Seashells have been used as popular musical instruments, wind instruments for many thousands of years. Most often the shells of large sea snails are used, as trumpets, by cutting a hole in the spire of the shell, or cutting off the tip of the spire altogether. Various different kinds of large marine gastropod shells can be turned into “blowing shells”, however the most commonly encountered species used as “conch” trumpets are:
- The sacred chank, Turbinella pyrum, known in India as the shankha. In Tibet it is known as “dung-dkar”.
- The Triton shell also known as “Triton’s trumpet” Charonia tritonis which is used as a trumpet in Melanesian and Polynesian culture and also in Korea and Japan. In Japan this kind of trumpet is known as the horagai. In Korea it is known as the nagak. In some Polynesian islands it is known as “pu”. 
- Seashell flute tutorial and beautiful unique music lessons by Michael Ryan in our days.
- Seashellmusic.com, an online music store introducing a new and unique line of seashell wind instruments. These instruments were discovered and developed by company founder, Michael Ryan.
- Clean and empty shells can be made into beautiful sounding and looking musical instruments such as twelve note spiral flutes, five note large owl call spiral hoots, two note spiral loon calls, two note small owl call spiral hoots and bird of prey and dolphin call whistle necklaces.
- Ryan’s fourteen year old nephew, Jonathan, taught him how to whistle with an acorn cap in the woods of western Pennsylvania during the early autumn of 2002. It’s an ancient and somewhat obscure nature skill. No one knows who first discovered the skill but it’s been passed from person to person, down through the ages.
Conch (musical instrument)
Hindu priest blowing a ritual trumpet made from Turbinella pyrum
During vacationing in Florida Michael applied the skill to a small clam shell because he wanted to get the attention of two wild dolphins playing in the surf. The dolphins whistled back and came in closer. They whistled back and forth for a few minutes. Back home on Cape Cod Ryan played different shells at various times of the day and night. Great Horned Owls answered the hooting sounds the Muffin Shell (Rysotta Ovum) produced. Mourning Doves flew towards the cooing sounds of the Screw Shell (Terebra Turritella). Loons responded with laugh-like cries to the Golden Mouth Turban Shell. Osprey listened attentively to the sounds made with small clam, limpet and periwinkle shells.
Michael wanted to imitate these animal songs more closely, just for the fun of it, and thought the hollow spiral tubes of the various snail shells ought to behave like flutes if pitch holes were drilled into the shells. He bought a Dremel Drill (high speed rotary drill). Shells are just too hard to drill into using conventional drills and bits.
Ryan used the Terebra Turritella Shell, commonly known by the names Tower Shell, Turret Shell, Unicorn Shell, Auger Shell, Screw Shell, Common Screw Shell and Great Screw Shell because they released an octave and a half of perfect musical notes (the diatonic and chromatic musical scales) by simply drilling five pitch holes following the lengthwise axis line of the shell into whorls 2, 3, 4, 6 and 8. Seashell spiral flutes behave a bit differently than manufactured straight bore flutes, whistle flutes, ocarinas, pan pipes and the like. First of all the tube is a conical helix spiral. That makes the notes lilt and melt into one another. Perhaps that’s why there are at least twelve clear notes available (and maybe more) using only five finger pitch holes. Mother Nature worked it all out millions of years ago. That’s how long the shape of this shell has remained the same, according to Dr. Gary Rosenberg, a Malacologist at the Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, PA.
The Muffin Shell or Cinnamon Bun Shell (Rysotta Ovum) released at least five perfect musical notes (Do, Re, Mi, Fa and Sol) by drilling four pitch holes following X/Y axis lines centered on the shell apex (spiral point or beginning). Pitch hole placement is determined by where the finger tips naturally touch the shell while using the acorn cap whistle technique to resonate the air inside the shell. These ‘touch points’ connect into simple geometric lines. These lines of pitch holes interact with various seashell spirals to release musical scales. Physicists at Rollins College, Winter Park, Florida have been studying why this is so for over four years now without conclusive answers.
The remaining shells in Ryan’s line of seashell musical instruments are not as mysterious or complex. They are more suitable for children six years old and older to play.
The Golden Mouth Turban Shell imitates Loon calls. It has one pitch hole and is easy to operate, with practice. The small owl hoot, made with one pitch hole from either a Whale Eye Shell or Japanese Land Snail Shell is also easy to operate, with practice. The simple clam, limpet and periwinkle adjustable whistle necklaces are the easiest of all to operate, with practice, as they don’t contain any pitch holes. They are just really loud, high pitched whistles, like seashell pasta whistles or acorn cap whistles. They look like a beautiful seashell necklace until you want or need to use them. Then they can make your earrings.
All of the shells Ryan use to make these musical wind instruments are non-endangered, non-threatened, hand collected and very common species. The Terebra Turritella and Rysotta Ovum shells are from the Philippines. The clam shells are fossilized and are from Florida beaches. The limpet shells come from Ireland. The periwinkle shells come from Cape Cod, MA and Florida. The Turban shells come from India. The Japanese Land Snail shells come from Japan.