The cuckoo has long been a symbol of cuckoldry from Shakespeare to the Disney channel, but did you know this musical bird also inspired the door bell and the bell itself?
The common cuckoo calls in major thirds, and almost exclusively in C major. Click on the score below to listen.
“Go-koo,” he calls, and the girl-bird returns a bubbly answer.
Actually, the cuckoo changes his interval throughout the season. As Margaret A. Barrett write in The Musical Times:
The cuckoo begins early in the season with the interval of a minor third, the bird then proceeds to a major third, next to a fourth, then a fifth, after which his voice breaks without attaining a minor sixth.
In June, the cuckoo actually forgets how to sing. The cuckoo cucks himself, as it were.
Much ado has been made on this blog about the natural evolution of the major third interval in our industrial soundscape, from the influence of the Harmonic series to Big Ben’s Westminster Quarters. But the cuckoo’s C major call is the ultimate inspiration for the Quarters, the door bell, convenience store ding, and of course, the cuckoo clock. He spread his cuckolding ways around the world as a migrant and a vagrant, from Peru to the Bronx.
On the clock, the cuckoo’s call is set to the off-beat. The bong of the bell lands on the beat, preferably at 60 beats per minute in 4/4 time. Cuckoo clocks are commonly set in C major. The world’s biggest cuckoo clock in Triberg is close-by in B major. Show starts at 00:58. From the Black Forest, the birthplace of the cuckoo clock.
I’ve always been fascinated by cuckoo clocks. They make time fun. By drawing my childlike attention to the rhythm of time, with its boom-tick rock beat pattern, the cuckoo clock strongly swayed my decision to play drums. Also, Father said to me, “You will play drums, son.” And like all rock drummers, I have long since synced my heartbeat to clock-time. My heart kicks at an even 60 BPMs throughout the day and it don’t stop till I get enough.
From horse beats to bird tunes, we set nature to a machine and call it music. So it makes sense to honor the cuckoo and his inspiration for the bells, by placing him at the top of the clock—the cuck of the rock.
Also, check out this awesome song by Beethoven that features the cuckoo major third among other musical birds.
 Barrett, M. (1897). “The Cuckoo’s Notes”. The Musical Times and Singing Class Circular