Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
The cowbell is a percussion instrument.
In areas where cattle, sheep, and goats are free to roam, bells may be used to identify those belonging to a particular herd and help trace their whereabouts when the herdsman needs to gather them in. They are commonly trapezoid, cylindrical or cup-shaped. These bells have been used in various musical contexts.
Greek herdsmen often use several bells attached to principal animals which produce a distinctive chord. The scale on which this chord is based is then reproduced in the herdsman's pipe - so he can play along with the herd! Similar bells have been used in Western European "Classical" music where a pastoral mood is invoked.
Clapperless cowbells made of metal are an important element in Latin-American and go go music. These cowbells are struck with a stick - the tone being modulated by striking different parts of the bell and by damping with the hand holding the bell.
In several parts of the world (notably in West Africa) pairs or trios of clapperless bells are joined in such a way that they can be struck separately or clashed together. The Brasilian name for these is "agogo" bells. Cylindrical wood blocks played in the same way are also called "agogo". Many popular recordings have featured the cowbell, including War's Low Rider and the Beatles' "Taxman", "A Hard Day's Night", and "Drive My Car".
During a popular Saturday Night Live sketch, Christopher Walken played famous music producer Bruce Dickinson, insisting that "more cowbell" is the key to making Blue Öyster Cult's "(Don't Fear) The Reaper" a success: "Guess what? I got a fever. And the only prescription... is more cowbell."
Cowbells are sometimes popular noisemakers at sporting events, despite attempts to suppress them. In the United States, they are most closely identified with Mississippi State University, whose football fans smuggle in cowbells by the thousands despite a ban on artificial noisemakers by its conference, the Southeastern Conference. The San Jose SaberCats of the Arena Football League are also (in)famous for their fans' use of cowbells. In New Zealand, supporters of the Waikato Rugby Union invariably use cowbells at home matches.
The Roland TR-808 drum machine was noted for its distinctive cowbell sound, which sounded almost nothing like an actual cowbell; the sound was highly electronic with a sharp, short delay. Regardless of its lack of realism, the TR-808 cowbell became a popular sound in 1980s R&B and hip hop music, popularized by Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis-produced artists such as The SOS Band and Janet Jackson.
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