Blogs: Otamatone History

First imagined by brothers Masamichi and Nobumichi Tosa of the Maywa Denki design firm, the Otamatone was first developed in 1988 by Japan’s CUBE toy company. Made to resemble a “Tadpole” (or “otamajakushi”) music note, the Otamatone is played with two hands, and makes a quirky, electronic “hum” that can be converted to an “ahh” or “wah” by squeezing the base of the note (which was of course given a face for added cuteness).

Often categorized as an electronic synthesizer, the Otamatone is capable of being played quite adeptly (as many YouTubers have already demonstrated!) as a musical instrument – and yet has the appearance and overall silliness you’d expect from a toy. The stem switch functions much like the fretboard of a string instrument, which perhaps explains why some of the internet’s most talented Otamatonists are also skilled violinists.

Capable of being played using techniques like the “wah-wah” effect and vibrato, the Otamatone is every bit as much a true instrument as it is an oddity – and just like any other instrument – it can be extremely difficult to master!

The Otamatone’s popularity – we think – can be attributed to the fact that it’s got a little something for everyone. It gets a laugh out of almost everyone – young or old - who hears it for the first time, and mastering it presents an often irresistible challenge to musicians all over the world.

The relative seriousness/silliness with which one approaches playing the Otamatone is entirely up to its owner, and it’s this, in short, that gives the Otamatone both its uniqueness and its wide appeal.

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