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The Fine Art of Playing the Washboard

In our THIRD unit of Kindermusik for the Young Child, we study musical instruments, styles and cultures from around North America.  We start with the unique music from the Appalachian Mountains.   Students are introduced to a wide variety of objects that they may have never considered as instruments – spoons, for example, a musical saw, a jaw harp (who sees or hears one of those these days?). 

But, by far, the students are intrigued by the use of a washboard as an instrument.  I can play a bit of fun rhythms in class.  But the real “current” specialist in this instrument, and all sorts of old time music instruments, is David Holt.  For an EXCELLENT history of how this music developed, you simply MUST see his website: www.davidholt.com , and click on “The Roots of Mountain Music”.   

In this video, David introduces (by picture) the oldest person in the world, Susie Brunson.  Susie was happy to share her music with him, but longed to hear “a good washboard player at least one more time”, so she convinced him to play it, and taught him how to set it up, and play it right – with thimbles. 

There are many fine musicians that have used this instrument in the past, and David Holt has made it his life’s goal to interview all of the “masters” of their art, and to learn from them, allowing generations of music and song, to be passed down another generation.  And he is dedicated to sharing his knowledge with further generations.  

In this next video, he interviews William Cook in West Palm Beach, Florida.  William Cook, is known as “Washboard Bill” and is “the world’s best washboard player”.  Just check out his instrumental set up.  The interview was in 1988 when Cook was 82.


That ought to give you a special taste of that Mountain Music, and leave you wanting to find one of those special “lingerie” washboards.  I have TWO to play in MY KIndermusik class, with thimbles or spoons.  Don’t you wish you were in my class to try them out ?!


6 Responses

  1. ‘Washboard Bill’ is so cool! Thank you for sharing that video.
    And about your question “who sees or hears one of those these days” – well, we here in NYC are blessed with the presence of the ‘Saw Lady’ who keeps the art of playing a musical saw alive. Here is a link to the NYC Musical Saw Festival she puts together every year:
    There is a video at the bottom, and at the end of the video there are 30 saw players playing together!

  2. Wow! I am TRULY amazed at how versatile the musical saw can be. I checked out The Saw Lady’s blog and website. I HIGHLY recommend for ANYONE to watch the video at the bottom of the blog link she includes, and just be astounded – she plays pieces on the musical saw with the orchestra, with handbells, and with a group of 30 musical saw players. At her festival, it was fascinating to observe the variety of saws and how different people play them. This is far beyond my expectations for a musical saw. My eyes, and my ears have been opened. I just didn’t hear any Appalachian style music – yet.

  3. washboard bill needs to play with me

  4. That’s some funky washboard playing, Jo! Very cool YouTube video! I’m SURE Washboard Bill would have LOVED you to play with him! I can see it now – Dueling washboards!

  5. Very good post. I’ve found your blog via Bing and I’m really glad about the information you provide in your articles. Btw your blogs layout is really messed up on the Chrome browser. Would be really great if you could fix that. Anyhow keep up the great work!

  6. Hey everyone, great article! We are wanting to make some video tutorials for playing the musical washboard and are looking for people to help share their knowledge. Anyone interested? It’s for a DIY Instruments section featuring washtub bass, cigar box guitar and the musical washboard. Checkout our site here for more about us and the project: http://www.musiceducationmadness.org

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