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Irish Instrument of the week – the bones

irish bones - traditional percussion instrumentThis week’s instrument is the bones.

Exactly like they sound – the bones are two bones (usually the rib or lower leg bones of a goat) held in the hand and played to percussive effect.

Today “bones” are more often carved from wood. They are most commonly held concave sides facing away from each other on either side of the middle finger. The bone closest to the wrist is held in place, pressed against the palm, and the other swings free like a hinge, creating a “clickity” sound as the player rocks his hand from side to side. The effect is created not directly by the player’s hand movement, but by encouraging the natural swinging of the bones.

Irish music isn’t too heavy on percussion. The most one would usually find in a session would be a bodhrán and a bones player; more likely just the bones player.

You see, bones are easily carried in a pocket or a set can be improvised using spoons, so players sometimes come out of the woodwork at sessions. It’s not unusual to have the clicking sound of bones rise up from a table adjacent to a session; some bones players are shy and prefer their contribution to be anonymous.