Everyone knows the trope of horned humanoids with a pointy tail on their back and two horns in their head.

''It's just not a person with a tail and two horns, it's something completely new and inhuman! believe me!''

Dungeons and Dragons has them, pretty much any fantasy Japanese cartoon or comic has them, same for European fantasy books, video games have them and sometimes even movies. They come by an embarrassing amount of different names but let's just call them Devils. The idea of their physical features offering more than just a cheap fetish is intriguing me. I want my devils to play their horns.

The horns evolved from hollow over-calcified keratin spots overgrown in the head, firstly the devil horns were kind of gross and randomly shaped but slowly they developed into more appreciable shapes aesthetically. The first horned devil was a guy like the Great Khan of our world, that famous mongol guy who killed, pillaged and raped such a huge amount of people that nowadays a good chunk of humanity shares his DNA. Thus, horned humanoids truly are in a sense devil's children. A few hundred generations forward, devils with more aesthetically pleasing horns where selected and some of them born with uneven or malformed bony structures had their horns and their airways connected creating an air chamber and tubes similar to those of blowing instruments, with the air coming from the mouth passing through the horn then bouncing back and existing by the nose. Obviously making music without any instrument is appreciable, and the same way children used to have their genitals mutilated for the sake of music, devils were forcefully bred for their horns.

I do not know anything about music, all I can do is play a dozen songs by memory on the guitar and piano but I've never understood the theory no matter how many times it was explained to me, all I can do is follow sheet music and memorize it.

Hence this question, can they produce only one type of sound and need more holes to be cut in the horns to allow for more notes? Or can the mouth and lung systems be used to create different sounds and notes inside the horn regardless of it's lack of holes? Does the material of the horns make a difference in the amount of possible notes, probably the answer is yes, but is it a big difference?


The idea started from imagining devil horns being similar to the parasaurolophus horn, which as far as I know was not the smartest animal and even if it was possible to use such horn as a musical instrument, well they didn't know music theory and they weren't as smart as modern birds, plus the description of dinosaurs changes every 5 years or so, so they aren't the most believable of sources, but still a cool idea.

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*Click for more detail. Image courtesy by the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences

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    $\begingroup$ Devil horns can only play tritones, of course, so they're good for percussion and occasional harmony. Devils generally play melody and most harmony with their gold fiddles, despite their crushing weight and terrible sound. $\endgroup$
    – user535733
    Jul 6, 2021 at 19:24
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    $\begingroup$ For the record, the idea of the devil making music by blowing his nose is cheerfully ludicrous. We love that kind of question on this site! Add an air sac in his sinuses and you have nasal bag pipes.... $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Jul 6, 2021 at 19:42
  • $\begingroup$ FWIW, a bugle is a simple tube with no valves, and can play 5 different notes simply by varying the embrochure. The etymology of the word bugle points to its origins as an instrument made from an animal's horn. But I agree with @JBH that the physics here are backwards, as a horn on the head would logically have air come out of the narrow end, which is opposite to instrumental horns. $\endgroup$ Jul 6, 2021 at 19:53
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    $\begingroup$ @NuclearHoagie Check out the image (which I'm going to go pull into the question proper), it lends to the idea of the horn being more like a flute with no bell. It's beginning to work for me. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Jul 6, 2021 at 19:56
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    $\begingroup$ ? What is in this question that the natural horn article on Wikipedia does not cover? A well-known example of a similar "natural" valve-less hole-less instrument is the bugle used for the world-famous (from westerns, war movies and so on) military bugle calls. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Jul 6, 2021 at 20:34

1 Answer 1


I'm going to jump in having blown enough air into a woodwind.

For a flute type horn: Wind instruments make sound by creating a "standing wave" in the instrument. For example, flutists make sound by blowing over the hole which starts the vibration and the rest of the flute shapes the wave. The length of the flute and where a hole is open determines how long the wave length is and that determines the pitch. The shape of the inside of the instrument determines what kind of harmonics and thus the "tone" of the instrument. (For example, the inside of a recorder is tapered while a flute is straight and that is part of the difference in the sound between them.)

So, for a horned creature to play different notes on their horns, they need a way to set the inside length. If there were some muscles that could squeeze the inside shut at different places, then the horn could have different notes.

Brass instruments have lips that set the initial vibration and those vibrate at different frequencies. (see https://www.smithwatkins.com/library/science.html) (Or if you want far more information https://newt.phys.unsw.edu.au/jw/brassacoustics.html) That allows for far more notes to be played with the same length of tube.

If your devil had some voice box or even some flesh flap with a muscle at the start of the horn, then that devil could play quite a number of tones. If the insides of the horns had different lengths, then you could do quite a bit.

The real question is: does the tail have any way of making "music" and if so, what is the source of the initial vibration?

  • $\begingroup$ or they could have holes drilled into their horns in order to change notes ! $\endgroup$
    – tbrugere
    Jul 7, 2021 at 8:00
  • $\begingroup$ Btw, wood instruments (except for flute-like instruments) work the same as brass instruments except the sound is produced by the reed ("mouthpiece"). You could also imagine a system based on the concept of free reed instruments such as harmonicas if you're willing to add an organ to produce sound. I think it all depends on what kind of sound you want your devils to produce $\endgroup$
    – tbrugere
    Jul 7, 2021 at 8:01
  • $\begingroup$ @Nephanth Not quite the same. While the reed starts the vibration, the note is determined by the holes in the instrument. The reed does not have the same range of vibration by itself that lips do. The reeds in a harmonica are all different sizes in order to produce the different tones. $\endgroup$
    – David R
    Jul 7, 2021 at 14:09
  • $\begingroup$ well, yes and no, in a brass instrument while the lips start the vibration, the note is also determined by the length of the instrument: the lips input the note, and the instrument resonates if the frequency is right. Though most brass instruments do not have holes, they have either pistons (trumpets) or slides (trombones), which result in the same effect : changing the length of the cavity. Another option for brass instruments is to have them really long (like hunting horns) so that they may resonate at a lot of harmonics. $\endgroup$
    – tbrugere
    Jul 7, 2021 at 14:43
  • $\begingroup$ Free reeds in a harmonica are a bit of the different system, but what's interesting with them is that they can be "bended" : blowing in a certain way allows one to change the note continuously while staying on the same hole (this is also doable in brass instruments, but is easier on harmonicas. I don't know about wood though, I don't play any wood instrument…). $\endgroup$
    – tbrugere
    Jul 7, 2021 at 14:47

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