minstrel: Re: bones

Edwin Hewitt brogoose at pe.net
Mon May 5 20:17:53 PDT 1997

At 10:12 AM 5/4/97 -0400, Consortmus wrote:
>But, exactly how does one play a bone? 

I can play the bones, but how to describe it in text goes beyond my 
confidence.  I hope this gives some small clue:

Bones seem easiest to play if they are about the size of your outstretched 
hand.  They must curve a little, so when they strike each other they only 
strike at a single point of each curve.  Rib bones do this naturally, but 
wood must be cut or bent.

To hold the bones (and I have a whole skit to teach it) you first extend
your center finger.  I call this saluting your instructor.  Place a bone
on each side of the finger.  The curves should face each other. 
Extend all your fingers and make sure the bones don't fall on the ground.
Slide the bones so that most of each bone is on the palm side of your hand.
The bones will stick out the back side no more than an inch or so.

Mechanics of the grip:  The bone resting between your center finter and 
your ring finger will serve as the "anvil" of the two.  The other bone will
be the "free" bone.  When you actually begin to play the bones, the free 
bone will move with an exaggerated movement, powered by enertia.  The 
anviled bone will move, but it will move only with your hand.  The amount
of "play" or movement of the free bone will be adjusted by the amount of
pressure you put on it from your pointer finger and center finger.  This is
important!  Too much movement will cause it to fly out of your hand.  Too
little play and it will not hit the anvil.

At this point I need you to think visually.  Imagine the (NY) Italian 
gesture made by taking your thumb nail behind your front tooth and making
it click off your tooth by moving your thumb quickly forward.  Got that

Okay, playing the bones is just like that movement.  

The movement is a spiral rotation of your forarm and hand in a forward 
"over the top" movement.  Do this with the same gusto as an Italian.
If you held the anvil bone steady and the free bone lightly, then you should
have been rewarded with a click of the two bones snapping together.  If you
did a really good job, you might have even got a double hit - but that's
an advanced concept.

I should mention at this point that the main movement is foward, but the
return movement will produce a click after some practice.  Eventually,
you should be able to produce a triplet from one full movement fore to 
back.  It may take some practice at this before you get any true control
over the bones and can keep time.  Variations in the rhythm are dependent
on control of the free bone.  After a while it will all seem quite

Last hint, if your arm or wrist feels uncomfortable, or if you get tired
quickly, you're working too hard.  Remember to think Italian.

Full-time Idealist, Part-time Realist.

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