A Musical instrument in your Kitchen - Playing the Spoons
Posted on 19th January 2021 at 11:12
A Musical instrument in your kitchen? A Beginners' Guide to Playing the Spoons
Is there an instrument you can play at home, without buying special equipment? Can you make music from items already in your house? The answers are yes, and yes. You can make sounds and rhythms with a percussion instrument that you'll find in your kitchen.
Spoons have been used to make rhythmic percussion music since ancient times. The Romans, Greeks and ancient Egyptians all played spoons. The spoons can be classified as an "idiophone". An idiophone is an instrument made of resonant, solid material. When it is struck, shaken or scraped, the whole thing vibrates to produce a sound. Gongs, bells, castanets and rattles are all idiophones. The spoons vibrate when you learn to hit one against another.
In this series of short videos, we find out how to play the spoons. We'll learn with Music Workshop Company workshop leader, Jo May. Jo is a professional orchestral percussionist. She plays instruments that are used in orchestral music. These include the drums, xylophone and glockenspiel. She also plays folk music, Afro-Brazilian music and Afro-Cuban music.
Spoon playing helps develop fine motor skills. It's also a great way to learn about rhythm, and to engage with music.
Is a Spoon an Instrument?
You can hear spoon playing in folk music from many different countries. In Russia, groups called "lozhkari" use highly decorated, painted wooden spoons. In this video, children play in dance-like energetic, physical patterns. Spoons bounce off hands, knees and feet. They use foot stamps and shouts to build excitement.
In this performance, spoons are used like castanets, and the children play a range of percussion instruments. The boys each begin with four spoons.
Ready to get started? Let's learn how to make music with spoons.
First, Choose Your Spoons
Take a look in your cutlery drawer. If you're learning at home, get an adult to help.
In our video, Jo begins with two ordinary metal soup spoons. But you can play with all sorts of spoons, as long as you find two the same size and shape.
Some people find straight handled spoons more comfortable. You'll notice some spoons have round-edged handles and others have flat handles. The spoons with a rounded handle are a bit nicer to hold.
Some spoons are made specially for playing. These are often made out of wood or metal. Sometimes they’re joined up with a handle.
Which do you think produces a more mellow sound? A wooden spoon or a metal spoon?
The types of wooden spoons we use for cooking aren’t so easy to play. They don't have the round "bowls" that make the sound, and they tend to be a bit big and heavy.
Plastic picnic spoons or measuring spoons can be a good place to start.
How to Hold the Spoons
Now you have your spoons, we're going to learn how to hold them.
Let’s watch the video to see how Jo holds her spoons. Then we’ll review what she says:
• Take your spoons in your "playing" hand. This will probably be the same hand you write with. Choose the hand that feels more comfortable.
• Turn the spoons back-to-back.
• Now, take your first finger and place it between the two spoon handles, just past its first joint. That top joint of your first finger then curves around the top spoon.
• Rest your thumb along the top of the upper spoon.
• Your thumb and first finger should now be gripping the top spoon.
• Your other three fingers grip the bottom spoon. You will have three fingers underneath the spoons.
• Next, make sure there is a small gap between the bowls of the spoons. This is so that when you tap them, they make a sound
• Now try tapping the spoons on your other hand, or on your legs. Don't tap too hard.
It’s normal for the spoons to come apart at first. If your spoons don't stay lined up, try pressing a little harder with your thumb. Or grip more tightly with the three fingers under the spoons.
Just like learning to hold any instrument, holding the spoons takes a bit of getting used to.
Is the gap between your spoons too big or small? Try holding slightly higher or lower along the length of the spoon handles. Experiment to see what works.
Next steps: Once you feel comfortable holding your spoons, you can begin tapping rhythms - click here for part 2 in our Spoons series.
If you’d like some more ideas about music making at home, check out our blog on Body Percussion.
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