David Holt,
Folk Rhythms:
Learn to Play Spoons, Bones,
Washboard, Hambone & the Paper Bag

(Hal Leonard, 1996)

Even if you never intends to learn any of the techniques David Holt teaches on this video, it is worth owning simply because it is so entertaining. My friends and I sat around and watched the entire video with delight as Holt gave detailed instructions, slow demonstrations and then performances of each folk instrument.

Holt is a professional musician (his preferred instruments are an open-back/clawhammer banjo and harmonica), folk historian and storyteller. He has spent a good part of his life traveling all over the U.S. and the world interviewing, documenting and learning folk music traditions and stories from elderly people (one woman was 123 years old!) in an effort to preserve their music traditions and stories for posterity. The National Endowment for the Arts has sponsored many of his trips to foreign countries by sending him as a cultural evoy to represent American folk music traditions to places as diverse as Nepal, Thailand, South America and Africa. Many of the songs and tales he has collected over the past 20 years are now part of the permanent collection of the Library of Congress.

On this video he starts off teaching how to play the spoons, including how to hold them properly, the best kind of handles and rhythms. My friends and I were surprised to see how really easy it is to play spoons and get various rhythms and sounds from them -- especially with wooden spoons, which definitely sound the best. Spoons are so easy I think everybody who wants to learn to play them will have no trouble at all learning. He gives a short performance of what good spoon playing sounds like when used as backup rhythm to the guitar. (Folk guitarist Happy Traum joins him for a short performance.)

He then moves on to the hambone -- using various drumming rhythmic patterns on your body that, when pieced together, are a delight to hear, watch or perform yourself. Everyone in my group really liked this section of the video. It requires no money to start and the rhythms not only sound great but are entertaining to boot.

Next up is the washboard. This is the section when he mentions having learned from a 123-year-old woman how they were played when she was a little girl. The washboard was the only instrument available for her community and a lot of different tapping rhythms were developed. Tapping, in fact, turns out to be the predominant way to play a washboard -- not the rubbing sound which I thought would be. Rubbing is only used sparingly for short accents.

Next, bones. Holt admits it will take more time to learn how to play them simply because the movements -- from the elbow, not the wrist or fingers as I would have guessed -- are unfamiliar. It may take several weeks to get the hang of playing them but the results are fantastic. He shows two main types of rhythms and then performs both single and double bone playing (bones in both hands). The final section focuses on the paper bag. This was rather funny -- Holt actually played a paper bag once on the old TV show Hee Haw.

I would definitely recommend this video to anyone. It's great to have simply to watch since it's so entertaining. Fortunately, Holt also simplifies and breaks down every move and technique so it's even more fun to learn and play along. If you have any curiousity or interest in learning how to play these old folk instruments and rhythms you won't be disappointed with this video.

- Rambles
written by Dana Fletcher
published 15 February 2003

Buy it from Amazon.com.