What Is An Otamatone?

Get ready to hear Nessun Dorma as you’ve never heard it before; played on a Japanese Otamatone. In a wonderfully weird, yet fabulously emotional performance, Juanjo Monserrat played the famous opera tune on Spain’s Got Talent in 2021.

When he appeared on stage he was alone, and the judges watched with interest to see what he was going to do. They probably expected him to sing or even tell jokes. Their looks changed to confusion when he adjusted the microphone to the level of his groin!

Happily, nothing untoward was happening. Once the microphone was set he pulled out a small yellow instrument. It was the shape of a musical quaver, and the rounded end had a face and mouth. It looked so silly it was impossible not to laugh. When he started playing it, though, all laughter stopped. The otamatone made a noise halfway between music and singing and the tune was clearly recognisable as Nessun Dorma.

As Juanjo continued to play, the judges’ expressions were full of amusement and delight. Most types of performance have been seen at one country’s Got Talent show or another, but this one was truly unique.

At the end of his rendition, Janjo got the biggest accolade possible; he received the golden buzzer (which each judge can only use once per season) and was sent straight through to the live shows. You really need to watch this amazing performance, so check it out now.

Once you’ve watched the video you may want to know more about this strange instrument. Let’s talk about what an otamatone is, where it came from and how it works.

The otamatone was created jointly by the CUBE toy company and the Maywa Denki design firm in Japan. It was created and released as a toy in 2009 and has been one of the highest-selling musical toys every year since. It got its name because it looks a little like a tadpole and otamajakushi is the Japanese word for tadpole.

The otamatone is a synthesizer, and it requires two hands to play. The first hand opens and closes the mouth at the bottom of the instrument. The other hand presses on a ribbon along the neck (known as the tail) to control pitch, as you would on a guitar or violin. There are switches behind the mouth to control volume and change the octave.

Further effects can be added by increasing and decreasing pressure on the mouth which will make a wah-wah sound. It’s also possible to create a vibrato sound by shaking the neck. This means that a surprisingly complex, multilayered sound can be created using this simple instrument.

The otamatone has been so popular that various versions have been created since its launch. There is a very small model that can fit on a keyring called the Otamatone Melody and also a deluxe version that is larger and has more features built-in. Finally, as you may expect from a Japanese instrument, there are special editions such as Hello Kitty.

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