minstrel: Re: bones

Kathy Lee kal35810 at Jetson.UH.EDU
Sun May 4 19:41:39 PDT 1997

>> But, exactly how does one play a bone?  
>section of a pair of ribs, say eight to nine inches of each, were held in
>one hand between the fingers.  (My brother played them, using the space
>between the first and second finger, and the second and third.)  The other
>hand was used as a secondary striking surface, and the ribs were played by
>rattling them together, striking them against a leg and the hand in rapid
>motions, or swinging them up to work like castenets and then occasionally
>striking them with the free hand to make extra beats.

Not quite ... I think you may be thinking of the "spoons", which don't
necessarily have to be spoons.

Bones are played (let's see if I can actually describe this!) a few
different ways, depending on who you ask.  (Different people hold them in
different fingers, much like bodhran tippers!)  Basically, One is held
between the forefinger and middle finger.  This one doesn't move, and is
planted on the palm of the hand.  The 2nd bone (sometimes shorter) is held
between the 3rd and 4th fingers.  This one moves, and strikes the 1st as you
rotate your wrist.  The bones are played by rotating the wrist, kind of like
turning a doorknob.  When you rotate away from you, the bones click
together.  When you rotate back, they click again.  When you get into a
rhythm, you'll start getting triplets.  The hardest part of playing the
bones is learning to stop them.  Most "bones" that you'll see now are
actually made of wood, from about 6" - 9" long, and slightly curved (like a
rib bone would be).  However, once you learn to play, you can play on
anything from wooden spoons and kitchen knives to ballpoint pens to real
bones.  (A friend of mine plays 2 sets at once!)  Real bones tend to have a
richer and louder sound than wood, and they carry better in an outdoor
setting.  Wooden ones (IMO) sound better on tape, and work better in
enclosed places.  They are also a bit easier to play (not as bulky).

Hope this helps.  I should - but I don't - know the history behind this
instrument.  I do know that they are wonderful at events, they are easily
played in any weather conditions, and they are remarkably portable.  They
fit nicely inside a pouch or a boot, and a bit of percussion can add a lot
at a bardic circle (if you have permission)!  They are also one of the few
instruments that can be heard over the bagpipes!

Can anyone shed any light on their history?


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