Wind instruments--such as flutes, panpipes, and even glass bottles--are able to create sounds due to air being blown over the top of or into an opening on a given instrument. This is largely possible because humans are able to form the correct embouchure with their cheeks and lips, allowing for a steady stream of air and an overall clearer, fuller sound. A creature with a snout, however, lacks these traits and would not be able to make sounds with our wind instruments, instead opting to create their own.

My question, then, is whether it would be possible for a race with snouts to create wind instruments, and if so, how these would work?

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    $\begingroup$ Perhaps relevant: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nose_flute About 10 years ago those kinds of instruments were really popular amongst those younger music hipsters $\endgroup$
    – Raditz_35
    Sep 14, 2017 at 12:27
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    $\begingroup$ Pipe organs are wind instruments too... It's just that the wind is produced mechanically. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Sep 14, 2017 at 13:01
  • $\begingroup$ Some instruments rely on the player's lips to emitt the sound. $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Sep 14, 2017 at 14:37
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    $\begingroup$ This question makes me happy! +1 $\endgroup$
    – Neal
    Sep 14, 2017 at 16:08
  • $\begingroup$ Just because they have snouts does not mean they have incomplete lips, that only occurs with predators and some omnivores. many herbivores with snouts actually have very precise control of their lips, better than humans do. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Sep 14, 2017 at 20:25

8 Answers 8



Other answers have mentioned fippled flutes, otherwise known as whistles, where an unshaped stream of air is blown over a shaped piece of material (bone, wood, ceramic, metal, etc). The player provides the air, but has very limited ability to shape the tone because it's produced by the fipple. Recorders, native american flutes, organs, and Irish whistles are all examples of fippled wind instruments.

Would a snout really stop them?

I'm not convinced that a snout would truly prevent a traditional flute, as long as the creature had sufficient control over the shape of their mouth. A flautist makes a very small hole in the lips to blow a focused stream of air over the flute's chimney. If the whole mouth was open, a human would have nearly as much difficulty as an animal with a snout whose mouth was open. This is true playing both transverse flutes like the westen classical flute or upright flutes like the panpipes. If your creatures communicate verbally, they're likely to have a similar level of control as humans, even with a snout. Whether they can play a wind instrument will depend on their facial musculature more than the shape of their mouth.


Everyone1 in the UK grew up with the plastic descant recorder and the horrible noises made when these tortured instruments were handed out to a primary school class.

Why the descant recorder though?

For two basic reasons

  1. It's cheap
  2. Embouchure doesn't matter, it'll make a noise

The total lack of consideration for embouchure by the average child is compensated for by the shape of the mouthpiece. The shrieks emitted from these poor instruments merely a function of how hard said child blew down it.

While this particular instrument may not be ideal for your situation, the basic principle of design would certainly be transferable.

1 For a given value of everyone

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    $\begingroup$ Kids' recorder classes aren't the recorder's fault! You can get a good sounding recorder for about $20, and with a good player it's actually pleasant to listen to. $\endgroup$
    – Karen
    Sep 14, 2017 at 13:49
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    $\begingroup$ Technically you could argue that you don't really need embouchure for a lot of wind instruments, but that still doesn't change the need for lips and cheeks to create a stream of air to go through the instrument. You can't just breathe heavily in the general direction of the mouthpiece and expect a sound. Still, thanks for the reminder of elementary school "concerts". Recorders are absolutely a thing in the U.S. as well. $\endgroup$
    – Pleiades
    Sep 14, 2017 at 15:32
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    $\begingroup$ I always figured the problem was that they hand the recorders out to kids who have no interest in playing music, don't teach proper fingering patterns, and don't teach proper breath control, then have them put in a couple days worth of practice at most before shuffling them off to "play" something for the parents. And embouchure does matter for them, just not as much. You can get one octave out of it with practically no control at all, but if you have good control over the direction of the air any decent recorder will give you two octaves of range. $\endgroup$
    – Perkins
    Sep 14, 2017 at 23:18
  • $\begingroup$ @Pleiades, I laid off the bagpipes, I'm fairly sure you want musical instruments not offensive weapons, but some are entirely bellows blown. $\endgroup$
    – Separatrix
    Sep 18, 2017 at 7:35

Probably something like how a whistle works, where the air enters a chamber, goes through a windway, and then over the mouth opening:

enter image description here

If the windway was shaped similar to how human lips form the air then you could get a pretty consistent flow and sound.


They might use their nostrils. I have a friend who can play a regular flute with her nose, there's no reason your snouted creatures would not be able to play an instrument specifically created to be played this way.

Also, if your creatures have such a hard time plying wind instruments, they might simply never invent them or the instruments might never become popular.


A bagpipe could work. The bag itself is what supplies the air to the chanter (melody pipe) and drones. The mouthpiece is just used to keep the bag filled, and there are pipes that use a bellows instead of needing the player to supply the wind.

A simple bagpipe with a single chanter and no drones could sound very similar to a clarinet, though with a constant tone throughout the performance.


The answers already given regarding fipple flutes (recorders, whistles, etc) and bagpipes are excellent, but there might be more options.

Most woodwind instruments depend on the position and tension of the lips (the "embouchure") to control the speed and direction of the air column and the vibration of the reed. It might be possible to exert similar control by using hand1 pressure; imagine a rubber tube, say, coming from the player's snout and stretched over the mouthpiece of a clarinet. The player could then wrap their fingers1 around the mouthpiece and apply pressure to control the reed.

You might be able to manage a transverse flute or a brass instrument in a similar way, but I suspect the results would be better with reeds.

1For sufficient values of "hand" and "finger"


They would place a bag over their snout enabling them to blow into their instrument despite the obstacle of their snout

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    $\begingroup$ Please edit your answer to explain how this would help. $\endgroup$ Sep 14, 2017 at 14:33

"Have a snout" is too general to give a good answer. You have to know how well this race can direct/manipulate a stream of air before you can wonder which kinds of wind instruments they could use. The more control it has, the larger the range of instruments it can play.

Wind instruments are instruments where the sound comes from agitating a column of air. This agitation can be done by the vibrating lips of the player (brass instruments -- even if the instrument is made from wood), or because air is blown over or against something (a reed for instance) which makes the air vibrate.

But this can also be done indirectly, or mechanically. A bagpipe player only uses his/her month to pressurize a bag (and to keep it pressurized). The bag is then squeezed causing the chanter and drones to create a sound. Pipe and pump (or reed) organs use pumps to blow air into pipes, no mouth required. Squeezeboxes use bellows to vibrate framed reeds. And then there are the mechanical organs, which are either hand cranked or machine driven, and which use music books, barrels or rolls to direct air flow to pipes.


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