Playing the Spoons: A Fun Folk Music and Percussion Instrument

Updated on January 8, 2018
AliciaC profile image

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! | Source

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, with one utensil 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 spoons 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.

How to Play the Spoons: Basic Steps

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 Sound of Spoons

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. | Source

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

Producing a Sound

In the most common method of playing the spoons in North America, two spoons are held in one hand with the concave surfaces 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 spoons to prevent drowning out their sound.

A More Detailed Lesson

David Holt plays traditional American music and works to preserve it. He's a storyteller as well as a musician.

History of Spoon Playing

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.

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.

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.

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 catagories is the wobble board. Rolf Harris is credited with the invention of this instrument.

Dave Ruch Gives Hints for Creating Spoon Music With Children

Dave Ruch is a performer, teacher, and music researcher who plays plucked string instruments and the spoons. He works with K-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), are portable, and can provide an exciting, percussive 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 can get spoons from your kitchen right now and start creating music with them. Learning new playing techniques will increase your enjoyment, however.

At first, manipulating two spoons in one hand will probably be hard, as it was for me. The spoons will probably flop around in your hand and it will be hard to coordinate their movements and slap them together. Very quickly though, you will 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 and Banjo Ben

Abby the spoon lady is a street musician and an activist for busking. She hosts a radio show called Busker Broadcast.

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 spoons 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. | Source

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 spoons 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. I would love to hear the latest doctor playing the spoons. Sylvester McCoy also played the spoons in his role in King Lear.

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

Sylvester McCoy as Doctor Who

A Reference and a Resource

A description of Sylvester McCoy's career, with a quote about playing the spoons, from ciaranbrown.com

How to play the spoons: a written tutorial from David Holt and Mother Earth News

Questions & Answers

    © 2012 Linda Crampton

    Comments

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      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        9 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

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

      • DREAM ON profile image

        DREAM ON 

        9 months ago

        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.

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        10 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

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

      • profile image

        Janet 

        10 months ago

        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.......

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        10 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

        Thanks for the comment and the advice, Deb.

      • profile image

        Deb Spoons Peryy 

        10 months ago

        Thanks Linda, I enjoyed reading your article.

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

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        14 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

        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 profile image

        Natalie Frank 

        14 months ago from Chicago, IL

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

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        14 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

        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 profile image

        Natalie Frank 

        14 months ago from Chicago, IL

        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!

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

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

      • profile image

        Nadine may 

        2 years ago

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

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

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

      • FlourishAnyway profile image

        FlourishAnyway 

        2 years ago from USA

        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.

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

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

      • RTalloni profile image

        RTalloni 

        2 years ago from the short journey

        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.

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

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

      • profile image

        Spoon Lady 

        3 years ago

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

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

        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.

      • profile image

        Anonymous 

        5 years ago

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

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

        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 Bee profile image

        Judi Brown 

        6 years ago from UK

        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.

      • PDXKaraokeGuy profile image

        Justin W Price 

        6 years ago from Juneau, Alaska

        well, i may just have too...

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

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

      • PDXKaraokeGuy profile image

        Justin W Price 

        6 years ago from Juneau, Alaska

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

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

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

      • Simone Smith profile image

        Simone Haruko Smith 

        6 years ago from San Francisco

        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!

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

        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.

      • thougtforce profile image

        Christina Lornemark 

        6 years ago from Sweden

        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!

        Tina

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

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

      • Movie Master profile image

        Movie Master 

        6 years ago from United Kingdom

        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.

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

        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.

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

        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 profile image

        Nell Rose 

        6 years ago from England

        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 profile image

        breakfastpop 

        6 years ago

        Dear Alicia,

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

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

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

      • breakfastpop profile image

        breakfastpop 

        6 years ago

        I actually tired this years ago and it was fun!

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

        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 profile image

        jschach 

        6 years ago

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

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

        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 profile image

        Nicole S Hanson 

        6 years ago from Minnesota

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

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

        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.

      • alocsin profile image

        alocsin 

        6 years ago from Orange County, CA

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

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