greater variety of music. The kind of music programmed for a barrel organ had to be popular tunes of the day, or short phrases of well-known and much-admired classical or operatic music. This problem was solved with the later creation of instruments played by inexpensive, long-playing paper rolls which allowed a greater length and variety of automatic music to be played.

 

Related Images

The wooden barrel has protruding pins that rotate as the crank is turned.
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The wooden barrel has protruding pins that rotate as the crank is turned.
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