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Playing the Spoons: A Folk Music and Percussion Instrument

Linda Crampton has loved music since childhood. She plays the piano and recorder, sings, and listens to classical, folk, and early music.

For some people, this is a photo of cutlery. For others, it shows a musical instrument.

For some people, this is a photo of cutlery. For others, it shows a musical instrument.

The Joy of Playing the Spoons

Using spoons to produce rhythmic percussion music has been popular since ancient times. The sounds are made by striking the bowl of one spoon against the bowl of another, by striking spoons against other objects, or by doing both of these things at the same time. Creating a variety of sounds and rhythms is a fun process even in its simplest form while holding one spoon in each hand. It becomes even more enjoyable as new playing techniques are learned.

Modern players often hold two spoons between different fingers in the same hand. Controlling the utensils in this position requires a bit of practice but is worthwhile because it enables new rhythms to be produced. Other players hold two spoons in one hand and a third in the other. Some hold even more than this as they create music. There is plenty of scope for the imagination when playing the spoons.

Vash is a folk percussionist who performs and teaches. He plays the bodhran (a type of frame drum) and bones as well as the spoons. The bones that people play are described later in this article.

Musical and Instrument Options

Spoons are played by professional folk musicians as well as jazz, rock, and classical musicians. They are also played by enthusiastic amateurs. The sound produced by the spoons depends on their composition, size, and shape, the way in which they are held, the parts of the spoons that collide with each other, and the objects that they strike. It also depends on the number of spoons in an instrument.

Musicians sometimes hit their spoons against different parts of their bodies, inanimate objects, or other percussive instruments, such as tuning forks. I've heard about people holding and playing up to five spoons at once. Maybe someone has managed even more. The many options available allow a variety of sounds to be produced.

Different spoons can produce different sounds when used as an instrument.

Different spoons can produce different sounds when used as an instrument.

In some countries and musical styles, wooden spoons are played instead of metal ones. The convex surfaces of spoon bowls or the concave ones are used to produce a sound.

Producing a Sound

In the most common method of playing the instrument in North America, two spoons are held in one hand with the outer surfaces of the bowls (or the bottom of the spoons) facing each other. Each spoon is held between a different pair of fingers so that there is a small space between them. The upper spoon is then struck against the lower one at the same time as the lower spoon is struck against the thigh, creating a percussive sound. This motion is repeated to create a rhythm.

Paired spoons are struck against other body surfaces, including the knee, palm, fingers, head, and jaw. Using them to hit other objects can produce interesting variations in sound. In addition, two spoons held in one hand can be struck together in the air, like castanets.

Another interesting possibility is the combination of spoon playing with foot percussion. Foot percussion often means the use of foot drums, but foot tambourines, ankle rattles, and ankle bells are available as well. Some foot percussion may be suitable for playing at the same time as spoons, but louder forms may need to alternate with the utensils to prevent drowning out their sound.

David Holt plays traditional American music and works to preserve it. He's a storyteller as well as a musician. He plays the guitar and banjo as well as spoons, bones, the washboard, and other folk instruments.

Idiophone Facts

Spoons are a type of idiophone—an instrument that produces sound from the vibrations of the instrument itself instead of from the vibrations of a string or a membrane attached to the instrument or of air passing through it.

Idiophones may be struck (such as spoons and castanets), rubbed (singing bowls and the musical or singing saw), or plucked (jaw harp). An interesting idiophone that doesn't fit into any of these categories is the wobble board. As its name suggests, it’s a flat piece of material that produces a sound as it’s wobbled. Rolf Harris (an Australian entertainer) is credited with the invention of the instrument, though he may have simply popularized it.

The History of Spoon Playing

The tradition of playing spoons is thought to have begun with "playing the bones". This was a technique in which music was created when two rib bones from a sheep or another animal were struck together. Playing the bones is still a popular activity, although now artificial bones are generally used. Spoons have been used as eating utensils since Paleolithic times, so it’s possible that playing the spoons developed very early in our history. The early versions were made of bone or wood.

Using spoons to produce music is popular in many countries, including Ireland, Russia, Turkey, Greece, Australia, the United States, and parts of Canada. New sounds and rhythms are continually being produced by creative players. Some people have even played electrically amplified spoons.

Dave Ruch is a performer, teacher, and music researcher who plays plucked string instruments and the spoons. He works with K-12 (Kindergarten to Grade 12) students as well as adults.

Creating Your Own Music

Spoons have been widely played because they are an inexpensive and easily obtained instrument, aren’t hard to master (as long as one isn't discouraged by an awkward start), and are portable. In addition, they can provide a percussive and sometimes exciting rhythm that is appealing to our senses, just like the beat of a drum. The sound of musical spoons is generally weaker than the sound of a drum beat, though.

Even if you’ve never played spoons or another instrument before, you could get the utensils from your kitchen right now and start creating music with them. It’s important not to give up in the very early stages of making music with spoons. Regular practice will improve your skills, and learning new playing techniques will increase your enjoyment of the instrument.

At first, manipulating two spoons in one hand will probably be hard, as it was for me. The utensils will probably flop around in your hand, and it will be hard to coordinate their movements and slap them together. Very quickly though, you should develop some control over your new instrument. I attained a little control before the end of my first practice session. If you practice for a short time each day your control will improve, enabling you to create the enticing rhythms played in the videos in this article.

Abby the spoon lady (or Abby Roach) is a street musician and an activist for busking. She hosts a radio show called Busker Broadcast. In the video above, she plays with Chris Rodrigues. The duo’s rendition of “Angels in Heaven” is very popular.

Choosing Spoons for Creating Music

Experts say that the best spoons for playing have wide and flat handle tips as well as a flat shank. Those made of pure silver dent too easily when played. Some people like to collect different types of spoons to see what sorts of sounds they make and what they feel like when they’re played. Collecting unusual spoons becomes an extension of their music hobby.

Musical spoons are sold in music stores and online. These are wooden or metal objects that are joined together at one end. While many have a traditional spoon shape, some look like long and narrow wooden blocks. I think that part of the charm of playing the spoons is that cutlery can become a musical instrument. Some people are willing to pay money for an instrument, though.

It’s good to practice playing with different types of spoons, including the usual kinds that most people have in their kitchen. If you do this, even when you’re visiting friends or relatives without your preferred utensils, you can still create music.

In Britain and Eastern Canada, the spoons are often played as an accompaniment to fiddle music. In the United States, they may accompany folk instruments such as the jug and the washboard.

Two spoons make a musical instrument.

Two spoons make a musical instrument.

Musical Fun

Spoons are all you need to have fun with rhythm, whether you are playing on your own or with other people. Accompanying the utensils with another instrument will give an added dimension to the music. This may be enjoyable, but it isn’t essential. Cutlery on its own offers many possibilities.

As a Doctor Who fan, I have to end this article with a short video of Sylvester McCoy— the seventh doctor—playing the spoons while in character. It's a shame that this ability wasn't passed along to the doctor's regenerated forms. (The doctor periodically changes his/her appearance, or regenerates, which allows a new actor to play the role.) I would love to hear the latest doctor playing the spoons. As strange as it may sound, Sylvester McCoy also played the spoons in his stage role as the Fool in King Lear. He’s a keen player, as are many other musicians.

I play the spoons in everything I can, and I’ve got them into King Lear! It’s in my contract, à la W. C. Fields. He used to insist on juggling in every film he made - even Great Expectations, but with me it’s the spoons."

— Sylvester McCoy

A Reference and a Resource

© 2012 Linda Crampton


Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on April 25, 2020:

Yes, it would be great to come out of quarantine with a new skill! I hope you stay well, too.

W Draven on April 25, 2020:

Very cool article Linda, thank you. Figure it would be great to come out of this quarantine with a new skill or knowledge. Better to spend time mastering this than keeping up with the Kardashians/pandemic. Both equally toxic, LOL. Be well.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on September 29, 2019:

Thanks for the comment, Denise. Playing the spoons is fun. I'm sure I would be a better player if I practiced more regularly, though.

Blessings to you.

Denise McGill from Fresno CA on September 29, 2019:

This was great information. My father showed me how to play spoons when I was about 10 and I've played around with them on and off but I wasn't aware of all the rest of the information you shared. Thanks.



Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on February 23, 2018:

Thank you very much for the visit and comment. I hope you have an enjoyable weekend.

DREAM ON on February 23, 2018:

I always loved the sound of spoons. I have heard people playing them but have long forgotten about it. Now you put one and one together for me. I watched the videos and they are so fun. I tried and will be back to try some more. Work comes first and spoon playing will come later. Thank you so much for an informative and helpful hub. Have a great Friday.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on January 23, 2018:

I love hearing how you make music, Janet. I've never thought of carrying spoons in my purse before. I like that idea.

Janet on January 23, 2018:

I keep a pair of spoons in my purse at all times. I pull them out to enjoy for myself any time I hear music playing. I have 4 pair for different sounds though my favorite sound I keep with me. I also have 3 different size washbaords. Music is an international language.......

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on January 08, 2018:

Thanks for the comment and the advice, Deb.

Deb Spoons Peryy on January 08, 2018:

Thanks Linda, I enjoyed reading your article.

Keep practising and most of all have fun with them and play to music you like.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on September 23, 2017:

It might be more accurate to say that I play with spoons rather than I play them! I lack consistency. If I practice regularly I start to get somewhere and have fun, but if I let my practice slide I have to start the learning process all over again.

Natalie Frank from Chicago, IL on September 23, 2017:

Thanks. Do you play them? If so how long did ig take you to learn?

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on September 22, 2017:

Hi, Natalie. Thanks for the visit and the comment. I think you'll find the bigger spoons significantly easier to use. Good luck with your efforts to play the spoons!

Natalie Frank from Chicago, IL on September 22, 2017:

I love watching people play the spoons. I tried it from these videos but think I need tablespoons since the teaspoons weren't long enough. Unfortunately all my tablespoons are dirty so I'll have to wait until I run the dishwasher! Thanks for another great article!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on September 28, 2016:

Thanks for the comment, Nadine. I appreciate your visit.

Nadine may on September 28, 2016:

What an entertaining hub. I loved the videos' Learned a great deal here. Many thanks.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on July 08, 2016:

Hi, Flourish. Learning how to play the spoons would probably be great fun for children. Thanks for the visit.

FlourishAnyway from USA on July 08, 2016:

When I saw this, I immediately thought of my brother's children. They are homeschooled and like to make their own fun. This certainly falls in line with that philosophy.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on May 09, 2016:

Hi, RTalloni. Yes, it is interesting that playing the spoons has such a wide appeal. It's an enjoyable activity.

RTalloni on May 09, 2016:

Isn't it amazing that playing the spoons has such a wide spread and long history? The mountain music is so winsome. Thanks for highlighting this folk art form.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on February 16, 2015:

Thank you very much for the comment, Abby! I appreciate your visit.

Spoon Lady on February 16, 2015:

I very much enjoyed your article. - Abby the Spoon Lady

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on April 17, 2013:

Hi, Anonymous. HubPages doesn't display the date of publication on a Hub, although they keep a record of this date. If you'd like to know if the people in the videos are currently performing or teaching you could check out the videos on YouTube.

Anonymous on April 17, 2013:

I was wondering when this article was written. i can't seem to find it

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on April 18, 2012:

Thanks for the comment and the votes, Judi Bee! Spoon playing is fun, but I quickly lose the skill of manipulating the spoons if I stop practicing. It's amazing what the professional players can do!

Judi Brown from UK on April 18, 2012:

Spoon playing fascinated me when I was a young child - I used to try for ages, but never got anywhere. Maybe I should give it another go....

Voted up etc.

Justin W Price from Juneau, Alaska on February 18, 2012:

well, i may just have too...

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on February 13, 2012:

Thanks, PDXKaraokeGuy. Thanks for the comment. I hope you enjoy playing the spoons if you start again!

Justin W Price from Juneau, Alaska on February 13, 2012:

fun hub, alicia. I forgot all about playing spoons... i used to play them all the time!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on January 25, 2012:

Thank you for commenting, Simone. Yes, producing music with spoons is neat, and it's fun as well!

Simone Haruko Smith from San Francisco on January 25, 2012:

So neat! I didn't know what idiophones were before reading this. And who knew spoon (or bone) playing went back so far? What fun!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on January 22, 2012:

Thank you very much for the comment, Tina! Yes, playing the spoons is a fun activity for children, and it's enjoyable for adults as well. Producing music with spoons allows people to be creative, too.

Christina Lornemark from Sweden on January 22, 2012:

What a great hub about playing the spoons! The music and the video lessons was very interesting! I have only seen it on TV before so I guess it is not so common here where I live. It looks so fun and I can imagine kids having fun while trying too!

Thanks for writing about this unusual instrument. I have learned something new!


Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on January 22, 2012:

Hi, Lesley. I love the rhythms and sounds that can be created with spoons, too! Thanks for commenting and for the vote.

Movie Master from United Kingdom on January 22, 2012:

Hi Alicia, what a great article on playing the spoons, I enjoyed the video's, the sound and rhythm that can be produced is amazing!

Thank you for sharing, I shall have to try this! and voted up.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on January 20, 2012:

Hi, Nell. Yes, making music with spoons is fun, and if someone's trying to manipulate multiple spoons in one hand it can be funny as well! Thank you for the visit and the comment.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on January 20, 2012:

Hi, breakfastpop. Either word works fine! Playing the spoons does get tiring if you try it for too long as a beginner. Thanks for the second comment.

Nell Rose from England on January 20, 2012:

Hi, many a time I have tried this, and ended up in hysterics laughing so much I have dropped them! what a great hub! and so much fun for the kids, cheers nell

breakfastpop on January 20, 2012:

Dear Alicia,

Oops! I meant to say I tried the spoons, but then again after a while they do get tiring!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on January 20, 2012:

I agree, breakfastpop, it is fun! I'm hoping to improve my playing skills. Thanks for the comment.

breakfastpop on January 20, 2012:

I actually tired this years ago and it was fun!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on January 19, 2012:

Thank you very much for the comment, jschach. I agree, the expert spoon players are amazing! I enjoy watching them as well as listening to them.

jschach on January 19, 2012:

The Busk Break video was so amazing! This hub was so interesting and fun! I enjoyed reading it so thanks for writing it!!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on January 19, 2012:

Thank you, Nicole! I appreciate your comment and votes. I haven't been playing the spoons for very long, but I'm enjoying it very much.

Nicole S Hanson from Minnesota on January 19, 2012:

So awesome! I've always wanted to try playing the spoons! Voted up and awesome :)

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on January 19, 2012:

Thank you very much for the comment and the votes, alocsin! Yes, a pair of spoons make a fun instrument for everyone, and the rhythms that can be created after a bit of practice are impressive.

Aurelio Locsin from Orange County, CA on January 19, 2012:

What a fun instrument that anyone can try. Voting this Up and Interesting.