Music Question- What's It Called When You Use An Instrument to Make a Sound Effect?

For example, when they play the trumpet (or trombone or whatever) to make it stand in for the voice of an adult in the Charlie Brown TV shows?

Is there a technical term for that?

I doubt there is a technical term. I’ve never encountered one.

I just thought it was part of the Foley work, since they’re in charge of sound effects.

“Sound design” should just about cover it - you take what you have to hand to make the sound that you want, be it trombone, trumpet, washboard, small fighter plane or a wet fish…


I’m not a musician, but I think I played one once in a school production. I took one and a half years in middle school, on the French horn. First chair, no less. I got to the point of being able to tell between a fermata and a bass clef, but not much further than that. I think the term you’re looking for is called ‘playing’ the instrument.


Another vote for “Foley work” as a good catch-all. The particular sound you cited from Charlie Brown would be muted brass instruments. Muted, and probably compressed like crazy.

I vote against “Foley work”. I think the OP is referring to extended techniques on standard musical instruments. Not slapping some wet celery on a countertop.

Yes, that’s it.

Here’s another example. On the orchestral versions of Sleigh Ride that I’ve heard, there’s a portion where it sounds like they’re using the trumpet(?) to sound like a horse whinnying.

Ooh, this is triggering a dim memory from my days in music school…

I think there is a term for vocalizing through an instrument. I can’t remember what it is, but I’ll start looking. I don’t recall a term specifically for using an instrument as a sound effect, though.

My favorite example of this technique is in Jimi Hendrix’s version of ‘The Star Spangled Banner’. Does a very good imitation of a shell falling and then exploding by hitting a high harmonic and bringing it down in pitch with the t-bar, then pushing the t-bar so far down the strings hang loose against the pickups and rattling them.

… or that bluegrass tune where a fiddle sounds like a train.

This music dictionary calls it imitation (definintion 2). Seems almost too obvious, but I think we have our answer.

Don’t remember a name for the caracterized sound, but thought I’d comment on a musician I know who’s career was formed partly on these “sound effects.” Speedy West is a legendary originator of the steel guitar’s sounds, and got plenty of work in the 40’s & 50’s doing “sound effects” for Disney an other cartoons. As I remember cartoons being full of cool sounds that could be copied as a kid. But don’t forget Spike Jones band! There was a good example of instruments making noise!

Ever see Ben Folds play the inside of a piano with a melodica? It’s bad-ass. He does it on “Smoke”. How he came up with that sound I’ll never know.

That looks about as close as any you’ll find.

Yeah, man…that one. No one’s ever been able to duplicate that.